The craft beer world is a little bit silly these days.
I mean, it’s bloomin’ fantastic, clearly, but it’s also moderately insane. Brewers churn out recipe after recipe after recipe after recipe, each one overflowing with adjuncts, mythical yeasts and magical mystery enzymes, plus all the adjuncts under the sun. At some point all the rules were thrown out the window, into a mass-market-lager-filled blackhole, including the rule that lager isn’t cool anymore, because it is again – everything is fair game. And it’s GREAT. Brewing is art, and craft beer lovers are lapping it up.
And ya know what else is art? Art is! And with all these beers all over the place, there’s a whole bunch of art being made to adorn the shiny metal can-vases every minute of every day. One of those incredibly prolific breweries is called Alvarado Street Brewery and they’re based in Monterey, California. Alvarado Street are one of those breweries I can’t keep out of the insta-feed. Every can they produce is beautiful and every beer mouth watering. This is a brewery with a sense of humour. The post that first caught my eye was their ad for Rack It (also one of my favourite designs of theirs)
Tell me you’re not into it. I bloody dare you.
Once I’d seen that, it was impossible we wouldn’t end up here – so let’s do this. I spoke to JC Hill, head honcho (Director of Brewery Ops) at Alvarado, as well as the kind masterminds at Blindtiger design – both of whom were understandably insanely busy because summer in craft beer – to get both sides of the story on these absolutely killer labels.
Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions, I know summer's been crazy! How did your relationship with Blindtiger come about?
I first met Oceania, founder and owner of Blind Tiger at CBC in Portland I want to say 3 years ago. I approached her because I loved some of the can designs they had done, they were all so clean and polished. At the time we were planning a production brewery with the intention of canning a few styles, and we wanted some "core" design principles integrated into our brand. We ended up altering our brand design a bit through their guidance helped us develop consistency in our branding.
How much of a hand do you have in the process? Do you have a good idea of what you want before you speak to them, or is it very much a back and forth?
The relationship has evolved in new ways I didn't think were possible over time. It started in the brewery where we began experimenting with different yeast strains in the production of hoppy beer, pushing the fruiting limits on our kettle sour ales, and eventually got into a groove to where we could bring new beer concepts to market really quickly. It started with branding beers we had already come out with under the same design scheme we initially conceived with Blind Tiger, but we ended changing basically everything over the past year and a half. It was too much fun to apply art that we were inspired by into our beers.
What I do now is write them a design brief and try to make it as specific as possible, but they still have the difficult task of putting these thoughts into something tangible. But they always seem to nail it! I'm sure they scratch their heads quite a bit. We talk A LOT every week to keep new beers in the pipeline, and it's a ton of work. But when the beer rolls off the canning line it's a very gratifying feeling, and I'd say almost addicting at this point. Beer is liquid art, and there's a whole world out there of inspiring art forms that can enhance the overall product. Package design is incredibly important to us, it's how we express ourselves as a brand. We just kind of fell into it and never looked back.
Have any designs come back completely different to how you envisioned them?
That's the beauty of working with a designer that you're completely aligned with from a visionary standpoint: I'd say most, if not all come out far above our expectations. I will say that cultivating a relationship like this didn't happen overnight, it's been several years in the making but we're in a pretty good rhythm at the moment and don't see that going anywhere. I can definitely say we wouldn't have released so many new beers without them, that's for sure. They have been an incredible partner, and I think even they would say that we both have a lot of fun working together.
What comes first, the beer or the name? Or even the label?
It usually starts with the beer. I can't even begin to write a design brief without envisioning what the beer is going to taste like, feel on the palate, and what my overall expectation is. Names happen collectively from our team, they name pretty much all our beers. There are definitely some design concepts planted by our team too, it's a fairly collaborative process. If we have a great name and design concept, then we'll see what the best liquid would be to stand behind that can art and formulate a path forward to make it happen.
Are there any beer names you've wanted to use but never been able to find the right fit for?
I think naming beers is the hardest thing these days; there are so many breweries... we find that many names we absolutely love have already been taken. We check untappd and won't take a name (although it's happened before) if it's out there. I'm sure there's a bunch of these scenarios but can't think of any off the top of my head.
Always fascinating to hear how things work from the brewery side of things, so huge thanks to JC for taking the time to chat with us. Now on to Blindtiger! These beauties have an extensive portfolio of killer booze-related designs, that are absolutely worth checking out once you're done here. We spoke to Brian Eldridge who kindly found some time in the midst of a mad summer to tell us a bit more about their work with Alvarado.
Hey! You have quite an extensive craft beverage portfolio, how did you come to find yourselves in this niche?
Our firm was intentionally born from the needs of breweries. Our founder, Oce Eagan, was the sole creative at Taphandles before creating a full in-house team. Five years ago she branched out to start Blindtiger and meet a wider range of brewery needs. We now find ourselves working with clients on their beer portfolio, the design of the cans they put them into, how to sell those cans and everything else in between. And as the industry has grown, so have we. We have some really amazing clients who are always quick to recommend us to a new brewery start up.
It's fascinating seeing the evolution of the brand from the initial templated approach to the now much free-er one-off graphical offerings. That's got to be a lot of fun for you folks... To me it still feels as if there are a few thematic distinctions though. You have your 80's/90's visual parties, your clean, modern, almost screen print inspired ones, and then the more illustrative/movie pun based. Do these correspond to the style of beer in any specific way? Or am I seeing things?
Yeah, it’s been a lot of fun. It’s definitely an event every time a creative brief from JC lands in the inbox. And you’re right about the patterns. He tends to get into thematic trends with the inspiration. Now you really have me wondering if he gets into similar runs with the beer he’s brewing…
What does your design process look like? What inspires your work (other than the beer names and brief, of course)?
Alvarado is constantly coming out with new and exciting (and delicious) beers, and we needed a design process that could keep up with their output. The process starts with inspiration. JC does a great job of providing us with clear direction and reference images of the look and feel they’re aiming for. Whether it’s 80s/90s throwback graphics, vintage beer cans, movies, etc. The inspiration helps define the project and keeps everyone on the same page.
Clearly you have a pretty close designer/client relationship - do you feel there's a special connection here, or are you folks just really, really good at what you do?
I think one of the reasons we have such a close designer/client relationship is because we’re both really good at what we do, but more importantly, there’s a level of respect and trust from both sides. We know that JC and his crew are constantly pushing themselves to create the best beer possible, and we do the same when it comes to design. I recently made a trip down to Monterey/Salinas to visit their locations and was fortunate enough to meet JC’s team, drink beer, and even share a meal at home with his wife and kids. They made me feel like part of the family. At the end of the day, we just really enjoy working with good people.
Do you have anything to do with Alvarado's instagram promo videos? They are a stroke of genius.
Shoutout to Brock Bill on that one. He’s the Social Media Director at Alvarado, and the man behind their beautiful photography and AMAZING Instagram videos.
Do you have favourite cans that you've designed for Alvarado? I'm personally a fan of the more minimal, more traditionally "design"-y cans like Rack It and Halftime Treat.
Such a tough question, there’s so many! I’ve always felt a connection with Alvarado’s silly sense of humor in the way they can poke fun at themselves and just have fun with it. Blindtiger is the same way. One of my favorite labels/series we created for them was the Hopres Ski Double IPA. I remember laughing at the computer screen while creating cheesy 80s graphics and Photoshopping their team’s heads onto skiers. It’s usually a good indicator that you’re working on an Alvarado project when the team is huddled around the computer laughing.
That's it that's all for this week folks. There should be some new stuff coming down the pipeline over the next couple months so keep your peepers peeled and keep your eyes on the insta-skies!
Fancy something a little more traditionally Brand-y? Check out Christine Moulson's great work for Strangefellows!