On my weekly visit to the supermarket, my first stop is always the craft beer section, I pull up with the trolley, fold my arms and stare at the wall of beer cans and occasionally I’ll go pick up a can for closer inspection and before I know it, 10 minutes has passed and I look around me and there is a group of us, all doing the same thing, all captivated by the overwhelming number of options but most importantly by the range of provocative label artwork!

If you are reading this there is a high chance that you may have stood next to me in the craft beer section, simultaneously hypnotised by the label artwork.

Thankfully for all the folks out there who appreciate a slick looking label, just as much as the contents inside, the GABS Label Design Awards celebrate the best beer labels in the country and I was privileged to be able to chat to Mikaela Merrilees of Meraki Design Studio, the creative talent behind this year’s winning label: Ladies of Dogtown, a hazy pale ale by Searchlight which uses a stunning photograph from Melissa Clark, and also Zenkuro Dry, yuzu rice lager by Canyon, another top-10 finalist.

Now if you are like myself and want to know a bit more about what goes into the captivating label designs that have me spending too much time in front of the craft beer chiller then get comfortable, grab a cold tin from the fridge and have a read of my conversation with Mikaela below:

JL: How did your illustration journey start and how did this lead to designing labels for some of the tastiest beers in NZ?

MM: My dad is also a graphic designer so from a young age I was given the freedom to explore my creativity and passion for drawing, which led to me following in his footsteps and pursuing a career in design. When I got to New Zealand a few years ago I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to design the Cardrona Hazy IPA label for Canyon, and it has been slowly snowballing since.

JL: Tell us about the inspiration behind your award-winning labels?

MM: The inspiration for Ladies of Dogtown came from travelling through the US in a van with my partner a few years back. We came across the all-female skate crew out of Santa Monica called GRL SWRL and I absolutely fell in love with the way they encapsulated everything about the Californian lifestyle — think sunset cruising along the beach. Queenstown is a hub for some extremely talented female athletes and has a really strong skate community, so I wanted to emulate the passion of GRL SWRL, but with a Queenstown twist.

Zenkuro Dry was made using the spent rice lees from Zenkuro, who are the only sake brewers in New Zealand, so we really wanted to establish a strong visual link between Japan and New Zealand on the label. We brainstormed all the commonalities between the two countries (mountain ranges, snow, cherry blossoms) and I tried to tie them all nicely together using traditional Japanese drawing styles.


JL:  How do you think your illustrations add value to the beers that they are featured on? 

MM:  The design of a beer label is the first thing a person notices and can really influence people’s buying choices, especially for those lesser-known breweries trying to get their name out there. So, I think if you can create something that’s eye-catching or a little left of centre, that can be enough to get the beer into new hands and give them greater exposure.

JL: What is your go-to beverage after a long day of work and why?  

MM:  There is nothing better than a fruity sour in the sun after a hard day’s work, it just hits differently to other beers. I’m also really partial to a hazy (very beige of me, I know) but Canyon Brewing and Arc Brewing have just done a collab that’s a Sour Passionfruit Hazy IPA called Buzzwords and it’s all my dreams rolled into one!

JL: In 2021 your illustrations have made their way into beer fridges around the country, can you give us a preview of what is in the pipeline for 2022? 

MM: I’ve been working on an illustration for a local Queenstown restaurant that’s opening soon, a few more beer collabs and some fun new brands. I’d love to do some more large-scale illustrations in 2022, so if you’ve got some wild ideas, get in touch!

JL: Apart from in our fridges, where can people see more of your incredible work?  

MM: You can check out my design work over at www.merakidesign.co or on my Instagram @merakidesignstudio_