Despite my affection for high-tech fabric and the myriad performance values of merino wool, nothing will ever dethrone the iconic cotton t-shirt. The comfort is simple and pure, and the aesthetic is timeless, an aesthetic that has—until recently—been largely dominated by “the band shirt.” But I’ve noticed that “the beer shirt” is taking over—at least among the ever-growing craft beer-swilling population.
Venerable logos like the Dead Kennedys, official tour shirts of AC/DC, bootleg Fugazi merch—even that awesome Crystal Gale shirt worn by Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights…the band shirt has long reigned as a way to announce, in a few quick words or a burst of color, where you stood in this weird world of ours. And the more worn-in, the more abused, the better. The only rule: you didn’t wear a band’s t-shirt when you went to see the band in concert.
Now it’s all about the beer. And with good reason. Breweries have stepped up their game in the art department, introducing fun naming conventions and funky labels (respect, Evil Twin). And, as with an esoteric band, wearing a brewery shirt communicates that you dig beer (even to those who don’t know the brewery) and that you even have a clear preference on the type of beer you prefer (to those who know what’s up). I’ve had a bartender at a free hotel happy hour see my Odells IPA t-shirt and apologize that all he could serve me was a Killian’s Red or a Bud Lite.
Even if it’s a cool macro-brew t-shirt worn with a bit of hipster irony, it’s still an indication that beer is more than just part of your day. It’s a defining part of your life, much like music. And it’s also one of the better souvenirs to snag after a brewery tour, unless you’re still collecting trucker hats and bottle openers.
As for the old concert and band shirts? I still have them, and I wear ‘em on occasion—music melds with beer almost as seamlessly as bikes. But you can find more than a handful of sweat-stained punk and hardcore shirts—the kind I used to wear so earnestly back in the day—on sites like The Captains Vintage and Defunkd selling for upwards of $600. Prices, in other words, that probably exceed the white whale beers on your list.
It’s doubtful brewery shirts will follow that path. But I still think it’s safe to say that you shouldn’t wear a brewer’s t-shirt when you visit their tasting room.
Check out the gallery for a quick round-up of a few of my favorite brewery t-shirts…
1 of 7
Dogfish Head Johnny Cask 75 Minute IPA
The t-shirt is no longer part of the Delaware-based online retail store, but I was able to snag one a few seasons back at their HQ and it may be lurking on a few brick-and-mortar retail shelves. Drawn by musician and artist Jon Langford, it originally depicted the Man in Black himself, tapping the barrel. The bottle's label boasted the same graphic, but soon a pair of Groucho Marx glasses (complete with eyebrows and a bushy mustache) were placed on Johnny. Likely due to legal issues—but the pink nose is still pretty fun.
2 of 7
Odell Brewing Leaf Black Tee
I love all the graphics from Odell—no surprise, considering they came from the same talent behind San Fran's 21st Amendment labels, but I'm particularly partial to the image of a man riding an elephant that adorns their IPA. Except they no longer offer that shirt in the classic brown that I scored three years back. Now it just comes in green or blue. So now I'd gravitate toward the simple logo of the Fort Collins, CO-based brewery, a red leaf positioned classically at the center of a black American Apparel t-shirt.
3 of 7
Russian River Pliny for President
You may not be able to get any of the famed Pliny the Elder IPA in your town (and trust me, I feel your pain). But this shirt is a fantastic way to add a bit of sanity and humor to the utter trash fire of this election. Yes, it's adorned with puns—stuff like "Four More Beers" and "Hopcare for Everyone"—but within the context of celebrating the IPA, that sits well with me.
4 of 7
Avery Brewing El Gose Tee
This beer is a relative new-comer to Avery's extensive line of high-quality beer, and the graphic is bold and classic, much like the tart, low-ABV brew it advertises. Think Dia del Muerto mixed with a few multi-lingual calls to toast in the back, and the Avery Brewery stamp on the front.
5 of 7
Almanac Barrel-Aged Tee
Like the Avery, this shirt leans on simplicity, with the brewery's logo on the front and their "barrel-aged badge" on the back. But that stamp is striking, with an image the communicates Almanac's farm-to-barrel philosophy in a style that references woodcuts and old school print-making.
6 of 7
One of the best IPAs coming out of the Pacific Northwest, the shirt uses simple, bold white graphics that feel almost like a future tattoo design. It was made of pretty thick cotton when I snagged one three years back. Here's hoping they tapped a softer stock of shirts. But the image still works.
7 of 7
PBR Frank the Tank Tee
I don't know if PBR became the go-to hipster beer before or after Old School hit theaters in 2003. But who cares—Will Ferrell's character became an instant classic, and the shirt reigns supreme as one of the best U.S. brewery shirts ever. (Sorry Budweiser, but you lost me at the oddball "America" rebrand.)