Tap Lines: The Portland graphic designer who puts the art in craft beer – Press Herald | Candle Made Easy

The mural on the wall of the Portland site of Batson River. Images courtesy of Hugh McCormick Design Co.

“The job of marketing is to get people to do something,” says Portland-based graphic designer Hugh McCormick. “The job of branding is to make people feel something.”

In a crowded market full of great beers, an affective bond with a brewery can mean the difference between what goes home and what stays on the shelf.

Hugh McCormick Design Co. (HMDC) has designed logos and branding for Maine breweries Austin Street Brewery, Bissell Brothers Three Rivers, Batson River Brewing & Distilling and Kit Brewing, winning 21 national design awards. These awards included “Crushies” from the Craft Beer Marketing Awards competition, including a recent award for work for Battery Steele Brewing, as well as the Austin Street Brewery rebrand and Batson River Brewing & Distilling mural in Bayside in 2021. HDMC also won a number of Graphic Design USA awards in 2021 and 2022 for specific beers such as On Your Mark by Kit Brewing and a number of Austin Street including Anton Vienna Lager, Austin Street Lager, the Narrative Pilot Series, Marquee Moon Pale Ale, Bombtrack IPA and Bennu Black IPA.

According to McCormick, a beer label should not only draw attention to itself, but also “tell the story of the beer”. It’s not about being loud, it’s about being “present,” McCormick says. “They want to create something interesting that will grab people’s attention but also look good in a fridge, inspire confidence in someone’s hand, and answer the question, ‘Why did the brewery make this beer?'”

Being too literal means “taking an easy way out,” he explained. “Let’s imagine, for example, a brewery creates a Blood Orange IPA. Well, if the label was covered in oranges… and that’s the label, it would be like drawing notes on a guitar. The story ends quite abruptly and that’s quite disappointing.”

Rather, he said, the design shouldn’t come from what’s specifically in the can, but from why the brewery chose that beer back then. Were you inspired by an experience? Are they trying to reinvent a worldly style? Answers to such questions should fuel the visual representation of the beer on the label.

These considerations also apply to the brewery as a whole. From the beer to the logo, the tasting room to the merchandising, a coherent branding strategy should reflect the culture of the brewery. If not, “then it’s time for a rebrand,” McCormick said. And as a brewery matures, it may want to re-evaluate the connection between culture and visual presentation. For McCormick, a brand is “a living, breathing organism that can always be refined.”

The original Austin Street Brewery logo on the left and the rebranded look on the right.

HMDC’s work with Austin Street illustrates this point. McCormick adapted the brewery’s old and familiar mash paddle logo to function more as a “symbol than an image”. From there, he developed a typography system and color scheme that reflected Austin Street values ​​of welcoming a wide spectrum of drinkers and being aware in the brewing process.

“We loved what he came up with,” said Jake Austin, co-founder and manager of the Austin Street brewery operations. “It has a more modern look and is a direct nod to our old logo, but not as literal.” Austin also points to the advent of social media, which is crucial to a brewery’s identity, and it was important to change the design scheme to adapt the brewery to this fundamental visual medium.

Adaptation – bridging the brewery’s origins to its identity today – also defines HMDC’s work with Battery Steele Brewing. The brewery’s logo is its namesake, the WWII-era fort on Peaks Island. And that logo was the brand for a while.

“We worked so lean for years, just two or three business partners. We’ve focused on making premium beer,” said partner Jake Condon. “Now that we’re more firmly established, we were able to invest a few dollars to make the branding more coherent.”

Regarding the logo, Condon asked, “What can we do to make it stand out a bit more?”

McCormick took the “great and iconic” existing logo and tweaked it, returning to the stronghold’s long afterlife. Abandoned after the war, today it is “covered with vibrant artwork and lush vegetation,” he said.

These qualities informed his design plan to “create something that has the formal security and care of the fort, with the accents of vibrant color and a sense of the organic” that define the site today. Visually, this resulted in a color palette of electric neon green against a dark background. This also matched the existing color scheme of the brewery’s best-selling Flume IPA.

Condon said the new logo is slowly being incorporated into the brewery’s online presence, and an upcoming revamped website will feature more of the color scheme. This builds on Battery Steele’s shift from spartan can labels of the early years to the more lavish designs of recent times (Maine-based designer Katie Spofford creates the brewery’s lager labels, while Massachusetts-based Dean McKeever makes IPAs and stouts).

While HMDC’s mural for the facade of Batson River’s Bayside location is certainly on a different scale than a brewery logo, McCormick says designing a mural isn’t that different from developing something the size of a business card. “Does it tell a story exactly?” he asked. “Is it on brand while creating intrigue? Does it fit well into its context and question it?”

While storytelling, intrigue and context are certainly important, so is the very practical positioning of objects on a screen, page or wall. Most of graphic design, according to McCormick, is “the arrangement of shapes to create visual balance and hierarchy.” He says that when assessing the work, he sometimes takes his glasses off to get a better sense of how the blurred shapes relate to each other and asks, “Does it feel balanced?”

That’s a good question for a design and a beer, two things created at the intersection of engineering and creativity, combined in the can in your hand.

Ben Lisle is Assistant Professor of American Studies at Colby College. He lives among the breweries of Portland’s East Bayside, where he writes about cultural history, urban geography, and craft beer culture. Reach him on Twitter at @bdlisle.


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