In any bottle shop, hundreds, if not thousands of beers are available for purchase. But among the myriad containers that line the shelves of liquor stores, one stands out among the rest: Athens’ very own Creature Comforts Brewing Company.
No, really, we aren’t just tooting our own Athenian horn; voters across the country actually decided on it. Creature Comforts’ first seasonal brew, a milk porter named Koko Buni, took home top prize in CNBC’s Battle of the Beer Labels
early this month, eking out well-known national breweries like SweetWater, Blue Moon, New Belgium, and Dogfish Head.
The design was the brainchild of renowned artist David Hale, the Athens artist famous for his one-of-a-kind tattoos
, and Young Athenians,
a local firm that specializes in digital design of all types.
For each seasonal beer, Creature Comforts has provided Young Athenians with the opportunity to pick out their favorite local artists and collaborate with them for a design. While Hale worked side-by-side with the team for Koko Buni, Young Athenians has had exclusive control over the packaging for Creature Comforts’ two year-round canned beers, Athena and Tropicália. Along with these two, all Creature Comforts labels consistently boast Young Athenians’ vibrant colors, artistic hand lettering, and a distinct minimalism that are instantly recognizable to any Athenian.
Kim Kirby, graphic designer and owner of Young Athenians, explains the process behind the now-iconic cans.
“Making the cans is like running a marathon,” says Kirby.
For a current project on a beer that is to be canned in the near future, Kirby says she has already logged more than 45 hours illustrating. And that only includes her own time; Kirby is just 25% of the 4-person team that makes up Young Athenians. According to Kirby, she refrains from signing her own name on her illustrations because of how much the Young Athenians team exchanges input.
“There’s a mass creative brain happening in the office…it feels like a big family affair.”
As journalism is a discipline of verification, it can be said that graphic design is a discipline of revision. For the first can released, Creature Comforts’ renowned IPA, Tropicália, Kirby says that she first made a generalized beer template which went through multiple rounds of drawings, presentations, and revisions. The finished product assumed its final form under the hands of herself, her team, and the input from the owners and master brewers at Creature Comforts.
“It’s craft beer, and they want craft artwork,” says Kirby. “They’re artists too, and their attention to detail is like, German; it’s amazing. It’s why they’re such good brewers.”
During the process of Tropicália’s can design, Kirby recalls being told, “it tastes like a Hawaiian sunset, so give us a Hawaiian sunset.” This early idea led to the can’s trademark horizon line, which went on to be featured on each of Young Athenians’ future designs for the brewery. Kirby says that the packaging’s horizon line “was the one idea that everybody was into” and is primarily what makes a Creature Comforts six-pack stand out from every other beer in the grocery store booze aisle.
“We all want to make legacy brands, and you can only make legacy brands if you have really unique artwork and you really pay attention to the geometry of how things display on a shelf.” Kirby says that her own attention to detail was especially solidified in Berlin, where she studied after her previous education at both SCAD and UGA.
“They just beat the weirdness and the laziness out of me. They were like, ‘you get it right. Measure twice, cut once.’ They beat that into me,” says Kirby. This, she says, is why she seeks to learn of a beer’s production schedule well ahead of time in order to plan design accordingly. “You don’t want to rush anything – it’s like heart surgery. Because once it’s printed and it’s out there, it’s out there.”
Among heavy influences for the Creature Comforts designs, Kirby cites the paintings of Mark Rothko, as well as Andy Warhol’s collection, “Campbell’s Soup Cans”, both of which, like the CCBC cans, display the graphic simplicity of one rectangle on top of another. In addition, Kirby spoke of British WWII Art Deco typography, Memphis neon, female protagonists, and the conglomerate imagination of the Young Athenians team as being ingredients to the final product.
Kirby says each member of the team would taste the beers, “swishing it around in our mouths and trying to come up with narratives and stories based on what it tastes like. That’s the synesthesia I experience.”
As Creature Comforts continues to experiment with new brews, Kirby says that Young Athenians is excited to experiment with new designs right alongside them. Time will pass between new beer releases, but this, too, she says, is a necessary ingredient in ensuring excellence.
“One third of the time is making art; two thirds of the time is making it perfect.”