It’s no surprise that the so-called “gypsy” brewing movement has generated some of the exciting label designs in recent memory. This new breed of itinerant craftsmen is endlessly agile, borrowing space from other businesses or bouncing around the world making collaborative brews. As a result, gypsy brewers make a lot of different beers each year. Rather than one iconic logo or bottle design, they need a visual identity that’s as a nimble as their brewing style.
Started in 2006 by Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, a Danish physics teacher-turned-brewer, Mikkeller has become the posterchild for gypsy breweries worldwide—both in terms of brewing and branding. In just eight years, Mikkeller has produced more than 600 beers that are sold in 40 countries, even opening three namesake bars in Copenhagen, San Francisco, and Bangkok. From a coffee-infused oatmeal stout named Beer Geek Breakfast, to its latest release—a collaboration with Mission Chinese Food that fittingly carries notes of Sichuan peppercorns—Mikkeller has a knack for pushing creative boundaries in the craft-beer world.
Though he only joined the Mikkeller team full-time as Art Director in August of 2013, Philadelphia-based designer Keith Shore has been responsible for giving fans another reason to fawn over the brand for years: the labels.
Shore was working as a freelance artist when he was first introduced to the Mikkeller brand at his local beer shop. After admiring the labels, Shore reached out to Bjergsø to discuss working together, and they quickly found common ground. Shore’s first label for Mikkeller was for I Hardcore You, a collaboration with Scotland’s BrewDog.
The Mikkeller characters we use were based off of drawings I was playing with before I started working with them.
The process for designing each label is built on trust: After Bjergsø explains a beer’s ingredients and flavor profile, Shore is given nearly total creative freedom in developing the imagery, at times even coming up with the clever names. With such a rapid production schedule, Shore can often be found working on 10 to 20 labels at a time, which he says prevents him from overthinking each design.
“The Mikkeller characters we use were based off of drawings I was playing with before I started working with them,” Shore says. “My designs are heavily focused on illustration. I rely on my characters and colors to tell the story. Of course, typography is important, but in the labels for Mikkeller it typically takes a backseat.”
It’s evident that Shore has drawn inspiration from some of his favorite artists, including Esther Pearl Watson, David Hockney, and Henri Matisse. His designs are deceptively childlike, filled with cartoonish figures and bold lines. He favors a bright but limited palette, which help the bottles stand out in the crowded craft-beer scene.
“All of our labels begin in my sketchbook,” Shore says. “From there I’ll scan and refine things in Illustrator. I don’t paint much these days, but I used to love working with Gouache and Watercolor.”
Out of the hundreds of beers produced by Mikkeller, Shore’s favorites include the Nelson Sauvin Brut, K:rlek, and Crooked Moon Tattoo double IPA. Click through the gallery above to see 14 of Shore’s most memorable beer-label designs for Mikkeller.