Lager At World's End

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Client: Epidemic Ales, Concord
Label: Lager at World’s End
Artist: Jon Merlin

While a beverage ultimately sinks or swims based on its taste, having an attractive or eye-catching label and shelf presentation are an indelible part of a brand’s success. And while Concord’s Epidemic Ales is relatively new to the local craft beer scene (opening in 2016), their colorful and unique label designs are garnering attention onto themselves. We sat down with Jon Merlin, a local artist responsible for their apocalyptic brand designs, to learn more about what happens “behind the label.”

How did you and Epidemic Ales begin working together? Who met who first?
I worked with Holly (Wang, one of the now owners of Epidemic Ales) at a mortgage company where I am their senior graphic designer. We had a common interest in craft beer and when Holly shared that she was home-brewing with some friends, I offered to help if she ever needed a beer label. We ended up becoming close friends, and I even helped design her wedding invitations. I am also a huge craft beer fan, so this project was instantly attractive to me as a way to let two of my passions collide. 

The first label I designed for them was for their Zombrew IPA, one of their original recipes, back in their homebrew days. I created that label four years ago, in the fall of 2013, for some stick-on labels we got printed through GrogTag.com.

I’ve been involved with Epidemic Ales ever since. I had the privilege to partner with them in building their “brand,” and I am very protective of it. I have high standards of branding and visual consistency. I want everything we create to look like it’s from the same family, to have the same visual language, and never compromise quality. 

How did you and Epidemic Ales develop their  visual style?
From the beginning, the Epidemic Ales partners have always had this apocalyptic, grungy, horror-themed vision for their brand. So that’s the concept I built their designs around. They come up with the names of their beers, and I design labels that match the name. 

Sometimes they have ideas in their head of what might look cool, but they usually give me complete creative freedom to create what I think is best. They literally call me and say we need a label, here is the name, here is what type of beer it is, now do your magic!

How do you choose a color palette?
I choose my color palette based on the type of beer, name, and the other labels I have created. I do try to match the design and color. For Bad Juju, their American Lemon Wheat beer, I went with a citrusy color for the name and literally used lemon slices for the eyes of a tribal mask. This isn’t always possible, but I try to use visual cues from the beer and flavor profile whenever possible. In my opinion, a label should reflect on the outside what’s on the inside.  

For their “Lager at World’s End,” how many concepts did you go through before the design as it is now?
From the beginning, they had the idea to do a mushroom cloud. They are also really into skulls (can you tell?). I am really into video games and thought I’d try to do something inspired by retro 8-bit video games, so I created a pixelated mushroom cloud with a skull on fire in front of it, with some nuclear waste. 

They wanted to go in a different direction, and one of the owners said they wanted a “nuke explosion with a hazmat suit dude in front drinking a beer...” I ended up sending them three more concepts, all centered around “end of the world” scenarios: one of a nuke explosion; one of the earth exploding (we actually ended up using this as the label design for Cosmic Meltdown), and a third featuring a comic book-style  robot attack. The team ended up liking the robot version the best, and the rest is history.

What is your favorite Bay Area craft beer?
My favorite styles are saisons, sours, and floral IPA’s. Lately, I have been really into Epidemic Ales’ tangerine IPA called Cosmic Meltdown. I am also a big fan of Drake’s Aroma Flora when they have it!

Where do you go when you want a cold one?
I usually go to Original Gravity in San Jose. It’s near my house, and always has a really great rotating selection of local craft beer.

What’s your current playlist while you design?
Lately, I have been super into synthwave artists like FM-84, The Midnight, and electronic artists like Com Truise and Tycho. My favorite thing to listen to is Above & Beyond’s weekly two-hour dance music radio and podcast show, “Group Therapy” (available on iTunes).

Are you looking to work with more breweries/distilleries in the Bay Area? How do people get in touch with you?
Yes! My dream would be to do design work for the beer industry full time! Other examples of labels I’ve designed are on my Instagram page jonmerlindesigns, and my online portfolio www.jonmerlin.com. ABV