Judging a Beer By Its Cover

Alex Fossi, July 17, 2013

Ithaca’s Flower Power is an absolutely excellent IPA. I wanted to get that out of the way up front, since I’m going to say some not-so-nice things about it, and I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea.  

Flower Power’s been available at my local bodega for a few months now. I can recall several occasions when I was browsing the beer aisle and staring down a sixer of Flower Power. Each time, though, I moved on to something else.  

Why? Well, you see, it’s nothing to do with the beer itself. The problem is that the label is just horrific. See that picture above? There’s a delicious beer that I poured on the right, and then there’s a disturbing patch of pastel yellows and greens that I poured that beer out of on the left. Here’s a larger version on the side of the six-pack for your viewing consideration:

Now, I don’t want to start throwing around arbitrary descriptors like “hideous”, “cringe-inducing”, and “what the hell color green is that” here. That wouldn’t be fair, and after all, the whole point of this site is to take an objective approach to evaluating beer. Therefore, let’s compare Flower Power’s (headache-spawning) label to one that I really like: Flying Dog’s Doggie Style Pale Ale.  

Flying Dog is lucky enough to have Ralph Steadman (who previously did much of the artwork for Hunter S. Thompson) creating their labels, and I personally think they’re among the best out there. That said, his gonzo style isn’t a universal crowd-pleaser, but there’s no question that they have an iconic, recognizable theme. I don’t think I’ve ever failed to notice a Flying Dog case amidst a wall of other beers.

So, I think it’s time for a wholly objective comparison! We’ll go point by point here, since I wouldn’t want anyone to think I’m biased against Flower Power’s (travesty of a) label. 


Flower Power: Multiple, including Comic Sans

The name of the beer is written in what presumably was supposed to be a fun, interesting way, but ends up just being frustrating to read. The “IPA” and much of the surrounding text is written in Comic Sans, which I don’t feel the need to say anything further about.  

Doggie Style: Multiple, including the deranged scratchings of a madman

You might argue that the name is somewhat illegible, and you wouldn’t be wrong. The difference is that here, the name is a cohesive part of the image, whereas the “Flower Power” looks like clipart. On Ithaca’s bottle, you can almost see the text boxes around each individual item. On Flying Dog’s, the text and background are a single piece, and the wildly scrawled name just adds flavor to the label.


Flower Power: Green/Yellow/Orange/Brown/Purple

I must admit that Flower Power’s color palette holds a special place in my heart. I grew up in New Orleans, and this set of colors is reminiscent of the aftermath of an especially boozy Mardi Gras parade. There were certain parades I wasn’t allowed to attend as a young child because my parents worried that drunken college students would try to give me beer; I remember thinking it odd that there was always so much vomit amidst the remnants of purple, green, and gold decor after these events.

Doggie Style: Blue/Black/White/Brown

Doggie Style’s label is much cleaner -- with some open white space, you can actually focus on individual parts of the label without feeling a rising desire to huck the bottle across the room. I’m not saying that you should never use certain sets of colors together, but you should never use green, orange, brown, and purple together if your objective is to please the viewer’s eye.


Flower Power: This...thing?

There’s so much going on here that I’m not sure what the central image here is supposed to be.  Is it this weird face thing?  


Doggie Style: Bat/dog/helicopter hybrid

Here’s where you’re welcome to disagree with me, because I readily admit that I may enjoy Steadman’s work more than some. I enjoy it because that is a fantastically depicted rabid dog with bat wings and a propellor, and I find that pretty damn great. Regardless of whether that’s your cup of tea or not, there’s no denying that the label has a clear central image to draw the eye.


Bat-dog-machine creatures aside, you don’t drink a label. Despite its iffy container, Flower Power comes in at #55 on our leaderboards for a reason. It sure looks great in a glass, pouring a clear golden color with lots of lasting lacing. From the aroma you’ll detect a fair amount of dry-hopping, with tons of citrus and fruit with a touch of honey sweetness. Given the name, I was expecting a more... uh... chronic-y aroma, but it’s not bad at all. There’s a bit of a sweet caramel background to the taste, but the main thing you’ll notice is the hops, as you might expect -- the smell isn’t at all misleading. Quite tasty and well-balanced.

It’s fantastic stuff, with all those sweet and fruit notes balanced out with a piney bitter finish, though the finish doesn’t really last. I was shocked to see that it was 7.5% ABV, as I would have pegged it a bit lower, but perhaps the hops just conceal the alcohol more than I’d expect. It’s a great, great beer and comes in at a reasonable price. With your leftover beer money, you could perhaps buy a blindfold, so as to avoid gazing on that Medusa of a label (still not biased, I swear).

Ithaca Flower Power IPA

Appearance: A clear golden beer with lots of pretty bubbles and lacing that doesn’t fade quickly.  (Note: in the picture above it looks cloudy rather than clear.  That is because the humidity was roughly 1000% in my house that day and anything cold was instantly covered in condensation.  No need to be alarmed.)  4.4/5

Smell: Hops and more hops mean that the aroma is all citrus fruit with a faint honey background.  4.1/5

Taste: Citrus sweetness with a piney finish.  Will make you want another sip, and probably several more after that.  4.6/5

Mouthfeel: Carbonated and clean.  Smoother than you'd expect for a strong-ish IPA.  4.0/5

Overall: Always nice to find a beer on our leaderboards that’s not crazy-expensive (lookin at you, Westvleteren 12) and is available on the East Coast, and this one's an IPA to boot.  Will definitely be a staple this summer.  4.4/5