The ‘craft’ in craft brewing extends far beyond the brewhouse in most of our favorite micro- and nano-breweries around the Midwest. While the beer is a true labor of love, from the development of bold and experimental recipes to the never-ending scrubbing and sanitation of the tanks, every aspect of a craft brewery is imprinted with the brewers personalities. The entire brewery seems to be steeped in the culture and spirit of ‘craft,’ right down to the labels they put on their bottles.
The label artwork for a craft brewer contains a strong region disposition and usually holds a deeper meaning than just the image. For instance, Minneapolis’ Harriet Brewing’s labels feature artwork from a local painter and friend solidifying their ties to the community in which they brew. The paintings that inspired the labels are actually hanging inside their taproom for everyone to enjoy.
But the endless supply of craft beer labels that harbor deeper meaning for the brewers and community are not what I want to focus on today. Instead, I want to take a look at the beer labels from America’s macro-breweries, specifically those of Budweiser, and explore their relation to the “Pope of Pop Art,” Andy Warhol.
Imbibed around the nation, Budweiser’s labels must get across something more universal than the regionally influenced craft beer labels in order to appeal to people from the North, the South, the East Coast, West Coast, the mountains of Appalachia and the Sierra Nevadas. Their labels, like their beer, hit the American palate the same wherever they are geographically, in the same way that a McDonald’s Big Mac tastes the same at any and every one of their restaurants.
The Bud labels don’t feature local artists or give a nod to a specific city via a witty play on words because it would confuse the brand they have created. In essence, what you see on their label is all there is to see; there is no deeper meaning than simply “Bud Light.” The closest thing to a craft beer label is their series of NFL labels that featured the colors and logo of the various NFL teams. When I stumbled across this series, I couldn’t help but make the mental comparison to Warhol’s portrait prints. Replicated images with a change of color that ask the viewer to take them at face value and nothing more.
Could Budweiser be the Andy Warhol of the brewing world? I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to gnash my teeth at the demon that posed that Nietzschean riddle in my mind. It was simple for me to feign offense on behalf of Warhol and move on with my life, but I kept coming back to the question unable to shake it off. After all, something about the Bud labels had triggered the comparison in the first place.
Both the labels and Warhol’s works highlight a nationally recognized brand, both feature a change in color as the only differentiating characteristic between the images, both can be taken at face value as the subject of the art/label is readily seen. We must ask ourselves honestly and without bias, if Warhol were to release this image of all the Bud Light labels, would we be surprised or indignant?
Intent seems to be the dividing factor that separates the two from each other. Bud’s labels are to sell more beer. Warhol’s art was a tongue in cheek comment on this mass marketing of brands. And if we accept this distinction we must wonder about the old adage, “Art for art’s sake.” Either art has a mission it is accomplishing and Budweiser and Warhol are incompatible based on intent; or, taken in a vacuum, Budweiser is the Warhol of the brewing world. Pick your poison.
What’s your favorite Warhol? Tweet @MidwestBeer with #WarholRocksMySocks.