You're browsing the shelves at your local liquor store when you notice something slightly amiss: There's a bright, fluorescent sticker affixed to the six-pack of Goose Island IPA that says "THIS BEER IS NOT CRAFT." A few aisles over, a similar label has been slapped on a bottle of Against the Grain's scatologically-themed Brown Note brown ale, announcing "THIS LABEL IS OFFENSIVE."
Welcome to the subversive and thought-provoking new world of craft beer vandalism, brought to you by artist Mike Van Hall and his Committee on Opprobriations.
In recent years, Van Hall has become a go-to graphic designer for local breweries. His ongoing work for Baltimore's Stillwater Ales includes the creation of the sleek Yacht cans, and pulsing modernist labels for Nu-Tropic and Rockstar Farmer. He worked similar magic on DC Brau's Pink Pallet Jackcans. Off the shelves, he's crafted logos for Virginia's Aslin and Vanish breweries, and created dozens of bright, modernist posters celebrating dozens of varieties of individual hops.
But his latest project, unveiled at the Snallygaster beer festival, is his most interesting and interactive: sheets of stickers bearing such slogans as "This beer is not craft," "This label is offensive to women," and, most insidiously, "Do not trust this product." The labels touch on subjects that often spark discussions in beer forums -- sexist images, Big Beer taking over smaller breweries to horn in on the craft market -- and provide a way for craft beer lovers to spread the discussion to their grocery store's beer aisle.
"At its core, these stickers are really just me holding up a mirror to the beer world and giving people a tool to speak their mind instead of just stewing about an injustice they see," Van Hall wrote in an email. "I don’t expect I will always agree with how the stickers are used, but I didn’t make these for me."
"I always try to motivate people’s curiosity as an artist. My art has a point of view certainly, but I work to mask that point of view as much as possible. These stickers are the most distilled form of my approach. Each presents a straightforward statement onto which anyone can heap their point of view. Achieving that balance of simplicity and flexibility is why I think this project works."
It's easy to dismiss part of this as "craft beer nerds griping about AB-InBev buying Goose Island/Devils Backbone" -- Van Hall tweeted a photo of a sticker on a Devils Backbone six-pack -- but he hopes that the use goes beyond that, to sexist names and imagery, or appropriated art. And, he argues, not all the stickers have to be construed as negative: Budweiser spent millions of dollars on Super Bowl commercials painting craft beer as an effete beverage. Through that prism, the "This is not a microbrew" sticker on a can of Bud could be seen as a statement of pride.
Unfortunately, getting your hands on the stickers is more difficult then going out and using them. Van Hall says he will "have them with me as I roam around town during D.C. Beer Week. I may leave some in strategic locations around the area too," so follow his Twitter feed, @opprobriations, for updates. "I just hope people have fun with the stickers, even if I don’t see them used 'in the wild,'" he said. "At least the project got people thinking. That was my real goal for this."