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Summit Suds: Peeling behind the label

Cans of Angry James Brewing Co. beer featuring “pandemic series” labels stand in a row. Bartender and graphic designer Ryan Halsne has done roughly a dozen labels for the brewery over the past year.
Image by Ryan Halsne

Shopping with one’s eyes has always been common in stores, but judging a book by its cover — or alcohol by its label — is now even more important with the coronavirus pandemic. Reduced capacity at restaurants and taprooms means an increase in to-go options with some consumers buying before they try.

There are commonalities such as the inclusion of logos, amount of beer, alcohol by volume and a government warning, yet designers can freely express their talents from there. Here is how a few artists are leaving their mark in liquor stores.

Angry James Brewing Co.

Ryan Halsne was a freelance designer hired to paint a mural inside Angry James Brewing Co. before the brewery opened to the public. He became a bartender shortly thereafter and designed crowler labels, apparel and other merchandise — even using his skills in the recent remodel of the business.



Angry James Brewing bought its own canning equipment because of the pandemic, and Halsne found himself ramping up his output. He quit his other jobs and did roughly a dozen labels over the year for the brewery’s 16-ounce cans.

Calling it the “pandemic series,” Halsne designed the cans to be matte black with colorful lettering to stand out. The simplicity allows him to design it quickly, as well. He imagines doing a second season of labels that may shift the appearance.



“It might be the greatest beer in the world, but if it’s not labeled well or if it’s just bland or poorly done, it’s not going to sell,” Halsne said about the design. “A lot of buying decisions in a liquor store come down to packaging.”

Halsne enjoys the look of the Terrifica double India pale ale, but his favorite design is for Teddy SchwarzBear since it leans toward a character rather than hops or skis. The dark German lager also happens to be his favorite year-round beverage to drink.

“I’m a little biased if I pick that one,” Halsne said. “It’s a bear with a mustache. It’s probably the most different of the rest.”

Broken Compass Brewery

John Fellows has been a designer and illustrator for over 20 years. Based out of Crested Butte, he was introduced to Broken Compass Brewery through a mutual friend and has been working with the brewery since he designed its logo back in 2014.

Fellows said he’s done around seven labels for Broken Compass. When the pandemic hit, he designed a generic mountain label the brewery could quickly customize with stickers.

What makes all of the labels interesting is that they’re pieces of linoleum carved by hand that are then scanned into the computer. He’ll digitally clean it up and add color and typography, but he likes having a creative outlet away from the computer. The design for the Coconut Porter is one big carving, but for Snow Blind IPA, he made one yeti and then mirrored it on the computer.

“In Photoshop, you can hit ‘undo’ if you ever make a mistake,” Fellows said. “But doing it all by hand, if there’s a mistake, there’s a mistake. You really have to think about what you’re doing. … It adds time, but I personally think it’s worth that extra time for what the finished product looks like.”

The cans also have a list of activities printed on the side, like a word cloud that suggests what sport to pair with the beer. For instance, the summery for Ginger Pale Ale lists hiking, kayaking and fishing.

Outer Range Brewing Co.

Diana Riggs is a longtime family friend of Emily and Lee Cleghorn of Frisco’s Outer Range Brewing Co. She, too, got in on the ground floor by designing the brewery’s logo while living in a trailer at Tiger Run Resort. However, with more experience as a copywriter, it was her first major design job and launched her portfolio.

The brewery’s logo and slogan of “Leave the Life Below” is one noticeable constant as Riggs plays off each beer’s name to create a unique and eye-catching design. Lighter beers like Pilsners will usually have vibrant colors, the bread-and-butter IPAs will have a more standardized palette, while stouts and darker beers have a more European flair. Now that the Airstream is based in Oregon, she sees her distance as an advantage.

“I think sometimes when my labels come in, they’re completely thrown off and did not expect me to go that direction, but then it adds a different perspective to what they were thinking,” Riggs said.

In a little over four years, Riggs has created about 260 labels for Outer Range. The popularity of canning has her working on multiple designs a week, often early in the morning.

“It’s actually nice that it’s so prolific because no one can has that much pressure on it,” Riggs said. “The In The Steep can, the first one ever, it took us two months to design that because it was such a big deal. Now that we have so many, it takes the pressure off any one.”


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