Today is a very special post on the Evening Brews. Not only is it our first interview, it is with one of our favourite beer label & branding experts, Tenfold Collective. Their work for craft breweries such as Camden Brewery, Uinta Brewery and Grimm Brothers to name a few is distinctive, and elevates beer branding to the level it should be at. Josh Emrich, one of the founders of Tenfold Collective kindly gave his time to answer questions on what goes into creating their work.

Q: Craft beer is an obvious passion of Tenfold Collective, how did you as a company become so involved in the craft beer scene?

Initially, craft beer wasn’t on our list of dream projects. I think it took several years of trial and error to find out who we wanted to be when we grew up as a firm. Tenfold was cofounded by me and a partner in 2006. We were tired of dumbing down our talent and decided to build the firm of our dreams from scratch. We decided to start the firm in Loveland,a small town nestled along Colorado’s front range. This area has a high concentration of craft breweries and home brewers; however, at that time Loveland didn’t have a hometown brewery.

When we heard that Grimm Brothers was starting up in Loveland, we told them that they had no choice but to work with us. They had some apprehension at first, but when we showed them their logo and label designs for the first time, they were on board. Our work for Grimm Brothers helped propel their brewery;their labels have been featured in magazines and blogs all over the world. Since that project, we now have ongoing work with 5 craft breweries, including one in London and another in Sydney.

Along the way, we recognized that craft entrepreneurs are kindred spirits. They share many of the same values that Tenfold was founded on. We both believe it’s more rewarding to create a thing of beauty, taste, and conscience than to dumb things down or make huge profits. They show that commitment in their beer; we show it in their logo and labels. It also helps that we love beer.

Q: A lot of your labels are quite illustrative and have almost a storytelling element to them. How important do you think it is to give a beer a character and/or a backstory, and do you normally come up with these or collaborate with the brewer on them?
A good story has become very important because customers want to see themselves as a part of that story. There are many brewers out there crafting great beer, but if a brewer wants to stand out and claim their place, they must not only tell a compelling story, but also allow their customers to interact with and shape the story.

Q: Could you give us a quick rundown of a normal design process when working on a new beer label.
The process is very similar to what you might expect. Through client meetings and our own research, we start by identifying the communication problem, brand history, target audience, production concerns, and timeline. Then we prepare a brief that becomes our roadmap for the project. From there, we continue to research possible solutions and generate several internal concepts. We refine the best ones and present them to our client. The client helps us select a concept to develop moving forward. Through a series of revisions, we arrive at the final product.

Along the way, It’s important to present in person when possible, build internal consensus and excitement on behalf of the entire organization, and be in constant communication with everyone involved, especially the printer who will be producing the final product. Our goal is to exceed expectations and keep surprises to a minimum.

Q: Does your design process change when working with different brewers?
Our process will sometimes deviate depending upon the personalities involved, but for the most part, we hold to what we believe will produce the best results. Just as in brewing, it’s important to avoid shortcuts and rushing the design process.

Q: How important do you think a well designed label is to a beer/brewery?
It’s becoming a crowded marketplace, and as customers become more educated about beer, they demand more choice and have higher expectations. A well-designed label helps you gain access, stand out, and is ultimately an investment in your customer.

Q: Where do you find inspiration when you begin designing a label?
I classify inspiration into two major categories: inspiration from life and contextual inspiration.

Inspiration from life is my routine when I’m off the clock. I am always looking for solutions as I walk around in the world. I might find them on old clothing tags, a piece of trash on the sidewalk, a ghost sign, an obscure movement in art, etc. I store them away in my head or file drawer until I have the opportunity to use them.

Contextual inspiration is triggered by an actual project. This starts with the brewer and the beer. We love hearing them geek out about the beer and what inspired them to create it. And of course, it’s important for us to taste the beer for ourselves. In terms of design, we try to look beyond our contemporaries and find inspiration beyond what others are doing right now. We do loads of research online, onsite, and in books.

We love learning new things and, in many ways, we’ve never left school.
Q: Something I see throughout your work is a balance between contemporary design and more of a traditional slant. How important to you is the whole history of beer & ephemera that comes along with it?

The whole history of beer is important because it’s one of the oldest ongoing crafts. Vintage beer can go back centuries, whereas personal computers only go back to the ‘70s. Beer naturally lends itself to a combination of heritage and reinvention.

Speakeasy Ales Big Daddy IPA

Q: I am sure this is like asking you to pick your favourite child, but do you have a recent beer related piece of work that is a highlight?
We definitely love all our children and are continually helping our clients shape them. We never fully cut the cord.

We are excited about our most recent collaboration with Speakeasy Ales & Lagers in San Francisco to rebrand their entire lineup. Their redesigned flagship beers, Big Daddy IPA and Prohibition Ale, should hit the shelves this fall, along with a new limited release beer called Scarlett Red Rye.

It was exciting to explore Prohibition era America, Film Noir, old San Francisco, and scratchboard-inspired illustration. The packaging lineup will utilize a variety of elegant production details, including silkscreened bottles, metallic inks, and kraft paper 6-packs.

Q: Do you have any favourite beer labels that are not from the Tenfold team?
There are a lot of great labels that we admire. You can’t go wrong with Milton Glaser’s logo and packaging designs for Brooklyn Brewery. It’s simple, yet it captures the ethos of Brooklyn. We also love the recently-designed cans for Sixpoint and Austin Beerworks.

Grimm Brothers
Q: Tenfold has previously done collaborative brews with the Grimm Brothers, do you guys have any other plans on getting more involved in the craft scene in any other capacity other than design?
Yes, we have things in the works, but we can’t talk about them yet. We are always looking for ways to engage the craft scene but in ways that make sense. At the end of the day, we’re artists and storytellers, not brewers. And that’s as it should be.


All labels & graphics are used with permission of Tenfold Collective. Thank you to Laura from Tenfold for getting all some great imagery for this post.