The Rise of the Beer Tattoo

Mj 618_348_tk beer tattoos
Courtesy Melissa Meier

There's plenty of contemporary iconography that emerges from beer. The design of long-running beers have turned into design standpoints: Miller High Life ran an ad campaign based around the woman featured on said beer’s label a few years ago. On a smaller scale, some craft beers do memorable design work on their labels: Chicago's Off Color Brewing imparts a very distinctive aesthetic, and it's one that’s matched by the memorably unexpected tastes of the beers found inside of those bottles. Is it so surprising, then, that beer logos have become a wellspring for many a tattoo?

Beer is, for many, a part of your identity. Pabst Blue Ribbon's ubiquity has become, well, ubiquitous, a kind of shorthand in certain circles for cheap beer bought in bulk and consumed while watching live music or attending social gatherings. Earlier this year, Budweiser came under fire for their Super Bowl ad, which attempted to mock expansive beer tastes, even as Budweiser's parent company acquires small craft breweries to cater to those same tastes. Whether a beer is available everywhere or found in more esoteric shops, it can come to represent something more than simply a beverage: it's a sign of an aesthetic, a representation of a particular taste.

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The images, logos, and icons of a particular brewery can stay lodged in your brain. The neon Anheuser-Busch logo, with an eagle in constant motion, can be seen from Newark Airport, making it a familiar sight for thousands of travelers a day. Brooklyn Brewery famously debuted in 1990 with a logo designed by Milton Glaser, the man responsible for a number of the most iconic logos of the last few decades. Minneapolis's Surly Brewing has a classic, cartoonish sensibility about their cans; they've also collaborated with the acclaimed hip-hop collective Doomtree; that particular beer can be found in a can that echoes both collaborators.

Where images and identities go, tattoos tend to follow. Not surprisingly, a brief perusal of galleries on Pinterest reveal a host of beer logo tattoos, including an immortalized can of Yuengling Lager, some inkwork showcasing the grinning demon found on the label of Stone’s Arrogant Bastard Ale, and a PBR neck tattoo. And some breweries maintain their own collections of logo tattoos: visit the Flickr page for Oregon craft brewery Rogue Ales & Spirits, and you'll see the logo of their Dead Guy Ale in a number of permutations, including resting starkly on someone's back and as part of a more ornate design on someone else's shoulder.

What prompts someone to get a beer logo tattoo? For Melissa Meier, who has the blue anchor that serves as the logo for Anchor Steam (from San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing) tattooed on her wrist, there were a number of factors involved. "Anchor Steam was the beer that got me into craft beer, and when I got it I was working in the craft beer industry, so Anchor Steam is what gave me a direction with what I want to do career wise," she said via email.

The fact that said logo was in a fairly classic style didn’t hurt: "I also have all old school tattoos already and its a very classy and classic logo, so it doesn't really stand out as a beer tattoo, unless you know craft beer logos really well." Her family's history also played a role in picking the Anchor Steam logo over that of another beer. "I also have family in the Navy so the anchor tattoo, while from a craft beer bottle, has more meaning," she said.

Will Lambert has the logo of Bell's Hopslam Ale tattooed on his shoulder. It's a cartoonish image: a prone body, crushed beneath a group of gigantic hops. For him, the reasons for choosing this particular image were tied less to the specific beer and had more to do with the charms of the image itself. "I really wanted a hop/beer tattoo and had always loved the Hopslam logo," he recounted in an email. "My favorite beers are IPAs and I love being crushed by hops. The Hopslam logo was perfect to express this." While Lambert does like the beer, he said that the design was the factor in his choice of tattoo. "I do love the beer but every year it gains popularity and they try and produce more and more. The quality has really diminished."

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The process of getting this tattoo took several sessions: Lambert said that "[t]he logo itself took 2 sessions and about 7 hours with all of the shading. The entire tattoo up to my shoulder was about 4 sessions and 15 hours combined." And in a thematically appropriate note, both Lambert and the artist who worked on the tattoo are regulars at the same bar.

For Omar Ansari, getting a tattoo on his forearm of the logo for Minnesota's Surly Brewing Company was a logical step: he's Surly’s founder and president. "I saw that other people had the Surly tattoo so figured since I owned the brewery I should too," he said. "And besides, Surly Brewing is who I am and my tattoo on my forearm is a constant reminder of that." Initially, Ansari had gotten Surly's logo, which took a few hours; a year later, he added flames, a process which took another few hours. The result is instantly memorable.

The variety of quality beers available right now seems limitless, with new breweries with distinctive identities, bold logos, and innovative designs cropping up regularly. It seems likely that this onrush of breweries will lead to even more beer logos tattoos showing up on backs, calves, and shoulders nationwide. After all, even the best pint of beer needs to be drunk; a tattoo, on the other hand, lasts forever.

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