Behind the art of local beer labels

These local brewers have teamed up with artists to bring you community-focused brews with cause-forward labels you can wrap your hands around.
Cans from local breweries like Justified PA, Full Mile Beer Co, Midwesty, Untitled Art and Copperhead Copper Ale

Photo by Nikki Hansen

Breweries know that their beers, like books, get judged by their covers. These local brewers have teamed up with artists to bring you community-focused brews with cause-forward labels you can wrap your hands around.

Representation in Design
Dr. Alex Gee is the president and founder of the Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development and its renowned initiative, Justified Anger. A driving force for inclusion and cultural change from its inception, Working Draft Beer Co. connected with Gee to brew a beer in direct response to the murder of George Floyd. The result of the project is Justif-I-ed PA. Gee’s sister — an author, artist and activist — Lilada Gee designed the label concepts, saying she found inspiration in efforts to normalize seeing Black women on beer cans. “My art really focuses on inspiring and celebrating Black girls and women,” Lilada Gee says. “Since releasing it, it has really spoken to people and made them feel joy when they are holding the can.”
Tasting Notes: Justif-I-ed-PA is a tropical, hazy and resiny IPA that isn’t over the top. At 6.5% ABV, it is pleasantly dry with notes of tropical fruits.
Find Justif-I-ed PA: Working Draft Beer Co., 1129 E. Wilson St., 608-709-5600,

N/A Options
After ruminating on what ingredients go into a beer and “the vibe we all agree it should give off,” art director and graphic designer Lefan Shi of Untitled Art gets to work on developing name options, image concepts and color schemes. Shi works with a handful of local artists for Untitled Art beer labels. Stephenie Purl Hamen is the artist behind the nonalcoholic Florida Weisse. “The most enjoyable part is seeing what each artist comes up with for the concept,” Shi says. For this beer, the colors were vital to convey the passion fruit, pink guava and cranberry flavor profile. Artist credits are on every can of Untitled Art.
Tasting Notes: N/A Florida Weisse is tart, sparkly on the palate and all-around refreshing. The well-carbonated flavor combination of passion fruit, pink guava and cranberry are 100% reminiscent of the alcoholic version of the beer so many love.
Find N/A Florida Weisse: Untitled Art/Octopi Brewing, 1131 Uniek Drive, Waunakee, 608-620-4705,

New Release
Karben4 is known for atypical labels (hello, cat riding a unicorn that breathes fire), and the requirement for a beer name is that it must make them chuckle at least a little, Karben4 owner Ryan Koga says. Regardless of the beer’s style, “we put the soul of Karben4 into the design of every label,” Koga says. That soul is often interpreted for the bottle or can by Hannah Hess from Backflip, a marketing agency in Madison. She’s been designing for Karben4 since its inception in 2012 and is the illustrator behind Karben4’s upcoming “New Age Pilsner” called Midwesty. “We’ve sent her an assortment of fonts, photographs, maps and old beer labels to inspire her,” Koga says.
Tasting Notes: First and foremost, this beer was designed to be crushable and thus its flavor is subtle, its mouthfeel clean and its aftertaste crisp — and in Midwest fashion, there’s a pleasant kiss of hop flavor.
Find Midwesty: Karben4 Brewing, 3698 Kinsman Blvd., 608-241-4812,

Brewed and Bottled
When Trevor Easton, owner of gluten-free brewery Alt Brew, met with Josh Lippman, owner of Lippman Media, the direction given for the label of Copperhead Copper Ale was clear: Don’t shy away from an alternative label design. Alt Brew has the same strategy for its alternative brews. Getting to the final label is always a mystery and harder than it seems, Easton says. “There are elements we know need to be on the label, but Lippman had creative license from there,” he says. Lippman took the name literally and designed a steampunk-style head.
Tasting Notes: This Great American Beer Festival silver medal winner gives a sessionable body with flavors reminiscent of lightly toasted biscuit and hints of chocolate.
Find Copperhead Copper Ale: Alt Brew, 1808 Wright St., 608-352-3373,

Creative Crowlers
Breweries that don’t invest in or have space for bottle or canning machines, but still want to offer beer to-go, lean on crowlers (32-ounce to-go cans). C.J. Hall, the co-owner of Full Mile Beer Co. & Kitchen, didn’t realize how important crowlers would be for the business until the pandemic hit. “We always wanted to provide guests an opportunity to bring our beer home, but it was really a lifeline in March of 2020,” Hall says. Fortunately, with his background in graphic design, he had already applied the quick exercise of extending his brewery branding into crowler labels to give consumers “all the information they need without overwhelming them.” With crowlers, customers can bring brews like the Lazy Bones Coffee Cream Ale home with them.
Tasting Notes: There’s a sweet, malty sawdust-and-cracker flavor that’s intertwined with pleasantly smooth coffee roastiness from the Rusty Dog Coffee beans infused in the beer.
Find Lazy Bones: Full Mile Beer Co. & Kitchen, 132 Market St., Sun Prairie, 608-318-2074,

Garth Beyer is a certified cicerone, senior account executive at Hiebing, owner of Garth’s Brew Bar and a Madison-based freelance writer.