“I have a theory that most of design, in general, is the creation of affection,” says Milton Glaser, the 84-year-old graphic-design legend, who created the I ♥ NY logo. When it comes to craft beer, Glaser, who also designed the Brooklyn Brewery identity, believes that it comes down to creating a label that looks quirkily amateurish — if not downright unprofessional. “The one thing you don’t want to look like is Budweiser,” Glaser says. “This creates a paradox: How do you deliberately create the illusion of not knowing what you’re doing when you actually do?” As he notes below, some companies do it better than others.

MIKKELLER BEER HOP BREAKFAST Copenhagen“This represents a sort of Danish contemporary design with this pseudoprimitive drawing. It’s a semicartoon, probably derived from children’s books more than anything else. It looks friendly, although, in my mind, it has nothing to do with beer.” EVIL TWIN BREWING HIPSTER ALE Brooklyn, N.Y.“I just did the identity for the seventh season of ‘Mad Men.’ This looks as though it came out of that period. But it’s poorly done in terms of its complexity. Still, it looks out of place, and that is one of the criteria these craft beers seem to be concerned with.” SIXPOINT RESIN Brooklyn, N.Y.“It has a traditional trademark identity that looks like many that exist, but the complexity and the color scheme deviates from those. The lightning bolts are gratuitous. All the elements put together aren’t really working.”
Smuttynose Finestkind IPA Portsmouth, N.H.“These two old, disreputable geezers certainly don’t represent sophisticated drinking. The intention is, basically, to shock the viewer. The idea of looking like you don’t know what you’re doing is really amplified here.” DOGFISH HEAD 90 MINUTE IMPERIAL IPA Milton, Del.“The surface of this is so unpleasant. It sort of looks lumpy, like food that has gone bad. To me, this is antithetical to the idea of refreshing taste. Even though this violates assumption, it still doesn’t create a sense of anticipation about drinking it.” Uinta Brewing Co. Hop Nosh IPA Salt Lake City“This is a little bit like a label produced during the ’30s. It has a reference to an agricultural product, but not necessarily beer. There’s a certain innocent charm about it. If my theory about creating affection is true, then that may be enough of an imperative to buy this beer.”
Flying Dog Brewery Gonzo Imperial Porter Frederick, Md.“With this Ralph Steadman drawing, the idea of transgression and resistance and bad taste is raised to its most obvious level. It’s also sort of dealing with masculinity, heroic figures and death. There’s a real narrative. It’s a demonstration that this beer is not playing by the rules.” Kiuchi Brewery Hitachino Nest White Ale Naka, Japan“Japanese things always look as if everything’s in the right place; this doesn’t quite look that way. It looks as if it started with a Japanese idea and then got broken up. It’s the intent to be different. I suppose that’s what the product itself is trying to say: We’ve departed from the conventions, and therefore we’re distinct and unusual.” Left Hand Brewing Co. Nitro Milk Stout Longmont, Colo.“This is adventurous because it’s so unlike most existing beer labels. It has no specific beer reference at all. It could be for a pharmaceutical, a hand cream or anything. It’s really just a type selection and the idea of doing it in white on black. The product is distinguishable from everything else that’s around.”
Brewery Ommegang Witte Cooperstown, N.Y.“It certainly doesn’t look like an American beer, but it does look like it has some craft references — the color is odd and unconventional, and that helps distinguish it. The quality of the silhouette of the two figures is convincing. Somebody knew how to represent this without looking amateurish.” Spoetzl Brewery Shiner Bock Shiner, Tex.“It’s sort of marginal in terms of whether it’s a commercial, large-volume beer or a small, artisan beer — you can’t quite tell. Even though it’s conventional, it’s memorable. The angle of the lettering and the yellow produce something you can remember. It’s not peculiar.”

Photographs by Gabrielle Plucknette/The New York Times. Illustration by Hannah K. Lee. Produced by John Niedermeyer.

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