Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Label Me

In Saturday's WSJ, writer Geoff Dyer participated in an on-going feature the paper has where they send a bottle to a particular person and ask for their perspective on it. In Dyer's case, he was presented with a bottle of El Segundo Brewing Company's Blue House Citra Pale ale. He has an interesting take on =labels. Geoff Dyer on a Microbrew Suited to Swigging or Savoring:

As befits the contents, the bottles are pretty cool too. We are living through a golden age of beer-bottle and label design. If I were younger I'd probably start a collection of them. In such a richly diverse field it's risky to generalize, but craft breweries seem to understand that it's not a bad idea to impart a suggestion of Grateful Dead-era psychedelia to their labels. Or, at the very least, a nod to the aesthetics of marijuana cultivation. At the same time it's important not to alienate the traditionalist, not to go too skate, surf and stoned.

When it comes to wine I am deeply conservative, reluctant to sample anything that doesn't feature a ch√Ęteau on the label. With beer I'm more open-minded, but I didn't know what the hell to make of Blue House Citra Pale ale from El Segundo Brewing Company, produced in Los Angeles County, where I now live. The bottle is brown—a good but not wholly unexpected sign. No decent beer comes in a clear bottle. But the label is impossible to decode. It's blue, featuring, in the midst of a hoppy wreath, some kind of clapboard house drawn in a style that is both cartoony and ominously expressionist. Over this, in rather creepy green letters, is stamped CITRA. I guess in El Segundo it's so infernally hot that it's smart to have colors that evoke three words: Numb With Cold.

But the combination of the Swamp Thing lettering of "Citra" and the looming house with its pitched roof brings us within psychic range of a horror movie, the kind of film no person of taste or maturity would consider watching. If I mis-time my arrival at a movie theater so that I am forced to see trailers for forthcoming releases, I realize I've passed way beyond the demographic most films target. Is it the same with beer? Was I wrong to think that the makers of Citra even care about a mature customer base when it's actually the teen and early-20s market that they need to get their hooks into? If so, then look out for Son of Citra or Citra II—coming soon to an under-age liquor store near you.

It turns out that the pale ale was suited to his tastes even if the label did give him momentary pause.