The art of beer: A peek behind the curtain of Memphis' local brewery designs

If promoting local beer, local food and local music is a part of the ethos of Memphis, then supporting local art must be as well. As Memphis' craft brewery scene grows, it's no surprise that local artists are tapped to design the brands around local flavors. 
Fans of local beer are as attracted to new designs as they are to taste of the latest IPA or blonde on the block, which makes art a key ingredient in our local craft beer scene.

Related: "Independent craft brewer seal helps distinguish Wiseacre as a truly local brew"

At least that’s what Crosstown Brewing Company co-owner Clark Ortkiese believes.

“Art is frequently our customers’ first contact with our products. The care we take to get quality artwork reflects the care we take to make high-quality beer,” he said. “After reviewing Tom’s (Martin) portfolio, we felt that he had a distinctive style. As we go forward, we realize just how important his artwork has become to our brand. It’s a part of our identity now.”A design from Crosstown Brewing Co. (Submitted)

A native Memphian and seasoned designer, Tom Martin says he draws inspiration from 1970s and 1980s pinball machine designs for Crosstown Brewing's brand.

“I wanted the Crosstown cans to feel epic and have a distinct personality,” Martin said.

From High Cotton to Memphis Made to Wiseacre and Meddlesome, all breweries in town rely on the power of design to entice their customers. The more interesting the art design, the better the chance for wide appeal and distribution.

Wiseacre sells all manner of merchandise including posters of their roster of beer labels for super fans of their craft beer. The brewery's brand covers everything from t-shirts to lunchboxes.

Meddlesome Brewing Company takes a more collaborative approach to their designs. Artists Luke Hall and Shawn Mullins are in step with owners Richie Esquivel and Ben Pugh.

“Luke and I are graphic design mercenaries. We are the bridge between Meddlesome's vision and a finished product,” said Mullins.

 Esquivel believes artwork can catch customers' interest before they've even tried the beer. “The colors draw you in the same way the aroma of the beer does,” he said.

A design from Meddlesome Brewery. (Submitted)While Meddlesome is not yet selling canned beer, they look forward to sharing their designs. “I think people are really going to like the work that has been done. It’s sincere, grassroots and 100 percent Memphis,” said Esquivel.

A Memphis College of Art alum and a regular on the music scene as a show poster designer, Weston Notestine puts forth clarity and strong communication in his designs for Memphis Made Brewing Company.

“I’ve often felt the frustration of picking up a beer and having to search the bottle for alcohol by volume and style information,” he said. “Our goal is to prioritize usability. We want the look to be functional with accessibility and legibility in mind. No matter how you hold a Memphis Made, you can see the name of the beer on it," he said. 

“Keeping clear brand consistency between the designs shows that all the beers are part of the Memphis Made family, yet they maintain varied personality traits. Junt is a light and refreshing beer with a light, summery color palette. Fireside is an Amber Ale, with — you guessed it — fiery colors.”

Drink and view responsibly.

Read more articles by Jeff Hulett.

Originally from Chicago, Jeff moved to Memphis in 1990 not really knowing much about the south. In fact, the first week he lived here he was suspended from school for not saying, "yes ma'am" and "no ma'am." Jeff has since developed a passion for Memphis and especially Memphis music. A member of several bands including Snowglobe and Me & Leah, Jeff works as a communications consultant with many non-profits including Playback Memphis, Church Health, Room in the Inn-Memphis and BLDG Memphis. Jeff lives in the Vollintine Evergreen neighborhood with his wife and two daughters.