For years my go-to beer was always Pabst Blue Ribbon. Call it a combination of growing up near Wisconsin and always going for the cheapest option in Chicago bars, but I learned to love the taste. Then they really won me over: In 2012 the company introduced its Art Can contest, PBR drinkers vote on the best can designs and not only producing a limited run of the winning cans, but awarding the artists behind them with cash prizes. This year there were 10 winners in honor of the 10th year of the contest.
The designs were a nice update, a way to spruce up my fridge and break up the montony of the decades-old PBR logo—a literal blue ribbon. Soon, I started noticing how much more visually appealing other beer labels were as well. Even the smallest change in routine can disrupt your tunnel vision for the better, it seems. Before long, trying out alcoholic beverages based on aesthetics above all else led me to my new favorite go-to beers and wines.
Although we’re taught to never judge by appearances—and although beer and wine snobs might give you a hard time about this—I’m giving you permission to pick up a six-pack simply because the colors are pretty or the name is funny or there’s a turtle on there, and you love turtles! While it may seem like a frivolous measure of a brand, trying things based on your attraction to the label can teach you about your drink preferences and introduce you to brands exemplifying your values.
I, for example, first picked up Le Tub from Chicago-based Whiner Brewing because its cheerful, pastel label featured an illustration of a cat perched on the edge of a mustachioed man’s bubble bath. Who wouldn’t want to bring that image into their home? After popping open a can I crossed my fingers and took a sip. What I tasted was tart, complex, and refreshing, a combination I had never tasted nor thought to seek out at the liquor store. Now I know that my favorite style of beer is a wild farmhouse ale, and through some quick internet research I learned that I was also supporting a woman-run brewery: Whiner co-founder Ria Neri is also the artist behind the masterful can design. It was a win-win-win.
The same can go for wine. When I first picked up a bottle of La Vieille Ferme rosé, I did so because I was bringing the bottle to a friend’s house and wanted it to look expensive (but, you know, not actually cost a lot). The provincial illustration of a hen and rooster paired with the seemingly handwritten “Récolte” label on the bottle’s neck? Hell, they’ll think I’m coming straight from the frickin’ farm instead of Jewel, where I spent $7.99. It was delicious, light and dry and fruity all at once. Now I always have a bottle in my fridge and have learned when dining out to ask about any French rosé options to satisfy my palate (just don’t ask me what any of those French words mean).
Even if you end up not liking the taste of a pretty-looking beverage, there’s still useful intel to be had. Eliminating a specific style or brand from your repertoire will make future taste tests that much more satisfying. And if you’re still a fan of the art, it’s time for some crafts.
Wine bottles, of course, always make for useful vases for small bouquets, and with the right bottle can bring some class to your dining room table as a centerpiece. If you’re able to get your hands on a glass saw, cut that baby in half, displaying as much or as little of the label as you like. With a wick and some scented wax, the bottom half can be repurposed into a candle and the top half can be hung as a wind chime. For something even simpler, just drop some twinkle lights in the empty bottle to use as a lamp or fill it with some sand—there are pages and pages of inspiration on Pinterest.
Beer cans are even easier to work with. Flatten out the design that drew you in and attach it to some magnet tape for some fridge decor, or maneuver the aluminum into any kind of sculpture or wall hanging or piece of jewelry that you please (just watch out for sharp edges). And of course, the can on its own can also be turned into a candle or a wind chime or even a pot for some succulents.
Whether you liked the booze inside the vessel or not, you picked that label for a reason, and an artist somewhere worked hard to create that vision. You should get to enjoy looking at it no matter what, dammit.