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Beer Identity: Left Hand 400 Pound Monkey

Beer Identity is a series where I share my opinions on the overall graphic design of a beer’s packaging and branding. I discuss the overall brand of the brewery, the design of the packaging, the label design, and what led me to pick this particular beer off the shelf in the first place. All of the photos in this post were taken by me, with the beer I grabbed off the shelf. I welcome any comments, agreement, and criticism on twitter at @AirshipDesignCo. Cheers!

THE BRAND

Based in Longmont, Colorado, the company’s name was originally Indian Peaks Brewing Company. After a conflict about the rights to the name came up, they changed their name to Left Hand Brewing in honor of a local native american chief whose name translates to “Left Hand.”

Left Hand describes their personal philosophy as…

“Too much of any one activity leaves you missing out on another, always wondering if the other was better. A healthy dose of all things in a balanced way keeps your right brain feeling good and the left brain knowing it’s all good. We believe the same to be true with craft beer.”

The branding for the company is pretty amateurish and not in a way that fits with the brand. The Left Hand “hand” is incredibly distinctive. I can spot their logo from across a bar or an aisle easily. But it isn’t used in an interesting way whatsoever. A traced image of a hand with a terribly-kerned, all-caps serif font around the outside of a circle doesn’t really fit with the message that Left Hand promotes. The brand calls for a balance in all things, but the logo is pretty cold and corporate.

But luckily for all of us (unlike their logo) the beer that Left Hand brews is truly exceptional.

Choosing the Beer

six pack-aside

When walking through your local beer store and you come across a six-pack covered in large, whimsically-illustrated monkeys, you tend to take notice.

The Moxie Sozo Agency designed new labels for Left Hand in 2009 and each one is absolutely gorgeous. Custom illustration, lettering, and bold colors make each of their offerings truly eye-catching.

I love this illustration.

It’s so beautiful and fun with some nice call outs to the history of the India Pale Ale. (And who doesn’t love little monkeys dressed in British/Indian outfits? The answer is no one.) The symmetry in the piece and the almost henna-like background design are a nice reference to Indian art and culture as well. The custom lettering of “400 Pound Monkey” also really helps set the whole piece apart.

This design really checks all my boxes for what makes a successful six-pack design. It’s clearly labeled, it’s fun to look at, and most importantly, it’s extremely unique.

Despite my love for this design, it isn’t perfect.

Left Hand’s decision to use an awesome custom illustrations for the six-pack is almost undone by using their logo on the packaging an almost laughable number of times. From just this angle, I count 14 instances of the logo in view. Talk about brand reinforcement coming out the wazoo.

“Hey Barry, who brews that cool monkey beer?”

“No idea. I wish they would have there logo on here a few more times to let me know.”

I’m willing to forgive the fact that a large number of those instances of the logo are on the bottles themselves, but it is very clear that a logo was slapped on the top left side of each side of the six-pack, which covers part of the illustration.

At a certain point, you need to have faith that your customers will know who brewed this beer and show a bit more restraint with the personal branding. Left Hand needs to find balance in their use of their logo.

The Label

Like Flying Dog’s label from the previous Beer Identity, Left Hand gives the label almost all of it’s real-estate to the fantastic monkey illustration from the 6-pack instead of being solely brand focused.

The bottle is essentially identical to the six-pack design, which is a wise choice with how strong the six-pack design is.

The bottle corrects my only real issue with the packaging, and that’s the appropriate use of the company branding. The cap and neck label have the logo nice and large, and a small Left Hand logo is on the bottom of the main label. Boom. Perfect.

bottle

Overall

I had my issues with their haphazard use of their logo, but that shouldn’t take away from how well designed every other aspect of this packaging is. The beautiful illustration, lettering, and use of color should not be diminished. It fun, whimsical, and eye-catching.

So how does this beer taste?

As I said in earlier in this post, Left Hand brews truly exceptional beers, and 400 Pound Monkey is no exception. It’s a wonderful IPA that isn’t too hoppy, too high in ABV, and is a great refreshing beer. Left Hand certainly achieves the balance they strive for in this beer. [untappd]

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