Does a flashy label mean a brewer is compensating for something?

As someone who could truthfully be classified as a serious beer snob, I find myself having to stifle some of my snobbier characteristics.  For one, I tend to make snap judgments, as I mentioned in my Karl Strauss Boardwalk Black Rye review. In that instance, I found myself with a preconceived notion about the quality, or lack thereof, of Karl Strauss beer. (It’s pretty darn tasty, so far.)

Another potential misconception I find I have is a perception of an inverse relationship between the flashiness of a beer’s label and the quality in the bottle or can.  But is this more often a correct or incorrect misconception? Hit the jump to find out! 

Origins

Honestly, when I look at what causes me to think this way, I am reminded of Article IV of The Confession. Namely, it is the marketing campaigns of big breweries that is my first clue that they want you to focus on something other than the beer they’re producing. For example, a current marketing campaign of Bud Light is that the sound of a Bud Light being opened is the one constant among a ton of different good times.  The implication, of course, is that you cannot have a good time without a Bud Light, or even that Bud Light is the very source of “good times”.  The more a brewer wants you to focus on something other than what’s in that can or bottle (yes, good beer comes in cans too), the more likely it is they’re compensating for something.  The problem is, when I take these “macro-” principles and apply them to the “micro-” world, the same thing doesn’t always hold true.  Take the next two examples…

Lost Coast Beers Lineup

A lineup of decent beers with flashy labels.

Lost Coast Brewing Co.

Here is a beer in which my presupposition caused me to miss out on some good beers, which also have flashy labels. Lost Coast Brewery makes the decent Downtown Brown, and the equally decent 8-ball Stout. I’m not saying these guys are the most phenomenal, but for several years, I avoided them simply because their labels were too flashy.

Bear Republic's Hop Rod Rye

A tasty beer, but the label almost turned me away...

Bear Republic

Bear Republic is another brewery which has some flash labels.  My first experience with them was at a beer festival (no labels involved), but when I first saw them at a store, I almost bypassed them entirely until the name rang a bell.  These guys create the fantastic Racer 5 and Hop Rod Rye beers.  Very aggressive beers, which to be honest DO fit their labels, but the flashiness almost turned me away.

With Bear Republic, it’s not the same kind of flashy as the Lost Coast people.  Lost Coast has sort of a Picasso thing going on.  The Bear Republic labels look like they’re designed to be used with a blacklight, which always makes me wonder if the brewer intends you to be high in order to enjoy the beer.  It’s perhaps an unfair assumption, but nevertheless, I thought it when I saw it.

Boring Labels?

In the world of beer, are there boring labels?  And if flashy labels make me wonder if the beer is worth consuming, is the converse true? Do beers with boring labels automatically imply high quality and fantastic brewing?  Well, let’s look at another label.

Budweiser label

Hm...2 colors, practically illegible cursive script...and beer that only TECHNICALLY deserves the name...

Budweiser

Crap, well that shot my theory all to heck.

Conclusion

Sometimes beer snobbery can go too far.  Don’t let a label turn you away from what could actually be a stellar beer.  Think about beers you may avoid because of packaging, slogans, or beer names, and give them a shot.  I think now might be a great time to remind us of Article V, Section 2 & 3 of The Confession.

2. Never pass up the opportunity to try something you’ve never tried before.
3. Never get stuck in a beer rut, work to continually expand your beer horizons.

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