Most people after having enjoyed their glass of beer, do their duty by recycling their bottles back to the vendor and collect their 10 cents per bottle for their efforts. Those people probably purchase beer by the case, or six-pack.
In our household, it is pretty rare for Alan to purchase multiples of beer unless it is something he really truly loves and is planning on sharing with guests. Most of the time he enters the LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) filled with anticipation of new discoveries. Labels are read, individual bottles are selected of various sizes, and credit card whimpering slightly, Alan leaves with his precious bottles carefully nestled in special bags that cup each bottle separately to ensure they don’t clang together and break.
With so many individual bottles purchased and drained, after a few years Alan quickly realized he was losing track of what beers he’d tried. His solution? Collecting the beer bottle labels. (Note: he only collects labels of beer he’s drunk).
After savouring each drop, Alan pours a sink of hot water and painstakingly tries to remove the labels. Some labels quickly float off but others are not nearly as cooperative. Careful scraping with a razor blade is the next strategy but sometimes the only solution is to bake the bottles in the oven to soften the glue. Trying to save labels can be a delicate operation and only a small percentage come off without damage. (Clearly brewers need to take label glue into better consideration when designing packaging because label collecting is quite common in the beer geek world).
But after all that effort what do you do with dozens upon dozens of beer labels? Alan divides them up into categories geographically; by province within Canada, then by country. They are then carefully arranged and glued into scrapbooks. He is now up to six scrapbooks which at present contain 928 individual unique labels and approximately 150 labels of beers he’s tasted before but the label design changed.
Now that may seem like a lot of individual beers but that actually only represents some of Alan’s explorations. He didn’t start saving labels for the first 7 years of tastings. His label collection doesn’t include bottles where the design is painted right onto the bottle, and doesn’t of course include all the beer he’s enjoyed in cans. (I’ll talk about the dire fate of Alan’s cans and specialty bottles tomorrow.)
However there are problems with beer label collecting., After labels have been removed from bottles … the Beer Store in Ontario won’t pay the return deposit because they only pay that for bottles purchased in Ontario. Without labels the bottles could have come from anywhere (and frequently do in our house) so Alan’s label collection ends up costing 10 cents per label and the bottles are simply plain glass recycled. Sigh.
Looking through the pages of Alan’s scrapbooks at the beer labels, there is variety and diversity in terms of artistic merit, vision, branding, demographic targeting, and blandness. Some labels are highly literary, some historic, some educational and some just plain crude, but critiquing beer labels is a blog for another day.