More than 70 Brazilian breweries showcasing hundreds of craft beers had the southern city of Blumenau hopping at the Brazilian Beer Festival in March 2013. It’s a sign of the times, as Brazil’s young but burgeoning craft beer scene gathers pace, providing a welcome antidote to the bland beers of the country’s industrial giants.
Thankfully, the clichéd image of middle-aged, bellied beer-lovers is making way for a younger generation of passionate brewers, pouring their personalities into pale ales, porters, lagers and stouts, and adding some cool credentials to craft beer.
But it’s as much about what’s on the bottle as in the bottle, as US designer Randy Mosher tells us. Mosher, a master of the art, has been designing beer labels for about 23 years, most recently for one of Brazil’s craft beer pioneers (see the gallery of his labels above) – Colorado, brewed in São Paulo state. Mosher, who has gone on to design labels for Brazilian brewers Amazon Beer, Bauhaus, Sante Fé, and a São Paulo startup brewery called Steck, talks about the power of the label.
Interest in craft beer is on the rise. What does the term mean?
They’re very individualistic products, and they’re generally created by passionate people who want to make something artistic. They’re not looking at market segments and having focus groups and saying ‘what do people want?’ You know, that whole process of packaged goods development is not craft beer.
What can you tell us about the craft beer scene in Brazil?
The initial wave of craft beer was maybe about 15, 16 years ago, mostly in the South of Brazil and inspired by Germany. Now, we’ve got a new wave of young brewers who are full of energy and ideas. It’s like a religion.
How important is the label for a craft beer?
Firstly, it attracts attention. The second job is to convey what the beer is. Next, you want to create a shelf presence – we call it ‘billboarding’, where several labels create a section on the shelf and really magnify the presence of the brand. The labels also need depth and lots of layers. You discover little details – it’s like an Easter egg.
What does a craft beer label typically look like?
Generally, there is some historical reference. Budweiser’s label, for example, is mostly the same today as it was in 1880. It’s the same for Miller and Coors. You usually see symmetrical organisation and often times hops and malts sort of spring out from things. That’s true for mainstream labels as well as the craft labels, though generally the craft labels are more vivid, more intense.
Where do you start with a new design?
Well, first I help clarify the mission of the brewery. Some new brewers know what that is right away. But some people are like, ‘Oh, we just want some cool thing.’ But it has to come from their personality, from their dreams. You have to decide what you don’t want to be and then what you do want to be. So we go through that process. With Marcelo [Rocha, owner of Colorado] it was very easy.
How did you get started with the Colorado labels?
Well, I have thousands and thousands of JPGs of old labels from all over the world. For the last ten years, I’ve been searching for them on eBay and downloading the images (see a gallery of the vintage labels). It’s very difficult to find good design reference books on old typography or old things. Everything is about being modern and new. So, after talking with Marcelo, I looked at some of the old Brazilian beer labels and I remember being struck by their sort of naïve sense of possibility.
Tell us more about the old Brazilian labels.
They’re trying a little to copy North American or maybe European labels, but kind of over-trying, which I find really charming. You can see that in the way they try to use every little thing on the page – they’re very cluttered, but that’s the style. It’s sort of a Victorian style, like ,‘Here’s some extra space, let’s fill it up with something’; or, ‘Let’s put a slogan here’. I like to work that way, but it’s anti-modern. Modern design is neat and clean. Another common theme is a sense of partying – that fun-loving quality in the Brazilian character. There’s dynamism and, of course, they’re flamboyant, and trying to be wonderful. If you actually tasted the beer, well… let’s just say the old labels were aspirational.
Five of Mosher's favourite Brazilian craft beers
With over 23 years experience designing craft beer labels for US, and more recently Brazilian, clients, Randy Mosher is something of a connoisseur when it comes to knowing a tasty brew. Having designed labels for Brazilian craft beers Colorado, Amazon Beer, Santa Fé and start-up Steck, Mosher rounds up five other local favourites.
‘This brewery in Belo Horizonte is making some exceptionally good products. They make a beer that started as a home brew called “Petroleum” that’s an imperial stout, so it’s dark and rich and thick and syrupy.’
‘This Curitiba brewery is making some really tasty beers. There’s one that they wanted to call Venenosa (“poisonous”) but the government didn’t approve it. So they called it Peligrosa (“dangerous”) instead.’
‘Alexandre Bazzo brews fantastic German-style beers, only 100km from São Paulo. He looked through an atlas to find a German city to name his beer after, and luckily his choice turned out to have a very long tradition of making beers with smoked malt, and beers that are brewed with hot stones. He makes a rauchbier, which is a smoked beer, which is quite delicious.’
'A guy named Marco Falcone [‘Falke Bier’] just outside Belo Horizonte makes some tasty beers, including an IPA and a stout and a brown ale.'
'There are three breweries in Curitiba. One is called ‘Way Beer’ which is super hip and they have bottles that are printed with enamel ink, with splats and splatters of ink and it’s very fun, and young and aggressive. They make some really nice beers.'