Oh Beautiful Beer

Oh Beautiful Beer: The Evolution of Craft Beer and Design. By Harvey Shepard. (New York: The Countryman Press, 2015. 216 pp.).

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You don’t have to be a fan of lagers, ales, or stouts to recognize that artisan brewers are doing something right. The craft beer boom of the last decade has led to an explosion of new breweries across the globe. In such a populous market, how do you make your beer stand out from the crowd? For many of the best brewers, the secret is to have eye-catching branding – creating an extensive budget dedicated to package designs that reflect the quality of their product and the values of the individuals who brewed it. The correlation between craft beer and marketing strategies, from glass-blown growlers to taxidermied squirrels as packaging solutions, is the subject of Harvey Shepard’s coffee table book Oh Beautiful Beer: The Evolution of Craft Beer and Design.

Many authors have narrated the story of craft beer’s rapid rise in popularity; others have focused their academic research on various packaging methods and the functionality of differing marketing strategies. Shepard’s unique consolidation of the two topics, alongside his past in blogging, give him an exclusive perspective on the evolution of craft beer and the importance of its integrated graphic design. While the writing does focus on a greatly condensed subject matter, Shepard offered only a brief overview of the constantly-growing world of craft beer, making great effort to include breweries across the globe. This brevity is justified, however, due to his in-depth descriptions of each brewery and their contributions to design and manufacturing.

Beginning with the invention of glass-blown growlers in the sixteenth century, Oh Beautiful Beer closely follows the evolution of craft beer packaging design, as well as a progression in product manufacturing. Throughout his eight chapters, Shepard focuses on individual breweries and their contributions to design, production, and most importantly taste. Lasting a mere four paragraphs, the introduction in chapter one “The Beginning” gives readers a terse synopsis of the creation of branding. Touching briefly on the United Kingdom’s Trade Marks Registration Act, Shepard introduces readers to the importance of a recognizable brand and provides a strong starting point for his brewery exploration to follow.

Beginning in the sixteenth century, Oh Beautiful Beer progresses chronologically with a consistent theme of manufacturing progression. While illustrating specific design trends within the industry, Shepard carries discussion of inventions throughout each chapter, focusing solely on breweries that catch his eye, delight his taste buds, and make influential developments in packaging. Breweries are presented with a balance of academic research and design analysis that is appropriate for a unique survey of this sort. Shepard critically defines both breweries and designers in terms of their contribution to progression – breweries in the terms of manufacturing advancements and designs in the terms of artistic breakthroughs.

Shepard maintains the theme of progression within descriptions of each brewery. Although each brewery examined within the book does contribute to progress of the design and beer industries, they also evolve within their corporation. This concept and relation of themes is beautifully captured within Oh Beautiful Beer, as breweries advancements are identified in relation to their individual pasts. In chapter two, “European Beer (& Design) Spread”, Shepard introduces readers to Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, New York. The Belgian-style brewery recognized their need for a rebrand in 2012, turning to design firm Duffy and Partners to assist them in creating an engaging visual identity. Carrying over key elements to create a gradual brand transformation, the firm created a cohesive grouping of bottle designs to effectively portray the stories behind each beer within the Ommegang brand.

Although Oh Beautiful Beer provides thoroughly-researched information on its subject, it is important to recognize that Shepard is a blogger by nature and his book is originally based off of the blog Oh Beautiful Beer. Since the beginning of the information age, authors have gradually turned to the internet to communicate their ideas. Often behind a pseudonym, bloggers are not expected to be as politically-correct as those who develop their ideas through a publishing agency. This being said, Shepard’s choice to include (and exclude) many breweries is not one to argue. The book is eminently informal and does not claim to be a source of academic research for those interested in the design of craft beer. Rather, Shepard offers a brief overview of the subject for those interested in craft beer, design or a combination of the two.

Should Oh Beautiful Beer be rewritten, with an emphasis on inclusion and veracity, it would be beneficial to offer a detailed description of different craft beer types as well as a brief history of package design and the process of beer manufacturing. These modest additions have potential of gathering a much wider audience than the book currently addresses. Those interested in craft beer, packaging design or manufacturing could learn, as well as be entertained by a rewrite of this sort.

Harvey Shepard’s Oh Beautiful Beer: The Evolution of Craft Beer and Design is a bold, informative exploration through the package design and production of craft beer. The blogger turned writer includes breweries across the globe, dissecting the design, taste, and production developments of each company. With craft beer rising in popularity and trends in design changing by day, Oh Beautiful Beer tells just the beginning of the journey – one that is best accompanied by a cold beer.

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