Moxie Sozo + unspooling the ‘Ohs’ of craft beer label design

Bootstrap Brewery and Boulder Beer turned to Boulder’s internationally-known design firm to stand out

By Paul Hagey Oct 21 2018

Scratching Boulder’s surface reveals dimensions of unfathomed intricacy and depth — we definitely sense the multiplicity of worlds lurking just beyond view everywhere in this town, but diving into one makes the knowledge thrillingly concrete.

Up a staircase just east of Japango on the Pearl Street Mall, lies Moxie Sozo, an international design agency founded by Boulder legend Leif Steiner in 1999 that, in addition to many other world-class projects, plays a role in Boulder’s evolving craft beer scene.

The high-ceilinged offices immediately tickle the senses — primarily visually with a collection of curios, toys, big anatomy prints, preserved animals, polished old-style ceiling fans, which create a burnished freak show aesthetic.

A few of Moxie Sozo office design flourishes. Credit: Paul Hagey, BLDRfly

This vision plays out in the firm’s work, which carries a surrealistic, vibrant flavor. Two of Boulder’s craft breweries have employed the firm to help their beer labels stand out: Bootstrap Brewery and Boulder Beer. And standing out is becoming ever more important in the craft beer industry.

(Moxie Sozo has worked with a handful of craft breweries in other markets. Craft beer is just one of its markets. Its client roster includes Adidas Eyewear, Nike Swim, Stanford University, top-end bike component manufacturer Mavic, chip company Late July and many others.)

Standing Out

The craft beer industry is booming, but as competition heats up and markets such as Boulder reach what appears to be a saturation point, breweries must do more than produce good beer to stand out — they must refine their brand.

Moxie Sozo’s surrealistic design on display with Bootstrap’s Insane Rush IPA can. Credit: Bootstrap Brewing Co.

Craft breweries, defined by the Brewers Association as a brewery that produces less than 6 million barrels each year and an owner meeting this production threshold has at least a 75 percent stake in the company, have proliferated in recent years. After growing moderately for years, the number of U.S. craft breweries more than doubled between 2013 and 2017, from 2,898 to 6,266, according to the Brewers Association!

The swirling new design of Boulder Beer’s Mojo IPA by Moxie Sozo reveals its slightly psychedlic aesthetic. Credit: Boulder Beer

That national trend plays out in Boulder. The city has one of the highest breweries per capita in the U.S., and new ones — such as the Post Brewing Co. in downtown Boulder — keep cropping up, but those days might be over.”

Every brewer BLDRfly interviewed for this craft beer issue mentioned the intense competitive environment they find themselves in in 2018, which is why some have turned up the design dial.

Avery Brewing Co., for example, recently sold a 30 percent stake in its firm to international beer giant Mahou San Miguel in large part to professionalize the branding side of its business. It recently introduced new branding for its beers featuring custom artwork from San Diego artist Neil Shigley.

Others such as Bootstrap and Boulder Beer have turned to firms like Moxie Sozo.

Craft Beer Style + Brand

When determining a style and brand for a new client, Moxie Sozo focuses on identifying the unique energy that drives its clients, their force of character, says CEO Evan Faber.

“We try to distill the essence,” he says. “It needs to be evocative, stir the soul.”

Creative director Charles Bloon, who spearheaded the Boulder Beer beer label redesign in late 2017, says he embedded a multidimensional story within the beer label designs he did for the firm. The labels Moxie Sozo developed for the brewery include: Shake, Festbier, Pulp Fusion, Mojo IPA, Due East and Buffalo Gold.

Charles Bloon. Credit: Paul Hagey, BLDRfly.

It started by highlighting the Boulder Beer brand because, as the oldest craft brewery in Colorado, it carries weight. The cinematic presentation — framing the new design with a black top-and-bottom border helps anchor the design, Charles says.

In addition, he thought a lot about how to pull a consumer into the can with story.

To stand out, beer cans need to be evocative from six feet away when a consumer’s browsing the beer aisle, Charles says. As they get closer, say two or three feet away — it offers more details — such as the face in the sky in Mojo IPA’s label.

Finally, when someone picks up the can and turns it around, the story gets deeper, fuller, with more design elements that complete more of a story. So the consumer progresses from “Oh” to “Oh” to “Oh” as they engage more closely with the can.

Moxie’s Bootstrap designs follow a similar swirling, multidimensional, story-rich ethos. Bootstrap engaged the firm a few years ago to redesign a few of their beer labels to accompany a launch into cans, starting with Insane Rush (pictured above).

Nate Dyer. Credit: Paul Hagey, BLDRfly

“We saw an opportunity on the shelf,” says Moxie creative director Nate Dyer, who led the Bootstrap project. At the time, many beer cans featured centered logos. The Insane Rush design, with its warren of wild-eyed rabbits terrified and fleeing a rattlesnake, wrap around the can’s full canvas embodying the beer’s name.

The firm has since done similar designs for three other Bootstrap flavors: Sticks, Chillax and Wreak Havoc. All feature a specific color palette and share its rock’n’roll spirit.

Moxie designed three other beer labels for Bootstrap — all include a similar animal-led, color-imbued design. Credit: Bootstrap Brewing.

Feature image: Moxie Sozo offices offer its staff of approximately 35 employees an ambience to match its work. Credit: Paul Hagey, BLDRfly

Paul Hagey

Paul Hagey is BLDRfly’s founder and editor. When not wrangling video, audio and words in the name of story, he’s riding his mountain bike, trail running and hanging with his awesome wife Jen and their young daughter.