Outlaw Series beer rustles up unique labels

Rick Lingle in Labels on November 16, 2015

A grain waste byproduct from the brewing process for Outlaw Series beer is mixed with recycled fiber to create one-of-a-kind, sustainably-produced textured paper labels that are sourced locally.


Every bottle of Outlaw Series beer is surrounded by an amazingly unique label that presents an arresting look. But before we go down that trail any further, I’d like to tell you how I came to cornering this one-of-a-kind brew packaging made with old-fashioned, hand-made craftsmanship.  

While conducting research for a recent article on autumnal beer packaging, I posed a question to an on-site expert in the field—the stockperson managing the beer shelves at a Binney’s Beverage Depot, a beverage superstore in the Chicago area.

“Can you point me to any innovative new beer packaging?” I asked. He took me immediately to a nearby shelf where, otherwise hidden in plain sight among a whole gang of colorfully labeled bottles, he pointed out Outlaw Series beer. From afar, the product appeared ordinary as did a rather plain vanilla label, but up close I quickly realized what he meant: The highly textured paper label had an interesting “made-from-pulp-paper-look-and-feel.”

Printed in one color, black, the mottled white-colored label possessed a hand-crafted styling that continued with individual bottle data that was handwritten on each label. A debossed sheriff-style badge and other debossed accents made a literal impression to help complete an understated, yet distinctively different, one-off look. The packaging design stood out in contrast to the colorfully labeled array of competitive beers.

The hunt was on and I soon connected with Brian Podwinski, owner of Blue Blood Brewing Co., Lincoln, NE. “We are very excited about our Outlaw labels,” he informed me. “The idea has really taken hold for us and is growing rapidly.”

Even though the hand-crafted labels are five times more expensive than traditional labels, Podwinski decided to use them for three main reasons:

  • “First, we knew it would be unique; we don't know of anyone else doing this. 
  • Second, we wanted to use our local paper supplier, Porridge Papers, a custom, manual operation paper mill and letterpress studio here in Lincoln. Anything we can do locally is important for us. Porridge is amazing. By working with them on this project, we can have a local touch, especially since the series is all about our new location at nearby Robbers Cave, which has a rich local history.
  • We figured why the hell not!”

    “I had mentioned the idea of using their spent grain and embedding that into the paper for the labels,” explains Porridge Papers owner Christopher James. “They loved the idea and that was where it started.”

    The brewer has been using the hand-crafted labels for about a year with the launch of the series. Podwinski also tips his hat to marketing communications company Swanson Russell for its help with the label design.

    Messy and slow label-making process yields amazing results

    Podwinski knows two things about Porridge’s label-making process: “I can say for sure it is made with our own grain and it is a mess when he makes paper.”

    James describes how the labels are created: “We start with recycled fiber that is sourced just outside of town and blend in spent grain from the brewery. It is a slow process, but as you can see from the label the results are one of a kind. After producing the paper, which takes about 8 hours to make 960 labels, we dry the sheets and prepare them for the printing process. They are printed on our old cast-iron letterpress one sheet at a time, one color at a time—the debossing to produce the sheriff’s shield is considered a color or ‘blind hit.’ That process takes from 100-250 labels an hour. While it is a time-consuming process, the results are pretty amazing.

    “After the printing is done, the labels are hand-applied to the bottles one at a time. In the end, the consumer is truly getting not only an amazing beer, but the package it comes in is also a labor of love and truly unique.”

    While handmade labels are typically thick, Porridge aimed to have the Outlaw Series label thin enough to wrap around the 1-pint, 9.4oz bottle, which took some experimentation to have “just the right parameters,” says James.

    Although the company has produced a number of hand-made papers such as holiday greeting cards and the like, this was its first label for a beer or beverage, according to James.

    Close-up of the Outlaw Series' new label front and back shows the texture, the debossed details and the hand-crafted care emphasized using the handwritten details of the bottled brew.

    Due to demand for the beer, the labels have recently been modified (see closeup above) by having them printed with additional information including the identification of the particular type printed on the label front below the Outlaw branding that was only handwritten on the back of the label previously.

    “This series wasn't expected to be big, but it is growing quickly so we have modified a few things including now using preprinted labels,” says Podwinski.

    Beer type, bottle number, batch, date of manufacture, IBU (International Bittering Unit) and alcohol content by volume are all handwritten on the back of the label.

    Porridge is also now credited with printed back-of-label copy that states “This label was made by hand at Porridge Papers in Lincoln Nebraska and embedded with grains from Blue Blood Brewing.”

    James’ next challenge is to ramp up to meet the Outlaw Series sharply increased demand forecast for 2016. Perhaps his only option is to roundup more hands for the process.

    The Outlaw Series includes Wine Barrel Aged Wicked Snout, Wine Barrel Aged Pernicious, Wine Barrel Aged Last Call, Wine Barrel Fermented Saison with Brett, Skull Creek Fresh Hopped Pale Ale made with all NE grown hops, American Strong Ale and North Bluffs IPA made with all NE-grown hops. The Outlaw Series retails at Binney’s for $10.99 to $14.99 depending on the product.

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