Tallgrass Brewing Co.’s 8-Bit Pale Ale

Label Approval by | Jun 2017 | Issue #125

The nostalgia of colorful video game sprites and pixels takes Jeff Gill back to the Nintendo console games he played with college buddies in the mid-90s.

“Tecmo Super Bowl probably lowered my GPA in college a couple tenths of a point,” jokes Gill, founder of Tallgrass Brewing Company.

He was about 35 when a friend who owned a video game store brought up the idea for 8-Bit Pale Ale. The concept reminded Neil Camera, then Tallgrass’ creative director, of his local arcade, where “pinball ruled for years” until the arrival of the original Donkey Kong stand-up arcade game. “From that day on, we were all hooked on sprites.”

To design the 8-Bit label, which features a pixelated yellow smiley face licking its lips, Camera started digging into retro video game art. “Keeping it simple was actually very complex,” he says. “It’s still amazing to me the detail [programmers] could convey with so few sprites.”

The throwback can carried Tallgrass beyond its college town of Manhattan, Kan., to its current 17-state distribution. “8-Bit has taken Tallgrass into places where [we] wouldn’t have been able to penetrate with other brands,” says Gill.

But that increased visibility revealed a problem with their branding: “As we went [on a] creative streak with all [of] our different can designs, [we realized] they were [each] so unique, it wasn’t apparent at all that Tallgrass Brewing Company even existed,” says Gill. “If people were regular drinkers of 8-Bit with the older can design, they just thought we were the 8-Bit Brewery.”

So Tallgrass embarked on a redesign that emphasizes continuity and puts the brewery logo front and center, while retaining the personality of each brand.

Gill finds familiarity in the 8-bit design process. “Programmers worked really hard with the technology they had, and somehow, using those limited capabilities, they came up with something that was a lot of fun,” he says. “That’s what we tried to do with the can, [and] that’s what we try to do with the beer.”