Ghost Pigeon Porter by New England Brewing

Label Approval by | Dec 2015 | Issue #107

Rob Leonard had a debt to pay.

“It was early on in NEB times,” recalls Leonard. They kept the brewery’s garage door open on nice days. “One morning, I open the door and see a very sickly, don’t want to go near it, it may have rabies or the plague-looking pigeon.”

For two days, the pigeon made it his mission to get into the brewery, waddling in only to be shooed out by Leonard. Then one day, Leonard arrived to find him dead at the front door.

“I couldn’t help but think he probably just wanted to come in and find a warm place to die. I felt bad knowing it was me preventing him from his last wish,” says Leonard, who owns the Connecticut brewery. Since then, a friend has teased him, hauntingly cooing: “‘Whyyy, Rooob?? Why??? Why didn’t you let me in???’ And there the Ghost Pigeon legend was born.’”

When head brewer Matt Westfall wanted to brew a session Porter, Leonard saw his chance to memorialize this ill-fated bird. Artist Craig Gilbert penciled the “Scooby Doo-monster style of a ghost”—a pigeon under a sheet—that has become one of the staff’s favorite labels.

“It’s a silly graphic that I think is a good representation of our brewery’s sense of humor,” says Westfall.

“Even today, whenever I look at it, it still cracks me up,” says Gilbert, who’s known Leonard since ninth grade.

Though straightforward, Ghost Pigeon’s humor lies in the details. Take the eyes—too small or large, and they weren’t funny. “It took a few tries to get the correct size and direction of two simple, plain, white circles.”

“We have always been dead serious about the beer and then have fun with the labels,” says Leonard.

From the controversial (and since re-labeled) robotic Gandhi to a trailer-park romance, NEB’s labels are intended to “make the drinking public crack a smile … or shake their heads and groan in pained amusement,” says Gilbert.

With their recent expansion, expect more “drunken, third-gradery” art—and excellent beer—from this good-natured crew.