Oh Beautiful Beer

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


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.


PAHB Arches

A few steps beyond the front door of the University of Maryland Baltimore County’s Performing Arts and Humanities Building (PAHB) stands a chiseled work of art. Displayed on the northeast end of the academic building is a structural composition of seven brown concrete half-arches and a multitude of concrete cubes. Three arches face toward the building’s rear with the remaining four parallel, facing away from the PAHB. Stretching approximately two stories high, the delicately-carved brown arches appear quite tall and intricate in comparison to the simplistic small cubes which find a home on the ground between them.  While the arches are used as decoration, the cubes can be anything from a sculpture to a seat. Students can be found interacting with the work on a daily basis, studying beneath the arches atop the concrete cubes.

Similar to college students, light also interacts with the structural composition. Rather than the abstract physical shapes of the sculpture itself conveying a deeper meaning, it’s effect on light does. Due to the its location, the arches and cubes fall within the natural light of the sun by day and the artificial lights of the campus by night, causing different shadows by the minute. Sizes of both the arches and the cubes vary from their counterparts, some constructed taller and wider than others. This, along with the concrete medium used for each component and the light surrounding the sculpture, allows for highlights and shadows to find a consistent home within the work. While they differ in location due to time and light, the shadows convey that time has ability to drastically affect happenings, a fact that is relevant in both art and life. In life, simply giving something time can affect the outcome, similar to how waiting near the arches can affect what you see.

While the sculpture indeed works as an artistic design, it also acts to students’ benefits, offering a multitude of seats within what can be described as a sculpture garden. Offering this unique advantage allows for UMBC students to further interact with art and study the intricacies they may not have if this sculpture was replaced with the average benches and chairs.  The arches engage the public in the art of creativity – often a lost issue within the day-to-day endeavors of honors university students.pahb-arches

Thanks, Lucian Bernard.

The first decisive blow against the Art Nouveau movement came from Lucian Bernhard in 1906 in the form of a poster. The designer entered a competition to design an advertisement for a German match company, first illustrating a poster using the popular German Jugendstil style. Upon rejection, Bernhard entered a second poster – this one compiled of a plain black background, a pair of matches, and the company’s name. The strategy was addition by subtraction; the designer wished to have control of the viewer’s attention. By showing only the two most important advertising elements on the poster, he was able to do so; and so, the Sachplakat style was born.

Rather than designing with ornamental complexity through the use of Art Nouveau, Sachplakat portrayed products directly, aiming to convey blunt messages to consumers through simplified advertisements. The concept was a revolutionary change in the design world, embracing the concept of addition by subtraction. Companies were no longer able to hire designers that would obscure their product through the complex designs of recent styles. While the style was not well-accepted by all, it was indeed progressive.

Although it was not realized at first, Sachplakat was beneficial to product sales and was a colossal accomplishment in the world of poster design. In comparison to previous styles, this was the first time that the product was the focal point as opposed to a message. Companies aimed to  gain customers through the effectiveness of their product instead of the design of their poster. If this change were to occur today, this would also be effective. Companies could hire designers and product photographers, rather than illustrators. It would take less time to design a poster since there was no need for illustration. The style was greatly effective for product design; however, Sachplakat is not easily transferable to event or service posters. Simplistic design for these things is effective; however, it requires more thought and effort than just portraying a product.

Although introduced over 100 years ago, Sachplakat is used widely in 2016. Many advertisements today use a variation of this style, gaining the attention of passer-bys with plain backgrounds and thoroughly planned typography. Technology companies use this strategy quite often, Apple specifically. Using one sans-serif typeface and a light-colored background, designers illustrate the product name, a catchphrase, and a photograph of the product. Today, designers face issues of which typefaces to use, whether or not to introduce photographs, and color schemes. Like twentieth century Germany, these challenges are faced by trial and error. It is a matter of learning the product audience and trying different strategies to learn what works best for your product. Sachplakat was a revolutionary step in the world of design and paved the way for simplistic blunt design.

James Montgomery Flagg

The First World War initially began in Sarajevo during June of 1914, when the Austrian Archduke was assassinated by a Serbian nationalist. The nationalist resented the Austro-Hungarian Empire and their domination of the Balkan states, retaliating by murdering a major political power from their empire and thus, causing a conflict that quickly broadened across the globe. The conflict between Serbians and Austrians pitted the Serbian Allies against the powers of Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Turkey. In April of 1917, the United States entered the war, joining forces with the Allies.

The First World War created an urgent demand for wartime propaganda, recruiting men to join the war, nationalists to support the war, and financial backers to fund the war. This propaganda was found through graphic design in lithographic posters. In the United States, more posters had been produced than any other nation, relying on conservative illustration to convey their objectives. The most effective of them all, and possibly the most well-known poster of all time was James Montgomery Flagg’s I Want YOU for U.S. Army, a color lithograph produced in 1917.


Flagg originally created the poster for an American magazine, where it appeared on the cover in 1917. The design features Uncle Sam, a personification for the United States, pointing at the viewer, accompanied by the text “I Want YOU For U.S. Army.” Like many American artists during the early twentieth century, Flagg gained inspiration for his poster from British graphic design. Although the “pointing poster” was prominent in many nations during the First World War, the style was developed by British designer Alfred Leete in 1914.

Over the years, Uncle Sam had been portrayed in many different ways. Flagg’s version uniquely bases the patriot’s physical attributes on a combination of tradition and the designer’s own features. Sam has a head of white hair with a matching gotee, a thin elderly face, and is dressed in a blue suit, red bow tie, and star-spangled top hat. The text accompanying Uncle Sam is a bold condensed sans serif, blue with a red outline. The word “YOU” stands out from the others, printed in red with a navy outline. Beneath this statement reads “Nearest Recruiting Station” in a navy bold sans serif.

I Want YOU for U.S. Army was printed over four million times in the duration of the First World War, and was resurrected to be reproduced during the Second World War. James Montgomery Flagg’s legacy lies within this color lithograph, successfully creating an advertisement that directly incorporates the viewer and encompasses American patriotism. The designer is remembered today as the man who designed the most famous American poster ever made.

Cycles Perfecta

Art Nouveau, “New Art”, initially began in Europe and the United States during the latter part of the nineteenth century. The movement aimed to unite the varying design movements that had resulted from the Industrial World, and combine the many different fields of art into a uniform style. This style was characterized by calligraphic line drawing, organic linear movements, flat color, and decorative patterns. Additionally, it focused on interaction and had a goal of creating an impression on viewers. Many artists helped to shape this movement; however, it has been said that the movement was “…started entirely by the work of Alphonse Mucha before inspiring others to follow a similar style with in their own work…” (“Alphonse Mucha – Artist Biography with Portfolio of Prints, Posters and Paintings”).

Alphonse Mucha (1890 – 1939), a Czech illustrator working out of Paris, helped to shape Art Nouveau with his signature style. Featuring elongated figures, muted colors, and arabesque patterns, his work is easily recognizable from other artists who worked during this movement. Mucha focused on young women as his subjects, often sexualizing them by displaying their beauty – a task that was not often done in this time period. In 1902, Mucha used his signature style and favorite subject to create an advertisement poster for a “Cycles Perfecta” (Figure 1), a British bicycle company.


The poster features a young woman with windblown hair draped atop a bicycle. At the top of the design, “Cycles Perfecta” is advertised in display text. The poster shows many indications that it is from the Art Nouveau movement. To begin, the lines are very calligraphic, using a bold black ink to outline each shape. Although bold, the lines do manage to remain organic – showing each curve of the woman and the cycle how they would appear three-dimensionally. The hair of the cycle model almost looks three-dimensional, creating a decorative pattern that takes up a majority of the space.

When looking at this poster, it is clear that Mucha understood not only artistic principles of Art Nouveau, but also the mental principles. Rather than selling an object (the cycle, in this case), posters in this period aimed to sell an impression. In “Cycles Perfecta”, “… he is barely showing a piece of the bicycle-not enough to tell one brand from another, anyway-but as to the pleasure of riding…” (Rennert/Weill, p. 294). Rather than making the cycle the main subject, the artist focuses on the woman’s interaction with the cycle, aiming to sell the adoration of the bike. This emotional approach was often taken in advertising posters during Art Nouveau and remains an approach to this day. Not only did Art Nouveau greatly shape design, but it also introduced methods of advertising not seen before the Industrial Revolution.


“Alphonse Mucha – Artist Biography with Portfolio of Prints, Posters and Paintings.” Alphonse Mucha Paintings & Biography. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Sept. 2016

Rennert, Jack, and Alain Weill. Alphonse Mucha: The Complete Posters and Panels. Boston, MA: G.K. Hall, 1984. Print.