NEXT TIME you're idly peeling the label from your favorite bottle, stop! You may be defacing a fine piece of art.

That's the underlying message of "Design, Drink and Be Merry: The Craft Brew Art Movement," a unique exhibit opening this weekend at Reading's GoggleWorks Center for the Arts. The first-of-its-kind show highlights labels, tap handles, sixpack carriers and other designs from 14 craft breweries. (To see more beer labels, go to

"It's definitely art," the exhibit's curator, Greg Heller-LaBelle, told me earlier this week while installing the exhibit. "Yes, you could just call it commercial design. But the people behind these works have incredible talent, and they're trying to convey an aesthetic meaning. So, yes, it's art."

Clearly, microbreweries have produced an eclectic collection, from Flying Dog's Ralph Steadman illustrations to graffiti works from Troegs. Designer Jennifer Hansen pushed the font envelope with her River Horse Tripel Horse label, while Doug Gemutliche sought inspiration from Reubens for Great Sex Brewing's logo.

And breweries have had their bouts of art controversy. Two years ago, Legacy Brewing caught flak from conservative Pennsyltuckey types who complained that Deric Hettinger's packaging design for Hedonism Ale was obscene.

"The main idea behind craft brewing is creativity," Heller-LaBelle said. "That ethos makes craft beer conducive to art."

Because there are so many different varieties on the shelves these days, the challenge for the label designer is to grab attention. "You see lots of labels with a mountain and a stream . . . that doesn't tell me anything about you," he said.

At Schmaltz Brewing, makers of He'Brew beer, art director Matt Polacheck strives for humor. "None of our beers are brewed to a specific style; they all have lots of layers of taste," he said. "So all of our labels have three different meanings. We're trying to make it a really fun experience.

"I mean, if you wanted something boring, you could just get a six-pack of Bud."

"Design, Drink and Be Merry" runs till June 28 at the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts, 201 Washington St., Reading, 610-374-4600, goggleworks.org.

GoggleWorks is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday.

Meet 'n' greet with Joe

Join Joe Sixpack this afternoon at the Beer Yard (218 E. Lancaster Ave., Wayne) for a free barbecue and samples of Troegs beer. Don't worry, Joe's not flipping the burgers, but he will have copies of his book, "Joe Sixpack's Philly Beer Guide: A Reporter's Notes on the Best Beer-Drinking City in America." *

"Joe Sixpack" by Don Russell appears weekly in Big Fat Friday. For more on the beer scene in Philly and beyond, visit www.joesixpack.net. Send e-mail to joesixpack@phillynews.com.