They say you shouldn’t judge a beer by its label design, but don’t tell Erik Leach that.
He’s had tremendous success more than once with his can designs. You may remember Saturday Morning IPA from Smartmouth — the one that resembles a box of Lucky Charms and went viral last year. He left that one 90% complete before he left the company.
Now he’s earned national recognition for a design he made for New Realm Brewing, where he is the brand marketing coordinator. The label for Tyrannosaurus Flex, a hazy double IPA released last October, got the people’s choice award for the best 16 oz. can label in the country from the Craft Beer Marketing Awards, called “The Crushies.”
Other Virginia breweries, including Starr Hill Brewery in Crozet, Oozlefinch Beers & Blending at Fort Monroe and Champion Brewing in Charlottesville also picked up accolades.
Leach got the news Tuesday. Judges selected the nominees for the people’s choice Crushie, and then the public picked a winner on social media.
The Tyrannosaurus Flex can has a purple background with silhouetted palm trees, a pink sun and a mean green dino flexing. It will be back on shelves in August.
Leach has been with New Realm about a year and a half and is the artist behind some of New Realm’s special release can labels, including Pastry Porter Horse and Jacked Squatch. He spent about six months at Smartmouth before that and previously worked for Green Flash.
He’s bounced around career-wise, spending about 10 years in the insurance industry, but his background has always been art, he said.
When he was in sixth grade, all he wanted to do was draw dinosaurs. He said he wouldn’t have believed it If you had told him he’d be paid to do that and, on top of it, win an award for drawing a T-Rex on a beer label.
“We get to kind of play around with a lot of creativity,” he said.
Each label takes him about three weeks to a month from start to finish. He and a team brainstorm names and concepts for a label, then he gets to work on the art. It’s a mix of drawing by hand, then putting finishing touches on it on the computer. He describes his style as “hyper-illustrative.”
“Sometimes beer doesn’t have to be serious,” he said. “It can be really silly and just kind of fun. That’s what this label is kind of about.”
New Realm’s core beers all have kind of a template, but Leach gets the freedom to be creative with special releases.
“He’s got so much talent and you could just see he lights up when he gets a creative project and when he can show his artistry,” said Bob Powers, the CCO and co-founder of New Realm.
Leach is getting back to his artistic roots with his out-of-the-box labels. He was an art student when he was younger but got away from it while working insurance and then events marketing for breweries. He said this feels like the first time he’s been able to express his artistry.
How is he doing that? With names and labels “as silly as a bad dad joke” he says.
“The fact that my owners trusted me and let me run with such a silly name and concept and idea speaks highly of my founders and owners,” he said of his New Realm bosses.
What makes a good label, in his mind, is that it should complement the beer itself. Something like T-Flex wouldn’t work on a classic Belgian beer. But beers like hazy IPAs lend themselves to a bit of silliness.
Powers said some of the beers with Leach-designed labels have been some of New Realm’s best selling brands. He said a few ingredients make up a top-selling beer: the right liquid, the right name, the right label and the right marketing.
“His are some of the best I’ve seen,” Power said.
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