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The story behind Raleigh breweries’ unique can designs.
Picking out a can of beer is a personal affair and, for the adventurous, the selection may be based on how the can looks rather than what kind of beer it contains.
“People see something that looks good or sounds like an interesting description on the can—that sells it,” explains Chris Powers, co-owner of Raleigh’s Trophy Brewing Company.
Breweries throughout the city rely on unique, eye-catching can designs to attract customers and tempt them into buying their beer over others. Trophy, Crank Arm Brewing Company and Burial Beer Co. all have professional artists, designers or illustrators that create their beer can designs for them.
At Crank Arm, each beer revolves around the brewery’s cycling theme. Co-owner Adam Eckhardt has worked with former Crank Arm bartender Adam Balding, now of design firm Saturday’s Gravy, since they started canning at the brewery three years ago. Eckhardt says the names for Crank Arm beers always come first, then the can design. Ever since Crank Arm came out with its design for the Road Hazard New England IPA, a colorful, psychedelic can design, the cans have gotten more creative.
“We went from that standard, stylized can to me getting to be able to express some crazy ideas I had, and Adam has made them all happen,” Eckhardt says. “You have to have a good product and then you have to market it well, and the can design definitely helps with that.”
Powers says Trophy’s process is similar and the brewery works with three different designers: Thomas Jennings from Charlotte designs Trophy’s popular core beers; Natasha Walker from Raleigh designs the brewery’s allyship series, and Chicago-based graphic designer Charlotte Croy Hudson designs all of Trophy’s 12-ounce sour cans.
Powers says the entire process of coming up with a design, brewing the beer, getting the label approved by the ABC Commission and manufacturing the cans can take anywhere from six weeks to two months, depending on how long the designer takes and how quickly the design is approved, so breweries, including Burial Beer Co. and Crank Arm, have to plan far in advance for special beer can releases.
Burial releases around 300 new can and bottle designs each year, all of which are done by Minneapolis-based illustrator David Paul Seymour. Burial co-owner Doug Reiser keeps a journal of peculiar things he sees, reads or says during his everyday life and draws inspiration from those anecdotes when pressed to come up with new can designs and names. Most of Burial’s cans hew to the theme of the celebration of life and death.
“We’ve always tried to embrace that natural mystic piece and the regenerative function of existence here,” Reiser says. “Not only are customers stoked to drink the beer but also to check out the art and evaluate the content and think about it.”
Though coming up with new beer can designs takes time, effort, creativity and collaboration, brewers say it’s worth it for them to make sure their beers stand out among the competition.
“Product development is really crucial, from the storytelling perspective,” says Reiser. “We’ve always told people we’d never half-ass their beverage, but we’d never half-ass their experience, either. Every beer has an elaborate story.”
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