Aaron Uhl, owner of Uhl’s Brewing Company in Boulder, started noticing more creative and unique labels on beer cans around 2015, though not yet in Colorado.
“A lot of breweries were thinking about how to grab market share,” Uhl said. “Flashy cans with sweet-looking labels sell beer.”
It’s a trend that continues today across the U.S. and, by now, has come to Boulder, which boasts 18 craft breweries. Many of them create vibrantly colored labels for beer cans they distribute to stores or sell in their taprooms.
With the national rise of craft breweries, which make beer in significantly smaller batches that allows for more experimentation, brewers often switch up their beer recipes and their label designs, even though it costs more. “Your common customer isn’t coming back for repeat service,” Uhl said.
Among local breweries, Uhl’s, VisionQuest Brewing, 4 Noses Brewing Company and Odd13 Brewing stand out on shelves by designing eye-catching labels, often for 16-ounce cans.
“The 16-ounce canvas is an idea that the label is a place where you can put art and these jazzy, quirky, unusual, provocative, artistic, psychedelic — whatever you want — messaging,” said VisionQuest Brewing co-owner Adam Kandle.
“I prefer it,” said Ky Boese, Odd13’s graphic designer, of 16-ounce cans. “There’s more real estate for artwork.”
2510 47th Street in Boulder
Kandle and Greg Kallfa opened VisionQuest Brewing in 2015, two years after they started Boulder Fermentation Supply, a one-stop shop for fermenting needs. As homebrewers, the pair wanted to introduce their fermentation customers to their unique beers, too — like today’s popular Exasberryated Worm Farm, a pastry sour brewed with blueberries, blackberries, vanilla and lactose.
VisionQuest bought a canning machine in 2019, choosing to distribute a coconut IPA, a Kolsch and a saison from the 15 on-tap beers the brewery rotates. Kandle and a freelance designer created the brewery’s first labels.
In 2021, Jake Johanson, whose artist’s name is Mad King, took over. He’s a full-time designer at the Phoenix Asylum, a nonprofit artist collective and studio next door to VisionQuest, and he reworks his existing colorful, psychedelic art to fit on a 16-ounce beer can label. His designs often include at least one bird, cat, goldfish or octopus.
“As far as trying out new beer, it’s aesthetic choices,” Johanson said. “We make decisions based on branding all the time.”
Johanson sends his design to Kandle, who pairs the artwork with a type of beer. For example, labels with sound waves and birds always go on sours. Kandle also adds small text on the top or bottom of the artwork to identify the VisionQuest brand.
“We don’t want to corrupt this art with graphics or words on top of it,” Kandle said. Plus, the label is distinct enough that consumers know that it’s VisionQuest’s design. “The style is pretty recognizable after you’ve seen a couple of them.”
4 Noses Brewing Company
8855 West 116th Circle in Broomfield
David Bibliowicz, who started 4 Noses Brewing Company with his mom, dad and brother in 2014, designed the brewery’s first label that year. He created labels with intricate lines and shading for the brewery’s four most popular beers — ‘Bout Damn Time IPA, Mountain Wave ale, Perfect Drift pilsner and Raspberry Blonde.
Outside of a handful of beers that are available year-round, like these four 12-ounce offerings, almost every other 4 Noses product is a 16-ounce one-off, unless it sells exceptionally well.
“If something really sticks, we can transition it into more of a core beer,” said Elle Moaratty who became 4 Noses’ main graphic designer in 2021.
Her label designs often feature bright, colorful palettes and distinct typography. For the brewery’s Just Beachy hazy IPA, Moaratty covered the label with pastel beach balls. The Raining Strawberry Rhubarb label features strawberries and rhubarb bouncing off a red umbrella.
Moaratty’s design process begins when brewers tell her about the next beer they’re making and its flavor profile. From there, Moaratty comes up with a potential name for the beer and a preliminary label design, which is ultimately approved by the Bibliowiczes and staff members.
In 2021, 4 Noses bought Odd13 Brewing in Lafayette, and with the acquisition, Moaratty now collaborates with Odd13 graphic designer Boese on Odd 13’s labels.
301 East Simpson Street in Lafayette
Boese has designed Odd13’s beer can labels for nine years. Her predecessor was Jesse Glenn — a childhood friend of Ryan Scott, one of the brewery’s founders who created Odd13’s classic comic book-style labels when the brewery opened in 2013.
Odd13’s year-round offerings include Codename Superfan IPA with a label that displays a muscled character in a skin-tight blue suit, and Noob, a hazy pale ale featuring a superhero flying out of a green pipe in the ground.
Much like Moaratty’s process, Boese’s designs are based on information she gets from the brewers. Often, Boese and her husband brainstorm a concept and think of a beer-related name that sounds like it could belong to a superhero, villain or sidekick. Moaratty approves all of Boese’s work, plus adds typography and the occasional background.
Uhl’s Brewing Company
5460 Conestoga Court in Boulder
Aaron Uhl started Uhl’s Brewing Company out of Sanitas Brewing Co. in 2018, distributing his canned beer without a tap room of his own.
“The batches of beer were all experimental, nothing meant to be brewed ever again,” Uhl said.
Now, Uhl produces two beers that are sold year-round — Hop Down hazy IPA, with a label that features an aerial view of a pair of hops overlaid in a light orange filter, and Lager Down, which has a photographed label featuring grain on a wooden surface.
“Everything else that we make is usually one-and-done,” Uhl said. He estimates that 80% of his business comes from selling 16-ounce can sales.
Uhl, who studied art at Northern Virginia Community College, usually creates beer names and label designs himself. He designs his labels differently. They don’t fill the whole can, for one.
Beer names often come from inside jokes and popular media references — like Pickle Rick Gose, named after an episode of the popular Adult Swim show Rick and Morty, with a label full of pickles with faces.
“I think a lot of people in the beer industry consider me one of the juveniles in Colorado that likes to play and is not serious,” Uhl said. “That’s fine, but we are serious about our beer.”