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Last week, we took a look at some of the very worst labels you can find on a bottle of beer. To counterbalance all that artistic vomit, we gathered some of the most iconic and creative labels on shelves today — labels that feature artwork as original and important as craft beer itself.
All ten of our picks can be found on the Houston Press Eating...Our Words blog, but here are our top five.
5. Unibroue Maudite
I still remember spotting this label in Cost Plus World Market at age 22. It had to be the coolest label I'd ever seen. A decade later, Unibroue is making up for Canadian brewing mistakes like Molson and Labatt, and the brewery's artwork is still among the very best.
4. Dogfish Head Fort
I have a serious hard-on for pop artist and comic book illustrator Tara McPherson. I love just about everything she does, and her label for Dogfish is no exception. This isn't the first time craft beer and lowbrow art have tangled, but it's certainly one of the best. Adding to her work with Fort and Chateau Jihau labels, look for more Dogfish promo art from the cult artist this year.
3. Shmaltz Coney Island Lager
New to Texas, Coney Island artwork is top-notch, but their Lager is the trademark label. Even with my extreme aversion to clowns, I picked this label over the awesome Human Blockhead and the innuendo-laden Sword Swallower.
2. Left Hand Brewing Wake Up Dead
Named for a Megadeth song of the same name, and part of Left Hand's Ode to Thrash Metal (along with their yearly release, Fade to Black), Wake Up Dead is the very best art from the best lineup of labels in the country. Revamped over the past two years, Left Hand's labels have taken the beer community by storm and helped cement the brewery's place in beer history.
1. Jester King Black Metal
The grandfather of all Jester King labels is still the reigning king. This artwork set the tone for the brewery and the brand. With a full lineup of farmhouse beers, a lawsuit victory over the TABC and a growing nationwide reputation, the guys at Jester King have lived up to the reputation set by the Suds of Northern Darkness after only two short years in business. And while we're on the subject, that's not "one of the guys from KISS" on the label, either. Instead, it's an homage to Abbath from classic Norwegian black metal outfit Immortal. (He's a household name, right?)
Pinot Grigio Nation
The takeover of the red — yes, red — grape.
"Soon as we walk through the door," sang Mariah Carey in her 2008 hit "Migrate," "Fellas be grabbin' at us like yo / Tryin' to get us going off the Patron / We sippin' Grigio...slow."
These lines came to mind recently when the day's umpteenth press release caught my eye from an oversaturated inbox: "Drew Barrymore's Pinot Grigio now available in Houston, TX."
"I wanted to reach out and let you know that Drew Barrymore's new wine label — Barrymore Wines — is now available in your area!" wrote the author. "Barrymore Pinot Grigio is a lively white wine that is easy to pair with a wide array of foods — from classic Italian and French dishes to contemporary Asian and Mediterranean fare." (If I only had a dime for every "lively white wine" that pairs well with everything from "classic Italian" to "contemporary Asian and Mediterranean"!)
Ever since it was introduced to Americans nearly 35 years ago, Italian Pinot Grigio — vinified as a white as opposed to red wine — has reshaped our nation's vinous landscape. By means of antonomasia, it has become synonymous with easy-drinking white wine (the same way that Xerox denotes photocopy, Kleenex means tissue paper, or Fedex, as a verb, signifies to ship via express courier).
Delving a little deeper into the ethos that shapes and informs Barrymore's new wine, I can't say that I disagree with her or disapprove of her no-nonsense approach to winemaking.
When Food & Wine asked her (in its September 2012 issue), "Why did you pick Pinot Grigio for the launch of Barrymore Wines?" she answered: "I've always ordered Pinot Grigio in restaurants, because it's a surefire way to get a wine that's not too buttery, too acidic or overly fruity...It has this beautiful, mild fruit that I love. It's dangerously easy-drinking."
At our house, we have a saying: If you can't be with the wine you love, love the Pinot Grigio. Barrymore calls the grape variety "dangerous." In fact, the wine is (as she also points out) a safe bet when you're faced with limited wine-drinking options (like when I visit my estranged father in Highland, Indiana, a landscape straight out of a John Mellencamp song, and the armpit of America). Even in the worst-case scenario (like Giovanni's in nearby Munster, Indiana), the Pinot Grigio brand will deliver an innocuous but fresh and clean wine that may not have the acidity I crave but at least will help me get my drink on.
We sippin' Grigio...slow...
From an epistemological perspective, it's only fitting that few fans of Pinot Grigio actually know what it is: A red grape (see above) that can produce some of Italy's (and France's) most noble wines.