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Beauty is in the eye of the beer holder

For more than 15 years the good folks at Deschutes Brewery have bedazzled their Jubelale bottle with a different label every year, each more fetching than the last, in this writer's humble opinion.

Well, except maybe for the 2006 label. A log cabin nestled in the snow? Not original by Deschutes' lofty standards.

Each year the brewery chooses a different Oregon artist to conjure the label for one of my personal favorite seasonal beers.

There's really not much to dislike about Jubelale, other than how you feel the next morning after imbibing more than three the previous night.

My first real weekend out in Oregon after making the cross-country trip from the Land of Lincoln found me at Squirrel's Tavern in Corvallis with a cadre of my fellow Oregon State University grad students.

I had recently graduated college back in the Midwest and had spent that four years touting the benefits, in both cost and effect, of swill like Miller Lite and, on the days when we were feeling particularly adventurous, Sam Adams.

Thankfully, Michael Blum, who would become a dear, dear friend in the next two years, pulled me to the crowed bar at Squirrel's and pointed to a line of taps bearing arty labels not like those found in places like Charleston, Ill.

The one which caught my eye and prompted me to plunk down $4 or so showed an impressionistic view out of a window into a snowy landscape lit by stars not unlike those in van Gogh's "Starry Night."

The walk to Squirrel's from my apartment across town was long, and the damp, Willamette Valley chill was hard to shake, even for someone who grew up in the frozen wastes of mid-Illinois.

The label was inviting in the way advertising art must be if it is to separate you from your hard-earned buck.

Beer-label art, particularly that of craft beers — which run twice as much as factory lagers — has to make you feel like you are buying more than a quick buzz after a day at the office.

When considering my first impression of Jubelale's nifty label, I can't help but think of words spoken one Don Draper, the central character in my current favorite show "Mad Men".

Draper, a brilliant and highly paid ad exec, is trying to explain the overall effect a successful advertising campaign would have on a post-World War II public seeking to distance itself from war and economic depression, but still firmly rooted in traditional values of God and country.

"Advertising is based on one thing: happiness," Draper says. "And do you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It's freedom from fear. It's a billboard on the side of a road that screams with reassurance that whatever you're doing is OK. You are OK."

And that's how I felt that night, drinking a pint of Jubelale with a new-found friend in a warm bar. OK.

Didn't matter that I had to teach Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" to a classroom full of apathetic freshmen at 9 a.m. the next morning. I was OK.

If there was any truth in advertising it would resemble that found on the satirical Web site "Brutally Honest Beer Labels."

The site's designer created his own beer labels based on existing brands, savaged here in ways that make you wince for actually liking some of the products.

On it are labels for "Spare Tire: Abominable Ale," a doctored version of Fat Tire's label and "Bottled Water" done in the all-too-familiar Budweiser script. Most stinging of all for a Pabst Blue Ribbon guy such as myself is "Pabst Hipster Beverage." Better yet, is an altered Corona label featuring "Mexican Beer: By White People, For White People."

Just Google "Brutally Honest Beer Labels" for more. Trust me, it's worth your time.

It's in honor of Deschutes Brewery's welcoming me to Oregon six years ago that I will advertise something for them.

Deschutes is bringing its label art on tour this year and will be making a stop at in Ashland at Liquid Assets Wine Bar, 96 N. Main St., on Friday, Nov. 20.

The full line-up of illustrations gracing the bottles over the years will be on display. For the boozers in tow, there will be tastings of the 2009 Jubelale. Also, there will be free limited edition posters bearing all 18 Jubelale labels.

The tour will also visit Medford's Bear Creek Beers, 410 E. Main St., from 5 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 9.

The poster really is striking and would make a far better Christmas decoration than the sparkling disaster your kid is going to bring home from school this year.

The showing starts at 5 p.m. and runs to 7 p.m.

See you there.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471; or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.