If you’re a home brewer, you may have thought about making your own labels. Do you make a sticker, or a tag? What’s the best adhesive for paper to glass? Where should I get it printed? Do you send it out online? What’s the quality? What if you only have a couple bottles you want to label? How long will that take and how much will it cost? And will that price be worth it?
Joanna and I like to give home brewed beer to friends and we’re tired of giving it out without labels. Label design can not only be labor intensive, but it’s difficult to have a strong design and appeal to a large audience. Sometimes a simple design can be the most striking but also surprisingly hard to come up with.
The first major design we created was for my barley wine that we dubbed Olde Ronald. It was printed at Staples, and it wasn’t on proper label paper and was attached with spray adhesive. It wasn’t the best application, but it worked. It ended up looking actually really nice, even though it was seriously DIY!
For our most recent label adventure, we decided to use tags that hang off the neck of the bottle. Instead of using the computer to design labels, we thought we could create small rubber stamps with words like Style, ABV, Bottle Date and Brewed by. These stamps can be reused for any style of beer we make since we handwrite the specifics.
It also gives the labels a handcrafted look. With this method, we don't have to worry about going to the printer or about glue. And we're able to make a stash of labels at one time, or easily make them on the fly with our pre-assembled labels.
We have a lot of arts and crafts supplies at the house, but we still needed to take a trip to our local Michael’s. Most of the items we purchased were in the dollar clearance bin, including a few things for future projects. After our craft store trip, we ended up with gift tags made of brown card stock, enough sets of small letter stamps in different fonts to spell all the words we needed and black, white and silver archival ink stamp pads. We also bought 50 yards of craft twine (half of which is black and half is swirled black and white) and a few discounted rubber stamps depicting a farmhouse, stalks of wheat, an hourglass and other interesting graphic elements. At home, we already had a low-temp hot glue gun with clear glue sticks, rubber carving block and block carving tools.
At first, we didn’t think so much about the graphic elements of the tags. We wanted people to know the important specifics: what the beer is, when it was brewed and the strength. But, as we worked on a few test tags, the design began to evolve. I named my Golden Belgian Strong “A Thousand Deaths,” so the design went to a dark but playful place. We didn’t find any skull designs that we liked at the store, so Joanna experimented with carving a small stamp from the rubber block we had at home (who has this stuff?! We do!). If you’ve never done any printmaking, it’s really fun and a forgiving medium. Give it a try sometime, even if you’re not artistically inclined! I began to work with the letter blocks while Joanna carved the stamp. The letters were spaced too far apart, so I peeled each one off the individual blocks then hot glued the blocks together. Next, I used an X-acto knife to remove the extra rubber from each side of the letters and placed them back on the blocks. That sounds like a lot, but it just took a little extra time to customize the exact look I wanted. It was cheap, easy, satisfying and a lot of fun.
The letter blocks I created had a distressed look, which was perfect for the first two beers we were labeling: a Farmhouse Ale and the previously mentioned Belgian Golden Strong Ale, “A Thousand Deaths.” We wanted a rustic and handcrafted look to the labels, so perfection was not the goal – interest was! It’s hard not to want it all to be perfect all of the time, but the truth is that small imperfections add character to something like this.
We both created several prototypes using all of the stamps we had purchased and altered. After a couple iterations, we combined some of our designs to come to a final composition and started working on the final tags. We made two different primary designs in the end: one with the stalks of wheat on the front and with the farm on the back for the farmhouse ale, and one with our DIY carved skull stamp for the Golden Strong. They each have a different feeling and we can quickly change the tags if we want to, or even decide that we no longer want to go with what we have.
The cardstock tags are about $4 per pack at Michael’s, so it’s not a huge investment to purchase more and experiment. That’s the beauty of this kind of method – you don’t have to worry about a printer and time constraints. Once you have the supplies, you are free to do what you’d like. Something as simple as getting a different color ink pad and craft twine will totally change your design, even if you use the same stamps!
We hope we’ve given you some inspiration to make your own beer labels, even if you’ve never done it before. Pour yourself a great beer and let out your creative side!