May 2009
The Poetics of Beer Packaging: Colored Horse Studios and the North Coast Brewing Company

Take one poet trained in typography and history of the book, add amazing beer and some great illustrators,
and you would have a distinctive lineup of beer packaging that sets you apart as a craft brewery, which is exactly what North Coast Brewing achieved when they hired graphic designer and poet Theresa Whitehill in 1999 to begin reevaluating their beer packaging.

Theresa Whitehill
Graphic Designer Theresa Whitehill of Colored Horse Studios, photo by Olaf Beckmann, Studio Jaschinski

Whitehill pointed out that while they had terrific illustration for their flagship brews Red Seal Ale (artist Mike Patrick), Scrimshaw (artist J.D. Mayhew), Old No. 38 Stout (artist Mike Patrick), and Blue Star (graphic designer Scott Peterson), the illustration wasn’t being as well utilized as it could be. She proposed a redesign, and the results have grown into a ten-year relationship between the graphic studio and the brewery.

Colored Horse Studios went on to design packaging for new beers developed by Brewmaster Mark Ruedrich, including Brother Thelonious (artist Eduardo Smissen), Old Stock Ale and Le Merle (artist for both of these being Whitehill’s husband and partner, Paulo Ferreira), Cru d’Or and Old Plowshare (organic brews), Black Hart Stout (an exclusive for Trader Joe’s), Twentieth Anniversary Ale, and anniversary editions of their Old Rasputin.

Over the years, North Coast Brewing Company’s patronage of north coast artists on their beer packaging emphasizes a focus on local creative talent. When it came time to redesign the venerable Acme label in 2002, the network of local artists led Whitehill to San Francisco Bay Area illustrator Eric Grbich for an impeccable retro style in keeping with vintage advertising art from Acme Ale’s rich history.

Theresa Whitehill

  • Top image, Before: North Coast Brewing Company’s original Acme Ale packaging with illustration by Carol Baker
  • Bottom image, After: Colored Horse Studio’s redesign of the Acme Ale with illustration by Eric Grbich

To see more of the graphic design of Colored Horse Studios, visit their website at