Atwater Brewery’s logo—a gentleman worker with one arm resting on his hip and the other raising a frothing glass to the world—reinforces the brewery’s association with the working-class origins of Detroit. The labels also came with an industrial sort of simplicity. Bold lines and circles, the brewery’s name in neon sign-like cursive and the city silhouette small and distinct below the apt claim “Bier Is Good.” A timeless message embraced by a brewery founded in 1997.
But just because something proves timeless doesn’t mean it’s not ripe for change.
In 2016, local artist Tony Roko was commissioned to create a label for the 40th anniversary of Ye Olde Salone in the Detroit neighborhood of Royal Oak, a partnership that quickly blossomed into the creation of 26 labels and a total rebrand of Atwater’s labels. Taking its lead from the first image, the new labels would incorporate the “commercial sensibility of Toulouse-Lautrec with a van-Gogh-esque palate.”
Each label includes a character or two, an effort to personify the flavors of the beer itself, which take most of their direction from older Bohemian beer styles.
Roko, however, is firmly rooted in Detroit. As an immigrant from a Roman refugee camp, he started in the city working at the Ford Motor Company, drawing on his breaks until he was recruited to be part of a plant beautification project. That led him to discover materials that could handle the harsh environments of an auto manufacturing plant—industrial coatings, auto enamels, scrap wood from pallets, materials he continues to use today, alongside floor stains, varnish, leftover house paint, and linseed oil, all elements incorporated into original pieces of art that now grace most of Atwater’s bottles.
Check out the gallery for some of Atwater’s most intriguing labels.