As Marz Community Brewing rolls out a dozen new small-batch brews monthly, there’s something attracting customers apart from the beer: the art.
The Chicago-based brewery always brews in small batches and has a reputation for eclectic concoctions and unique collaborations. They have a design ethos to match, producing art-filled labels for beers that push back against the sea of sameness in the craft beer industry and give artistic personality to the beer inside.
Good Enough to Not Drink
But what makes a good design for Marz? “When you look at the label, you go holy f*#@, that’s awesome,” says Ed Marszewski, founder of Marz Community Brewing. “That is the reaction I want to get when I see a new label.”
Michael Freimuth, Marz creative director and partner at New York-based brand design firm Franklyn, says he has a slightly more polite way of putting it: “Do I drink it or do I keep the beer label?” he says. Even in the New York studio, where about 10 of his designers have all created labels and been rewarded with extra payments in the form of full beer bottles, there are some beers that haven’t been cracked. “We are so proud of [the designs],” he says, “we keep them.”
Marszewski says he loves hearing those kinds of stories, ones of beers in a box-frame behind glass because of their design. Even in the brewery, each beer gets its own museum-like setting with a display shelf. “That is how much we revere the design work on the beer,” Marszewski says. “It is a group art exhibition.”
Pairing Art and Beer
Since its founding in 2013, Marz Community Brewing has placed a focus on art-driven connections. Built as a way to commercially elevate Marszewski’s Maria’s Packaged Goods and Community Bar and food operation Kimski, a Polish-Korean mash-up, the Chicago art and design world has intertwined with Marszewski for 20 years. He’s made so many connections he wanted to highlight the design talent around him.
“These were small-batch beers and he wanted really provocative labels,” Freimuth says. “We try to get as diverse an array of artists we can, but with a certain caliber (of talent), which is both a strength and challenge for the brand.”
Every Marz label offers a different perspective. Early on the labels were about seeing what worked and simply connecting people and their artwork to beers. As Marz continues to grow, a more formalized process has developed, creating silos of design for certain lines of beers and using artwork to help folks understand the formats and styles.
Style By Design
Using what Freimuth calls a “master brand,” of typography, logo and color as the front layer to help signify the Marz brand, the artwork behind that layer varies greatly, segmented by beer lines. “We are careful not to get too formal with the way things look because we would hate to look like we have become commercial,” he says. “We make really weird sh*t and we want the label to reflect that.”
With labels so off-the-beaten path, Marszewski hopes everyone knows Marz beer purely by glancing at the can or bottle. “I am so used to Michael’s work and my friends’ work being so amazing, I forget how awesome it is,” he says. “I am so used to working with so many great artists and designers that maybe the average consumer kinda gets blown away by the aesthetics. That is a good thing for us and one of the reasons why the brand has been so successful.”
Marz isn’t out there running a focus group on the best colors for a label; instead, they simply call on their cadre of artists to create a label that signifies what’s inside the bottle or can without regard for where that label will live. “My opinion,” Marszewski says, “is the label can fit anywhere and will destroy all other brands.”
Sometimes the label works. Sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes they simply don’t know until they put it out there, such as a psychedelic comic strip label in 2018 from artist Jacob Ciocci that garnered the brewery a Hop Culture design award.
Know Your Strengths (And Your Beer)
Nearly 50 percent of the labels get made by Freimuth and his team. The rest are by artists and designers connected to the brand. With about eight to 12 releases a month, that’s a lot of labels—and that’s not even counting the club soda, kombucha and coffee they produce.
During the process, Marz provides a creative brief for the label, based on the concept of the beer and the idea they want to convey. For example, a recent tart IPA similar to a yogurt beer typically found in Korea led Marz to ask an illustrator known for Japanese and Korean animation to create a fake Korean brand for the beer.
With history in the brand, Freimuth and Marszewski know which artists can best handle which styles, so selectively choose. Of course, Marz wants to connect with new artists whenever possible, expanding the breadth of design for the brewery.
From there comes the experimentation and design. From one-off labels to four-packs of beers that all have a different label or packs with labels that combine together for one larger image to lines of beers that have labels with tweaks in them to showcase the differences, Marz remains well aware of continuing the evolution of design.
“How,” Freimuth says, “do we f*#@ with the conventions of what a beer can or logo looks like? You have your constraints and variables and how do you make it novel or different? We are a lot more by gut and if we love it, we assume the passion and energy going into it will be reflected in the label.”
Follow Tim Newcomb on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.