Behind the Beer Label: Jon Langford Talks Dogfish Head Artwork

The Delaware brewery has some of the most eye-popping labels in craft beer. Here, artist Jon Langford discusses the inspiration behind bottles like Olde School Baleywine and Burton Baton.

  • Johnny Cask, March 2009
  • Analog-a-Go-Go, June 2011
  • Burton Baton, November 2004
  • Olde School Barleywine, October, 2002
  • Gingerman, March 2012
  • Rough draft, Analog-a-Go Go
  • Rough draft, Gingerman poster

In addition to crafting some of the world’s most intriguing beers, Delaware’s Dogfish Head brewery has earned its cultish following by applying the same level of creativity to everything it does, not just the actual brewing.

Its motto—“off-centered ales for off-centered people,” a riff on the poem Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson—extends to all of the brand’s packaging, which is among the most inventive in the industry. Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione has contributed his own artwork to the bottle designs for Sixty-One and Isabelle Proximus, as well as the Dogfish Head label himself. But he’s also provided a platform for artists and musicians to collaborate with the brand to create designs for an array of seasonal releases and one-off brews.

Jon Langford is one of Dogfish Head’s most celebrated beer label artists, capturing the spirit of the brand not only in his art, but also in his life’s story.

In 1977, Langford was an art student in Leeds, England when punk rock swept across the UK. Immediately captivated by the ethos of the movement, Langford abandoned his brushes in pursuit of a music career and started his own band, The Mekons. It would be 15 years before the artist-turned-musician returned to creating visual art.

A lot of my work is inspired by music and the careers of my favorite musicians.

“I don’t think I would have made any of the art I make now if I hadn’t been a foot soldier in the music business wars for all of those years,” Langford says. “A lot of my work is inspired by music and the careers of my favorite musicians. While music is essentially collaborative and painting veers towards solidarity, I think it all comes from the same part of my brain. They inform each other, and the cross-pollination is useful, though often exhausting.”

Calagione first came across Langford’s art while at a bar in Chicago called Delilah’s—“a punk-rock beer haven,” as Langford puts it. Though Langford is best known for his involvement with punk rock, he has found increasing inspiration in American country music, an appreciation that he has been able to express in his art for the brand. His first label for Dogfish Head was for their Olde School Barley Wine, which depicted a Woodie Guthrie-type of character brandishing some hops.

In true Dogfish Head style, Langford’s work is created using a variety of materials, combining acrylics, oil pastels, and office supplies on plywood.

“I’m an illustrator first and foremost,” he says. “I use my boring technical virtuosity to create representational images on unstable surfaces, which I can then semi-destroy in a perverse imitation of the ravages of time and/or the neglect we all endure at the hands of corporate capitalism.”

In addition to his artistic contribution to the labels, Langford curated the brewery’s music festival, “Gingerman,” during SXSW in Austin, TX, for which he also designed the posters.

Before it was retired, Langford was a fan of Dogfish Head’s Shelter Pale Ale, but these days he sticks to 60 Minute IPA. Click through the gallery above to see a selection of Langford’s work for Dogfish, from his Analog-a-Go-Go poster, to his Johnny Cask label.

Newsletter

Feed your inbox.

Subscribe