Harvey Shepard does not just gulp down his beer. The graphic designer and blogger has been captivated by beer bottle graphics, labels, caps and cans since long before he was old enough to drink. It all began when he spotted a Coors bottle shaped like a baseball bat in a grocery store as a kid. “I was flabbergasted. I had never seen anything like it and just had to have it,” says Shepard who was also obsessed with baseball at the time. “After convincing my mother that I would never open it, she begrudgingly bought it for me. It still sits (unopened) at my parents’ house,” he tells Quartz.
Shepard has since crafted a life around beer. Six years ago, he and his wife traveled across the US and sought out jobs based on craft beer destinations. Moving every few months, they managed to visit 160 breweries in 20 states, as well as a few abroad. They’re now settled in the legendary Ballard neighborhood in Seattle, happily surrounded by nine breweries within walking distance.
In their new house, Shepard can harbor his growing collection of empty beer bottles, too beautiful to discard. But he admits he faces a problem with displaying his finds: “I can’t seem to find a way to present them without it looking like a college dorm room,” he says. “I haven’t accepted that I need to put in the recycling bin.”
Shepard has poured his connoisseurship into a new book, Oh Beautiful Beer: The Evolution of Craft Beer and Design. It’s a 200-page illustrated history of the art of beer packaging. From witty to weird to sublime, Shepard has compiled an impressive collection, with special attention to the the oft-overlooked details of a well-designed bottle.
Here are some of Shepard’s favorites, with his design notes excerpted from the book:
San Francisco, California: Gangster brew and sneaky eyes
The visual brand of San Francisco’s Speakeasy Ales & Lagers captures the spirit of this remarkable time in America’s history. Their packaging centers around the central characters of the speakeasy scene, including crime bosses, flappers, jazz singers, and the police.
Ellon, Scotland: Taxidermy beer
In 2010, Scotland’s BrewDog grabbed headlines by releasing the highest alcohol content beer on record—and they put it in roadkill. Seven stoats and four grey squirrels, if we want to be precise. Aside from weighing in at 55% ABV, this freeze-distilled Belgian blond ale also set the record for the highest-priced beer at about $750 per bottle.
Copenhagen, Denmark: Labels that change over time
In 2012, famed collaborator Mikkeller worked with Swedish design firm Bedow for four seasonal releases. The labels for each limited-edition beer were printed with heat-sensitive ink, such that the labels’ scenes change as the bottles get warmer. For the Pale Spring Ale, the snowflake turns into a sun; the Wild Winter Ale shows an apple tree losing its leaves.
Vancouver, Canada: Peel-off patches
In honor of 2013 British Columbia Craft Beer Month, R&B Brewing, Brassneck Brewery, Red Truck Brewing, Main Street Brewing, and 33 Acres Brewing gathered for a special collaboration. Like a scout troop these five breweries set out into the wilderness collecting fresh spruce tips for their brew. Celebrants of BC Craft Beer Month were also able to earn this badge.The label easily peels off as a keepsake.
Stockholm, Sweden: Bottles without a brand name
There are a few things you assume every beer label will contain: brewery name, brewery logo and the name of the beer. Karl Grandin made a lot of distributors sweat by throwing all of these out the window on the way to creating a wonderfully bizarre, and oddly cohesive, collection of labels.