Alvarado Street Brewery + Blindtiger Design

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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.

Onwards!

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Hey JC, 

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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

 

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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.

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Cheers Brian!

 

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!

If that ain't enough for you, check out Part 1 and Part 2 of our interview with Mike Van Hall, genius behind Stillwater and Aslin's cans.

Fancy something a little more traditionally Brand-y? Check out Christine Moulson's great work for Strangefellows!

Stillwater, Aslin & Mike Van Hall (Part 2)

Aslin Imagery

Welcome back to Part 2 of our in-depth chat with Mike Van Hall, the mastermind behind Aslin and Stillwater’s phenomenal can design. Part 2 takes a closer look at Mike’s work for Aslin, one of the most prolific breweries out there. If you missed Part 1, have a quick read of that before you charge headlong into this. You know it makes sense.

 

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At first glance I can see people thinking that Aslin and Stillwater are a little similar, but the more you look at the work you do for both, the more obvious it is that the two are very distinct brands. How would you describe the difference between the two in your own words?

You have to look at the whole brand to see the difference - the story is bigger than the labels. It has to be because of how many beer brands there are now. Differentiation based purely on individual label style or even a logo is almost impossible. The story matters most and any given label simply plays a part, even a misfit part, in telling that full story. To me, Aslin is a family beer company intent on creating an environment where beer encourages a fun community. Stillwater is an art project.

I do not try to hide my tone in any work that I do - you can always find my perspective in my work. Maybe because people know it is me, similarities are easier to discern in the two. Only rarely have I sat down to work on one brewery’s label and later decided that the final result was better suited for the other one. There just isn’t enough overlap between the personalities for that to happen often, and what I do is not always just about the visual output. I do keep some redlines to ensure differentiation in my mind.

One thing that is common to both is that I minimized the up-front branding, generally speaking. For Stillwater, I start by trying to avoid any layout that implies there is a “front” to the label, especially on fully printed cans.

Early on with Aslin, I established a base template with a bookend for all the mandatory information, freeing up the rest of the available surface to be a blank canvas. Man, that was a good call. We would have hit a wall long ago if we tried to stick to a more involved, systematic branding approach. I think that has proven to be a failed tactic in beer branding now anyway. But I am also evolving Aslin’s visuals into something that fits where we will be in a couple years.

Does your approach differ substantially for both brands?

Yes, the difference really comes during my design process and how I want to interact with the potential audience. Aslin and Stillwater are very different when it comes to audience and I do my best to cater to each on their own terms because, ultimately, that is who I am doing the art for. I would not expect a Stillwater fan to fully connect with an Aslin label and vice versa.

One thing I do in all my work is to leave some imperfection. This is important to me because I don’t want anything that I do for Stillwater or Aslin to come across as sterile and corporate. Imperfections show the hand of the maker and lets some human element translate through my work. My connection to the final person holding the can is so tenuous and distant, yet my work is so personal to me, those imperfections are my way of telling people that ‘hey, an actual person did this, not a machine or, ahem, a committee. There is effort behind this label and hopefully, before you throw away the can, maybe there can be a moment of human connection.

I’ve moved away from always trying to create perfect labels. When I do leave imperfections, most of the time, it is purposeful. Those imperfections are an attempt to show humanity, a quality devoid from a lot of consumer product packaging. I don’t mean careless design flaws, I mean accepting deviations from perfect that could only be made by an actual person. Trying to get rid of that stuff to make a “perfect” design is not only a waste of my time, it does a disservice to the people making the product. If you are a faceless brand I have little reason to care about your product, other than having a problem solved by purchasing it. And then you are easily replaced by a different product that solves my problem more efficiently. I have loyalty to individuals, not brands, and with my designs, I try to appeal to that mindset.

It is a weird thing - I am “hand making” stuff but with digital tools. There is a paradox there. With digital, I could make things perfect, down to the pixel. But any machine could do that - probably better than I could. Yet I am doing this work with my hands and mind. There is a real person behind it and the machine is merely the tool for expression. So how do I convey that best given the paradox? How do I show it is hand-made with a digital tool? How do I create the feeling of one-of-a-kind in a mass-produced item?

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Aslin have to be one of the most prolific breweries in North America right now – how the hell do you keep up!? Do you ever feel the strain churning out such beautiful labels with such regularity?

Um, I did not keep up. The whole “Special Drops” series we created last year was a band-aid. I simply couldn’t keep producing quality work at the same pace they were producing new beer. We have gotten a better rhythm down but I do feel the strain. I want Aslin to be successful and since my work is often the first thing people see with their beer, it can get stressful.

My theory is that Aslin doesn’t need some cohesive branding regimen - experimentation and fun are priorities in the brewhouse and so that should be the case with the label art and with the brand in general. Practically it is great for me as an artist because I get to try ideas, learn and push myself. The result is that we widen Aslin’s appeal and have a way to give back to their fans who wait in line for hours or jump through all kinds of hoops to trade beers online. I want people to get an Aslin beer and be as surprised and entertained by the label - every time - as they are delighted by the liquid itself.

With that as my mantra, it makes it a tad easier to keep up. I’m not concerned about being an artist who is known for a certain style so I don’t have to worry about trying to wedge my personal artistic “brand” into or on top of Aslin’s brand. It’d be disingenuous to do that anyway.   

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Your recent string of 70’s style ad labels (Brunchies/Big Silly) are amongst some of my favourites. Do you have any particular favourite labels you’ve designed for either company?

Thanks man. I love those labels and have always wanted to do that kind of re-appropriation of vintage photography. I don’t think the guys expected to get something like that thrown back to them. The series is a great example of why I like working with Aslin - we don’t over plan design direction, so I have a free hand to interpret the beer names in a way that entertains us all.

I think the most successful designs are the ones that are the least explicit. I leave vagueness in a design so the audience can define what the label means for themselves. I like to leave blanks for others to fill in - that helps reinforce the connection with a piece and generate some longer-term meaningfulness.

For Aslin, Mind The Hop is one of my favs. We have some printing challenges with fully exploring the ideas behind the Orange Starfish series, but the art for Chocolate Orange Starfish was really meaningful to me and a new direction in that story. But like I said, we experiment and things evolve so I’ll probably have a new favorite in a couple weeks.  

For Stillwater, we had some idea breakthroughs in 2017 and I was able to create a couple new starting points for my design process. We do some can runs on such a huge scale, there isn’t much room to experiment. But Critical Thinking turned out great to me and ended up being exactly the kind of objet d’art that I set out to create. Aesthetically, that is my current favorite. Micro a close second.

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Do you have any specific artistic influences? Or designers you think are pushing boundaries at the moment?

I’ve been realizing childhood influences more and more lately - stuff from growing up that I took for granted with regard to the influence it had on how I think and see. Marüshka prints from the 70s and 80s is one big influence - my mom worked there and those images were a part of my daily life. And the musician Wally Pleasant. My sense of humor owes a lot to his song writing.

Graphically, there is Don Pendleton’s stuff for Alien Workshop. Massimo Vignelli came later but helped me organize my thinking and approach. Kenya Hara helped me see new paths to create meaningful stuff. They all have a more direct line to my current approach.

And I’ve been looking to fashion, furniture design and architecture to help me see differently. I got to live in an apartment designed by IM Pei for a couple years and the influence from that is hard to define - maybe it made me more purposeful in my decision-making. After living in such a considered space you begin to appreciate how to live better and avoid choices that hinder that.

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Huge thanks to Mike Van Hall for taking the time out of what is clearly a ridiculously packed schedule to give us such an in-depth look at the processes behind his exceptional work for these two fantastic breweries.

Mike's attitude is hugely inspirational to me. It's always amazing to see what can happen when a business and designer have such a deeply trusting relationship. Branding is elevated to art, and art, in turn, elevates the product. It's pretty magic, really.

 

If you enjoyed this interview, you'll love our chat with Rich Norgate of Magic Rock Brewing in the UK

Stillwater, Aslin & Mike Van Hall (Part 1)

Stillwater Artisanal Can Designs by Opprobriations

Thumbs raw and screaming, eyes red and bulging… keep swiping, there’s Instagold somewhere in that there stream. Hours pass, poorly lit #icemanpour photos pile up alongside the same-same-but-different and the generally unimpressive. Suddenly, a flash of colour, a bold pattern catches the eye. Is it? It is! It’s a Stillwater Artisanal can release! INSTAGOLD! It was all worth it. We’ll be eating tonight, kids. (Ed. - Seriously, click that Stillwater Artisinal link and browse the labels for the next few hours)

In the countless hours I’ve spent wading through the Instaswamp in search of the finest can designs from around the world, certain breweries have proven themselves time and time again to be a cut above the rest. Take Aslin Beer Co. or Stillwater Artisanal for example: Nary a dud among them, these two brands consistently blow me away with their can labels… and they produce a lot of them. Both breweries are beloved by their fans for the quality of the product they sell. Their devotees know that not only are they getting phenomenal beer, they’re also picking up a limited edition collector’s item, an objet d’art.

In this two or three part series (haven’t decided yet) we talk to Mike Van Hall of the Committee on Opprobriations, the artist behind both Stillwater and Aslin’s mind-blowing label design. Mike’s story, his attitude, and his approach to design are truly inspiring to me. The time and consideration that has gone into every answer is testament to his dedication to his craft. I’m extremely grateful to Mike for having put so much thought into this and am incredibly excited to be able to share this with you all.

So, without further ado, read on for part 1:

Stillwater Artisanal Can Designs by Opprobriations

Hey Mike, thanks for taking the time to talk to us about your incredible work! Let’s start from the beginning here… You made the unusual transition from lawyer to artist rather successfully. Could you tell us a little about how that came about?

It came about because of fear. I was working in-house and our small team had just finished a decent-sized deal to sell the company. It felt like a pretty big accomplishment and a meaningful step in my legal career. But while we were working on the deal, one of the guys had a heart attack, and he was around my age. He survived but putting the two things side-by-side, for me, it just didn’t make any sense to continue on that path. The risks and rewards didn’t match up in any rational way.

In the year that followed, I helped out my friends at Unknown Union set up a food project they were creating in Cape Town. Working with a bunch of creative people on a creative project in an awesome city...I just realized that I had been ignoring my artistic nature. I grew up with a love of drawing, but left that behind during college to do something that seemed more responsible, career wise. The enjoyment and feeling of fulfillment I got out of that Cape Town project, as challenging as it was, confirmed that I should refocus myself toward art and design. And that it was possible to be successful at it.

The problem was I had to start again from nothing. I knew I had an artistic eye but that was about it - I was out of practice and didn’t know anything about the tools of the design world. So I did two things in the lead up to my last day as someone else’s employee. I sharpened my artistic eye by reading design books and watching all kinds of documentaries. Second, I spent some time each day learning and practicing how to use some design software.

My hope was that I could smoothly transition over to art without missing a paycheck. I tried to ensure everything I did made business-sense too, which seems wrong at first if the goal is creativity. But my thinking was that I could be more creative by having a solid infrastructure and plan to give me freedom. So I set everything up with all my boxes checked and introduced the committee on opprobriations. It generated zero attention.  

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I love the Committee on Opprobriations brand – Am I right in thinking that it’s just you? What made you decide to create a separate entity for your work?

That’s awesome to hear - especially because I don’t make it easy for people to figure out what is going on.

The committee on opprobriations is my anonym, which I use randomly and inconsistently in place of my name. The reasoning is all over the place, but it is partly a response to the culture of Internet celebrity, or celebrity in general.

During the inception of COO, I was resigned to the fact that, for this thing to work, I would need to participate in social media, something I never really enjoyed. To the degree it is even possible, I wanted to do that on my own terms while also protecting myself from being subjected to Silicon Valley’s schemes. The COO anonym makes me feel like I can maintain some bit of humanity and preserve an offline life that isn’t in servitude to my online life.

Just as importantly, with the anonym I have cover to morph whatever it is I do as an artist. I consider myself, broadly, to be a contemporary artist and that requires a lot of freedom to be reactive and not get mentally stuck in a certain style or medium. I made up the word “opprobriations” and so I can define what it means now and can change that in the future, if I desire.

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From what I understand, the Single Hop Project was sort of your first foray into this world of craft beer design, how important was that project to you, looking back?

The Single Hop Project was defining for the current form of COO. It was actually my second attempt at getting COO going, but yeah, it was the first effort that focused on beer.

The initial version of COO did not have any context, which made it overly difficult to understand from the outside. That lack of context also made it very hard to produce satisfying art from the inside. Doing a print series seemed like an efficient way to introduce myself as an artist and then maybe I could recognize the path for COO while building out the series.

I focused on something interesting to me for the series so it would be easier to generate ideas. My whole life I have enjoyed the culture of booze and food generally, but beer specifically, so beer made sense. I had no plans of doing beer labels at all then, I was just satisfying my own curiosity and trying to build my art and design career.

Hop varietals proved to be the perfect vernacular to get things rolling for COO. At the time, calling out hop names was just starting to become important in beer marketing and people outside the industry were realizing hop varieties mattered. At the same time, I felt like there was a big gap for beer fans in that all the visuals looked frilly and botanical - generally Old World. That stuff didn’t have a great connection with the ethos of the new American breweries that were shifting the beer world back then.

In the end, it worked because the project provided an easy way for people to digest and understand the big world of hop varieties, and to celebrate their favorites as they learned more. The Modernist style gave everything an unexpected flavor and made the connection to the new beer wave stronger.

All that said, I will be ending the Single Hop Project this year. I started the project in 2013 and Modernism has run rampant in beer branding since then. It has lost some magic along the way. For all the beauty of some designs in the beer world, a lot of the breweries are missing the point of Modernism and the result is just frivolous decoration. The Single Hop Project had meaning and I hope it was important to others too. I don’t want it to be lumped in with some of the garbage that is out there now.

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Your work, particularly for Stillwater, reminds me of the work Kasper Ledet is doing for To Ol over in Denmark – not necessarily aesthetically, but more in the way you treat the can as an artistic canvas. It’s interesting to me that you have two incredibly successful gypsy breweries across the ocean from each other, both with really strong artistic “branding”, for want of a better word. Do you think there’s something about the gypsy brewery that influences this? Or is it mere coincidence?

I think the commonality you see is that beer companies of Stillwater’s ilk were built on a foundation of daring and experimentation. Initially they had the freedom to be risky because their version of beer making included fewer moving parts they could immediately control - no employees, no taproom to manage, no board members to campaign. These guys are also some pretty bold individuals who understood great marketing in a time when beer was growing fast, but wasn’t nearly as moneyed and hyped as it is today. Though I am not a fan of the word “gypsy”, they all followed their own path and that translated through to the whole identity for each company. For most, it remains that way today at the core, even while some of these guys got really big. The artistic branding is just one conspicuous element of that core.

I like Kasper’s work and, though we have never met in person, he seems to value the potency of texture and restraint in the same way I do, so I feel an artistic kinship is there. “Reminds me of…” is a frustrating phrase for an artist to hear though. My work is personal and mentally exhausting. I don’t think any artist in history is thrilled to hear that their work reminds someone of another’s.

Stillwater Label Design - Insetto

A friend of mine recently called craft beer can labels “the new album art” and I’m strongly inclined to agree. Do you feel the same way?

I totally agree with the analogy in the sense that albums are a consumer product relying heavily on cover art to sell to the uninitiated. But you are usually buying the album for the music, not the cover artwork. For artists, the album cover is a venue almost as good as a gallery because a ton of people will get to see your work and it helps fuel you to produce great stuff.  

The beer label is much more participatory than album art though. Except on draft, you necessarily have to hold the art in your hand or you can’t access the product. My big awakening was when I realized I could use the beer label as a way to reflect personality too - that made it possible to create real art, not just branded decoration. I began to think about designing to reinforce a sense of place or time for the person holding the beer. Drinking is already a super sensory act so I try use design to amplify that and make it even more memorable. It is a way of planting a seed that will trigger nostalgia 10 or 20 years from now. Even though the work is disposable, the experience can be memorable. While you are holding the beer can or bottle, you are projecting something about your personality, even if you don’t mean to be doing so. You don’t necessarily hold the album cover when you are listening to an album. You can barely see it when listening digitally. Beer labels are a chance for more intimate interaction than album covers, culturally and emotionally.

When I first started doing beer labels, treating the label as an artistic canvas, not just a place for branded decoration, was still a fairly novel concept. A few breweries really focused on it - certainly early Stillwater did. But mostly the art was just a brand support tool. Creating flagship beer brands for grocery store shelves really mattered then, so it made sense in a way.

Now offering endless variety is really important and selling direct is viable, so traditional branding rules don’t have to control anymore and people are going nuts. The label art has become so important because so much of the beer world is undifferentiated in a lot of other respects. The bandwagon beer styles, keyword-filled backstories and even the physical brewery spaces all kind of blur together. Label art may be almost as important as ratings - ha!

Image from Contemporary Works by Stillwater Collection
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Thanks for reading this far! Stay tuned for Part 2 of the interview coming soon!

 

Phillips Brewing x Shawn O’Keefe

Electric Unicorn Can

The birds are singing, the streets are awash with pastel-coloured blossoms and Vancouverites everywhere are crawling out of drawn-curtained condos, squinting hard as they high five each other and punch the air in celebration. That can only mean one thing: CraftCans is finally back with another killer insight into the world of craft can design. So gather your friends around your screen, crack open that fancy bottle of Cantillon, and get ready to read your eyeballs off - there ain’t no time to waste!

This week we’ve managed to distract Shawn O’Keefe, graphic mastermind at Phillips Brewing in Victoria, BC, from the task of fitting out the incredible new Phillips tap room in favour of answering a few questions about his phenomenal designs.

The Phillips Brewing story is a thing of legend in the BC craft brewing world, but for those unfamiliar with their journey, here’s a potted history: At 27, brewer Matt Phillips decided it was time he started his own brewery. The banks, however, did not agree. Matt proceeded to max out all the credit cards he could, building his brewing empire on a solid foundation of high interest debt. He used this pile of pretend money to pay for his dual function brewery/bedroom in a windowless apartment. In a hostile 2001 beer market, he launched Phillips with an espresso stout, a raspberry wheat and a hoppy IPA. This insanely bold move paid off and the company has since launched a soda company, distillery and a maltworks because why not?

Way back when CraftCans was just a twinkle in my eye, Phillips’ Solaris sleeves were some of the first I found scattered on the warehouse floor beneath the sleever that really got me excited. That psychedelic illuminati pyramid topped with a peach was a straight win in my eyes and, interest piqued, my research then turned up such wonders as Space Goat, Electric Unicorn, Dino Sour… I was sold right there and then. The names alone would have been enough for me. Honestly, they could have had dodgy, traditional English brewery branding and I still would have found some excuse to write about them probably. But instead they had Shawn O’Keefe’s eye-blistering, technicolour magic on them. Look at Tiger Shark. TIGER SHARK! What’s not to love? Nothing. Everything is to love.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Shawn O'Keefe:

Tiger Shark 473mL Tall Can

Hey Shawn, thanks for taking the time to talk about your work, I really appreciate it. First thing’s first: you’re clearly an extremely talented artist, how long have you been in the art/design game and how did your relationship with Phillips come about?

Thanks! I’ve been freelance designing and illustrating since the late 90’s. I was working 9-5 at a small T-Shirt shop in Victoria doing their graphic design work and burning the midnight oil hustling freelance, working for a variety of board sports magazines trying to build up a client portfolio. I had been doing work for a mutual friend and client Gerry Heiter. He was one of the men behind Lighthouse Brewing Co. and creator of The Great Canadian Beer Festival. He recommended to Matt that he pay me a visit to talk about his new brewing company. Matt was super excited about his new project and his enthusiasm was contagious. Before we knew it I was designing his company logo and first run of labels. That was back in 2001 almost 17 years ago now.

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Phillips’ cans have to be some of the most recognisable out there, I’ve heard nothing but praise for the Phillips brand. How did the branding develop into what it is now? Was it a collaborative effort or were you handed the creative reigns from an early point?

It’s been a really fun and organic process. I would say that in the beginning it was a lot of baby steps and there was a learning curve for both of us. I was a young designer and he hadn’t built a brewery before. My goal at the time was to just try and nail what Matt had envisioned for his brand. One of the things that made our labels unique in the beginning was our terrible spelling...a trait we still sometimes display. As time went on I became more integral to building the brands. Coming up with beer names, drawing up crazy concept art, helping to formulate copy all became part of what I would do. It’s been a long series of beer-soaked jam sessions that have continued to multiply and amplify in creative scope. It really is an amazingly collaborative effort at Phillips. I’m very thankful to be a part of the family.

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What does the design process look like for you? Where do you draw inspiration from?
It all begins and ends with beer. In developing the brand we start with the beer style, it’s character and perhaps some word play based on that style. We throw it around in a creative session with a small group of Phillips creative folk and mostly just try and out do each other with bad puns for the first hour. Then it begins to take shape enough to be left with me to flush out a label concept and brand. Amazingly not many “back to the drawing boards” occur and we have a pretty good track record for making fun and graphically appealing labels. Most of my inspiration comes from my love for vintage packaging, skateboard art, gig posters, graffiti and comic books. I keep busy in my local art scene as well and have a pretty sweet art studio downtown that is a bit of a creative hub and hang out.

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Do you have a favourite Phillips design? Are there any designs that never made it to can?
My favorite Phillips Brewing Co. can is probably our Electric Unicorn White IPA and our new Tiger Shark Citra Pale Ale in a Tall can. Super fun graphics that came together nicely and really speak to the spirit of the beers. Not many designs get to production stage and don’t make it to a can... but I do have a small folder of designs that didn’t make it further than concept stage. Some definitely don’t need to see the light of day... but there are a couple that I may pull out in the future and try to re-shape and put through.

Cheers Shawn!

Cheers JJ, thanks so much for chatting with me and checking out the work I do with Phillips!

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There we have it folks, that's how it happens. If you find yourselves on the island anytime soon make sure you find your way to Phillips' brand spankin' new tasting room, or even to the awesome Phillips Backyard Weekender if you like a good party.

I also highly recommend following Shawn on instagram @trust36 because my God can that man wield a paint can.

Thanks for reading folks!

If Shawn's rad artwork is your bag, you want to check out Bellwoods' incredible labels by Doublenaut.

After something from a little further afield? Check out Rich Norgate's work for Magic Rock Brewing in the UK!

Moody Ales x West Coast Canning Collaboration

All Photos shot by KVD Photography
All Photos shot by KVD Photography

Welcome, CraftCans Fans, to a new feature called “Blowing My Own Trumpet”. If you drink my word smoothies on the regular, you already know that this is a place for me to wax lyrical over all the beautiful cans floating around liquor stores, tap rooms and the interwebs and bring you an insight into the creative minds behind the designs. Well, this week, that mind is mine. So, sorry about that.

Over the last couple of months I’ve had the pleasure of working with the wonderful folks at Moody Ales on a pair of cans for the first of West Coast Canning’s charity collaboration projects, a share of the profits from which are donated to a charity of the brewery’s choice, in this case KidSport Tri-Cities.

The guys at Moody Ales came up with the brilliant idea to do a mixed four-pack to celebrate the winter/spring transition, that ridiculous period of time where the weather in the Pacific North West just makes no sense. As Dan says, “We see it all the time at Moody Ales, it’s a beautiful day and our patio is packed, it starts raining and no one moves, they just put their jackets on and keep drinking - only on the west coast!”.

And lo, the Mixed Forecast mixer pack was born... and I hope you’re as stoked on it as I am.

For the sake of easy reading and to appease everyone who’s told me to interview myself, that’s exactly what I’m sort of going to do. Could be fun, could be lame, COULD BE SUPER INFORMATIVE AND REALLY INTERESTING. Or, also, yeah, super lame. You decide…

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Hi JJ, wow, those are some super cool cans you’ve done there. I, for one, totally dig them and I’m sure everyone else with great taste will too. What’s all this Mixed Forecast business about, eh?

Thanks, I’m flattered, really, I’m super happy with how they turned out and how they’ve been received by all the people who are obliged to tell me they like them. The Mixed Forecast idea was Moody’s idea from the start, although it didn’t have a name to begin with. Dan, Adam & Robyn had the idea of a winter/spring transition pack which quickly turned into an ISA and a Dark Lager which made me unreasonably happy because I’m pretty tired of falling into the 7% IPA trap when I'm boozing.

Obviously I went straight for the low-hanging fruit on the whole “seasons” thing, kept it simple and decided weather was the way to go. Thankfully, in my research I stumbled across a blog post written by Adam about the process of naming their brewery which gave me some solid hints as to what to avoid and what might work. “Still Raining” was a nice fit as it’s both incredibly relevant to Port Moody at this time of the year, but also pretty ubiquitous because, well, weather. “Shorts Weather” is inspired by the shared British/Canadian tendency to slip into a pair of shorts at the first glint of spring sunshine, something that really makes me feel at home here. From there, we realised we needed a name for the Mix-Pack and “Mixed Forecast” seemed like the obvious choice. They say the low-hanging fruit is the tastiest, after all!

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How ‘bout them sleeves, bud?

Oh, those little things? I mean, they’re not really high concept, but I think they’re pretty and they fit nicely with Moody’s brand. As fun as it would have been, it wouldn’t make sense to pitch some OTT illustrative, shiny monstrosity for this. I wanted them to fit in, but stand out. So... Shorts weather - Sun, Still Raining - rain. Yeah.

Being around sleeves every working day for the past year I’d say I have a pretty good idea of the limitations and advantages of sleeves. Some of my favourite cans exploit the shiny can metal to some extent and I wasn’t about to miss an opportunity to do so myself. Everyone likes shiny things right? And as for the colours… They’re just pretty colours that I liked and was lucky enough that the good folks at Moody liked them too.

 

Did you draw inspiration from anywhere in particular?

Well, pretty much every can that’s come through West Coast Canning's shrink sleeving service over the past year and is sitting on either my desk or the can wall. But there’s definitely some Justin Longoz influence in there, because he is BC’s pattern master and to-date the most featured on this blog. Not to mention every other artist I’ve featured on this website, because if I wasn’t inspired by their work, why would I bother to write about it, ya know?

This is about as self-indulgent as it gets, and for that, I apologise. Barely.
This is about as self-indulgent as it gets, and for that, I apologise. Barely.

This isn’t really a question, you just want to say a thing and don’t know how to shoehorn it in, correct?

Absolutely! It was awesome to be involved with this every step of the way and I’m really thankful to everyone involved. Moody Ales were incredible, the best clients you could ask for and they brewed some absolutely KILLER beers; IMS, our label suppliers pulled out all the stops and contributed the sleeves so more money could go to charity; everyone at WCC absolutely nailed it, from the sleever wizards to the canning line wranglers and everyone in between. It was pretty insane to take these beers from concept to can... I don't think many designers get to be there to put the labels on, fill the cans, mix the four packs and drink the beers.

 

Any other projects going on?

Sure, but I’ve already blown my trumpet enough today and my colleagues are complaining about the noise. And this whole self-interview schtick is getting a bit too much, even for me.

A post shared by JJ Coates (@jjinacoat) on

Still Raining Dark Lager is a 5.5% lager with roasted malts giving it rich aromas of chocolate and coffee, but don’t let those fool you... this dark lager is smooth, crisp, and extremely crushable. With these in hand you will forget that it’s still raining.

Shorts Weather ISA is a 4.8% easy drinking India Session Ale boasting a citrus and grapefruit punch. A hoppy beer rounded out with a sweet backbone that brings it all together. Shake off your rain jacket and slip into some swim shorts with this perfectly balanced session ale.

Both beers will be available at Moody Ales' tap lounge, launching this Friday 23rd (THAT'S TOMORROW), which is where I'll be, and at Darby's Kitsilano on the 30th, with both beers on tap in both Kits and Gastown, and Mixer packs available for purchase from the Darby's Liquor store next door. These fine four packs will also be available at private liquor stores across the province, so make sure to grab yours!

Hooray!

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Powell Brewery – Streets Ahead

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Things move quickly in the world of craft beer and if you ain’t innovatin’ you ain’t … Win-o-vatin’. That’s what they say, right? With an endless stream of novel beers hitting the shelves every week, new breweries opening on every street corner and underdogs like Superflux and Boombox rapidly evolving into alpha dogs, breweries can seemingly no longer rely on even the most appealing of core beer ranges if they want to compete.

One brewery taking up the gauntlet is Powell, a Vancouver favourite with a phenomenal, multi-award winning core range, who have come out of 2018’s starting gates absolutely screaming with a series of exceptional seasonal releases. Until recently Powell Brewery’s seasonal releases generally found their way into bottles, but this year the brewery has taken a solid two-footed leap onto the Canned Wagon, producing some visually stunning, pattern heavy, pressure sensitive beer labels that are every bit as appealing as the brilliant beers within.

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Southern Belle Berlinerweb

It seems fitting that I get to gush about Powell’s labels at this particular point in time as it marks, almost to the day, a year of working in the world of cans. My second ever canning run was at Powell, canning their delicious Dive Bomb and Cheeky Session ale. A pair of slightly dented cans from that day still sit front and centre in my can display at home. I remember thinking how rad the cans were, particularly Dive Bomb, and being stoked to be a part of the process. But I also vividly remember spotting a can of their American Farmhouse IPA, a collaboration with Four Winds with an absolutely gorgeous label featuring a dreamy gradient and some faded geometry that evokes the phenomenal Pacific sunsets that paint the mountains pink on the regular... It ticked all the boxes for me back when I was fresh off the boat from England, and still does now.

A post shared by Powell Brewery (@powellbeer) on

Safe to say, I’m pretty gosh darn happy they’ve thrown themselves full force into the world of limited release cans again. Especially when they look this good.

 

I got in touch with David Bowkett, Owner/Brewer at Powell, and tried to keep my gushing to a minimum and find out a bit more. Read on for the interview!

 

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Firstly, David, I'm a big fan of Powell's look as it is, but I'm definitely feeling the direction of these (presumably) limited release beers as I'm sure a lot of Vancouver is. What prompted you to veer so wildly from the Powell core aesthetic?

Our plan this year is to innovate and experiment a whole bunch. With this in mind we planned to release a new beer every two weeks. We’ll still have our core brands on the shelves, so deciding to choose a new aesthetic for these limited releases made sense. It gives the customer a clear visual difference between the two.

What or who inspires the patterns on your labels?

I take inspiration from a lot of sources. I’ll always try to use the beer or it’s origin to drive the label design. Our newest beer “Norwegian Sun” takes its colour and pattern from the Norwegian Flag in an abstract way. The labels for the “Lemonade Stand” and “Southern Belle” beers, being of similar style, use the fruit as the focus for the pattern.

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Do you have any thoughts on the battle for shelf space with so many different approaches to can design coming from an ever-growing number of breweries?

It’s getting competitive out there, that’s why creating eye catching beer labels is so important. It draws people in and gets them looking and reading about the beers. Design can only go so far though, the product behind the beautiful label needs to be just as great.

How big a role do you think breweries have to play in the local creative community?

I think we play a big role. Often times we’re the beverage of choice at music events, art shows, and community gatherings. We make a delicious beverage that helps as a social lubricant. And, a lot of us in the beer industry come from the local creative community in one way or another, so it’s no doubt that we feel like we’re a big part of it.

Is there anyone out there who you think is really killing it right now in terms of beer branding/can design?

A lot of breweries have their branding on point, but there are a few that stand out from the rest. The obvious ones for cans are Twin Sails and Superflux, but others like Steel & Oak, Yellow Dog, Strange Fellows, and Four Winds all have strong brands and can designs.

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Thanks David!

 

Keep your eyes glued to the Powell Brewery Instagram and make sure you don't miss any of their new releases!

While you're waiting, why not check out some of the other beer brands that are absolutely crushing it?

Some of my favourite beer can designs of 2017, Justin Longoz' Notus Series for Four Winds

A masterclass in craft beer branding and copywriting from Strangefellows' Christine Moulson

Bench Creek – And Now for Something Completely Different.

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As with every industry, craft beer has its own set of packaging conventions. Put the name and style of the beer clearly on the front, ideally with the name of your brewery just there above it, add a visual pun or pretty picture and boom, there’s your can. Easy! There are obvious reasons for doing things this way, sure, but sometimes you've just gotta do something a bit different. Enter: Bench Creek Brewing’s Villainous Series.

This bold series casts aside canning conventions, opting instead for full-sleeve illustrations of classic (and often obscure) movie villains. Lined up in a liquor store alongside your standard core brand craft beers, these eye catching cans stop you dead in your tracks, which is exactly what good packaging should do.

Depending on the depth of your movie knowledge, within seconds you find yourself with your face pressed against the cold glass of the fridge door, asking one of two questions: “Is that <<insert character name>>? I love that movie!” or “who is that odd looking man and why the hell is he on this beer can”. Either way, the can is somehow already in your hand  and you’re halfway to the checkout where you’ll inevitably ignore the cashier in favour of frantically googling the names of obscure villains.

Now i'll be the first to admit that my movie knowledge is famously atrocious - I managed to get just one right (Veruca, obviously) and guessed as wrongly as I did confidently another two - but that’s kind of why I like these cans so much. As well as having a whole bunch of exciting beers to try, you’re also gifted a list of movies to watch or re-watch as you drink them. What more could you want!?

This awesome can series was a full-on team effort from the folks at Bench Creek Brewing and below you’ll hear insights from every angle of the process. We have Andrew Kulynych, the owner of Bench Creek, Head Brewer Warren Misik, Sales & Events Manager Brett Hopper and Kalvin Lock of KLOCK Design. Read on for more!

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Hey guys, thanks for taking the time to chat to me about the Villainous series! These are some pretty unique cans - what inspired you to do this series?

Andrew: The inspiration for the series, to me, started from Brett. We all have a fondness for movies (likely for the more obscure ones) and the unlikely villains featured in some of them.

Warren: As Andrew mentioned, Brett had come up with a few villains from 70s-80s campy TV and movies that we originally used for casks. We have a certain strain of yeast that we only use in fall/winter, so we decided to do a bunch of one-off production beers to keep the yeast viable. Most of the villain casks that we had made before used this same yeast, so it was a pretty natural move to name them all after villains. We had to move away from the original idea of older villains though, since we just couldn't find some to fit the beers we had in mind.

Brett: For me, the Villainous Series stems from a series we did in the Summer of 2016, called the Nevermore Series. Each week of July and August we released 100L of a new beer ( so 8 total beers). Again, the creativity of the styles of those products all came from Warren. It worked out that a 30L keg went to Calgary, another to Edmonton, and a third stayed at the brewery in Edson. That was it, the beer was gone after that. It seemed like a no brainer to name the beers after Edgar Allen Poe references, at least to me... I think that caught Andrew off guard a little bit, because he was just thinking of Never releasing the beers again.

Fast forward a little bit and Andrew had asked for help in naming some casks. The recipes that Warren was pumping out were really creative, but at the same time obscure for that time in Alberta Beer. Nobody knew what a winter warmer was but we had put one in a cask. Our flagships and seasonals all have a theme running through them, so I wanted a constant theme when it came to the casks as well, but also a naming convention that was as fun and cool as the recipes themselves. We all love these classic movies at the brewery and more often than not we talk about movies when we're together. So, I proposed that we start naming our casks after obscure movie villains.

Some of the Villainous recipes have been casks we've done, some one-off kegs, and some are new recipes, but because some of them were casks, we already had one or two names for the releases. So... why not name them all after movie villains. The power behind the names makes people go: "Oh yeah... I remember that movie." or they google it...

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I’ll be the first to admit my movie knowledge falls pretty short, but some of these villains are pretty darn obscure - Are there any criteria for choosing which villains to feature?

Andrew: There are no specific criteria that qualify a villain for the beer but - and Brett and Warren can likely speak to this a little better - the villains are chosen based on some characteristic of the beer, whether it be the style or ingredient. Drexl is named that because we wanted a Jamaican Rum type flavour in our imperial stout and what’s more Jamaican than a white pimp with dreadlocks?  The recipe comes first... Then the villain.

Warren: Per above, we wanted initially to limit them to classic 70s-80s campier style villains. But as we fleshed out the recipes we wanted, we knew that couldn't work, and we just decided to fit the villain to the beer, while keeping them in movies or TV. Andrew talked about how the villains are chosen to reflect the recipe in some way, so here's some more in depth on each one:

Justice - Buford T Justice from Smokey & the Bandit, the beer is a smoked rye porter

Veruca - Veruca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the beer is a salted brownie oatmeal stout - so many layers to this one!

Moreau - Dr. Moreau from the Island of Dr. Moreau, it's a tropical stout with tropical ingredients added

Drexl - the white Jamaican pimp from True Romance, we made this an imperial stout meant to mimic blackstrap rum flavours

Duce - Il Duce from Boondock Saints, he's an Irish baddie, the beer is an Irish Coffee milk stout

Longshanks - King Edward I himself, for us of Braveheart fame - the beer is styled after a dessert called royalty cake

Ash - the evil "British" android from Alien - the beer is an ESB with US hops added, so just like Ash, it's British on the outside, but slightly different on the inside

Brett: The villain name, or actor behind the character has something to do with either an ingredient, or the style of the beer. So, now that we have this naming convention, I do have a stock pile of names waiting for the right recipe to attach them to.  I chose Ash, for example, knowing we were working with an ESB, and the name is 90% based on Ian Holm and his British accent. Throw in the fact that you don't realize Ash is a villain until the last 5 minutes of the film, and there you go. When I'm writing copy, I try and take some memorable lines from that character and twist it so it's describing the beer and not just regurgitating movie quotes.

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Do you each have a favourite can of the bunch?

Andrew:

Apex Predator…lol. My favourite, although I love the Villains, was our entire Nevermore Series that we did since all the art was completely from Kalvin’s noggin… however that wasn’t cans. For Villains, the best one is yet to come for the villains but if I had to choose from the 8 that are already released (art only) it would be Justice. Hopefully that doesn’t get us sued.

Warren: Can - definitely Justice, it's awesome

Beer - Longshanks absolutely will be my favourite based on the cask we built the recipe from

Brett: Moreau is memorable for me because I got to tap the cask version in Calgary, and without getting into too much detail, there are remnants of that beer perma-stained on the inside of my work hat. Also nobody knows what a tropical stout is.

 

Kalvin, how did you approach the artwork for this series?

Kalvin: As soon as we had the Villains pinned down, it was time for me to throw on the movies and scour google for inspiration and composition ideas. I wanted them to feel somewhere between caricatures and fine portraits without losing the feel of the scenes they were most iconic in. Some of them are really grounded in those scenes, others have a more conceptual connection to the backgrounds. Super fun to research and work on.

Thanks so much everyone! Can't wait for the next releases!

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Pictures worth a thousand words? Check out Justin Longoz's art-forward designs for Four Winds

Like a more classic branding case study? Check out Strangefellows' phenomenal branding

Across the Pond – Black Iris Brewery x Kev Grey

Craft Beer label design for Black Iris Brewery by Kev Grey

Buckle up ladies and gents! It’s time to head back over the pond to that wonderful land of beer and funnies, the United Kingdom, in search of more magic from the world of beer can design. This week we’re making a water landing atop the mysterious, dark, boozy abyss that is Black Iris Brewery in Nottinghamshire.

I… don’t know much about Black Iris Brewery. I would love to, don’t get me wrong. And I’ve really tried. But I’m on the wrong side of the world and all I have is an Instagram and a twitter account to go on. Clearly though, they’re brilliant. From what I can gather they’re based in Nottingham, love music, make amazing beer and have some of the most unique label designs I’ve seen in the UK craft beer market. They also regularly hold an event named “Piss up in a Brewery”. Your honour, I rest my case.

Black Iris’ beer can artwork is truly exceptional. As we all know, beer fridges are a screaming cacophony of colours, jostling endlessly for the attention of your eyeballs. But how do you stand out from the tecnicolour background? Go dark. And when you’re going dark with your artwork, there’s only one man you want on the case: Kev Grey.

Kev has been designing since the 1990’s and has worked for some pretty big names in his time, among them: Vans, Download Festival and now Black Iris Brewery. His style is unmistakeable – bold, black and white illustrations drawing on classic tattoo themes and old school skate art, with a healthy sprinkling of humour. Kev’s beer can designs are endlessly playful and differ wildly from can to can, his inimitable aesthetic holding them all together as one cohesive collection that screams BLACK IRIS BREWERY. There is no mistaking these cans for anyone else’s, that’s for sure.

There's a lot to be said for ongoing collaborations between breweries and artists. Over this side of the pond you have folks like Doan's whose brand is now forever linked with local artist Ola Volo through her gorgeous illustrations that adorn both their beers and various walls in Vancouver. In Doan's case, they're rooted to the community and their city by her art. In the case of Black Iris, Kev Grey's art links the brewery to the various subcultures his style of art is synonymous with, from skateboarding to graffiti.

Here’s Kev to talk about his beer label designs for Black Iris, his signature style and his journey with Black Iris.

Craft Beer label design for Black Iris Brewery by Kev Grey
Craft Beer label design for Black Iris Brewery by Kev Grey

First off, you’ve been in the design game for a good while now, designing for big names like Vans and Download Festival - how did your relationship with Black Iris Brewery come about?

2018 is a bit of a milestone year for me as it marks the 20th year since the drawings I was making through the mid-1990s developed to the point where I began working in the black and white style that I still work in to this day. Over the years I’ve worked for many companies, from small independents to big brands, but my relationship with Black Iris began at the beginning of 2014 who up until that point I believe had been brewing in the back room of their local pub and began making plans to develop and expand their business. Luckily for me Alex from Black Iris was aware of my work as he lived in Sheffield when he was younger at the same time I lived and worked there, so when he and Nick began to make plans to develop Black Iris they contacted me to ask if I would design a logo and pump clips for them. Four years later the business and our working relationship has gone from strength to strength.

What does your process look like and how involved are Black Iris?

They will usually give me the name and details of an upcoming beer and let me know if the artwork needs to be designed for keg, cask or can. From there I have a lot of freedom with how I design the artwork which from an artist’s point of view is great as I feel as though they have a lot of faith in what I do and in return that helps me create some of my best work for them. Overall it feels like a collaborative process and one that works really well.

Craft Beer label design for Black Iris Brewery by Kev Grey
Craft Beer label design for Black Iris Brewery by Kev Grey

Your style is instantly recognisable – where do you draw inspiration from? There are clearly classic skate and tattoo influences, but are there any artists/musicians in particular?

My earliest sparks of inspiration that formed the roots of what I still do today were being obsessed by my grandads old naval tattoos in the early 1980s (most of which I have copied and now have tattooed on my own arms), discovering skateboarding and skateboard graphics in the late 1980s, and then reading underground comic books and beginning to paint graffiti both in the mid-1990s. All these influences and researching them throughout the 1990s, combined with the opinion that I preferred black and white comic books to colour, just naturally merged together towards the end of the 1990s and I’ve never looked back. During those formative years I took a lot of inspiration from within those specific cultures but I now try to take inspiration for my subject matter from anywhere that’s unusual and out of the ordinary in an attempt to keep my ideas fresh.

The art & brewing communities are becoming increasingly intertwined, especially over in the UK – Do you have any thoughts on “the can as a canvas”? And on the ever growing interconnectedness of the communities?

As an artist/designer it’s always exciting when an individual company or an industry as a whole sees the potential for being involved with a group of artists who already have their own voice and ideas. I think it’s important when given these opportunities to not just think about what your artwork looks like on paper or a computer screen but to equally think about the size and shape of the object you are designing it for and how it will look once printed on that object. What starts off as a 2-D image becomes a functioning 3-D object and if done correctly your design has the potential to become more than just a drawing printed on something. When I’m designing anything whether it be a beer can, skateboard, T-Shirt etc. I treat it just the same as if I was creating an original artwork that would be exhibited in a gallery.

Craft Beer label design for Black Iris Brewery by Kev Grey

Do you have any personal/side projects that you’d like to share?

I started my own publishing company back in 2008 called Gamblers Grin so I could self-publish and distribute books/zines of my own work and the work of other artists I like. This year I plan to release a new book featuring all my HEAVY RIFF graffiti and artwork I’ve been making over the past few years. I’ve also been creating a lot of original artwork on watercolour paper using black ink and spray paint that I plan to continue as much as possible throughout the year. Best place to see a selection of all my new commissions and personal work is on my instagram @kev_grey

A post shared by Kev Grey (@kev_grey) on

Gladstone Brewing Co – Killer Craft Beer Branding

Craft beer branding with Gladstone Brewing Co, BC. Incredible beer can design

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Craft beer branding – and, well, all branding really – is about storytelling. Last week I was using lots of words to tell you stories about telling stories with words. This week, I’m going to use some more words to illustrate how well-executed craft beer branding can tell you stories without words and we’re going to use Gladstone Brewing Co.’s phenomenal can designs to illustrate that.

Scroll back up and take another look at those beautiful cans. I don’t need to tell you anything about the brewery. You know their story already. It’s all there in the can design. Barkerville Brewing Co.’s can designs from last week’s post do a good job of visually implying their story, but you still have to read the copy on the can to really get the full hit, to really get sucked in. Gladstone Brewing Co.’s designs use under 20 words (and that’s including their logo, address and diagrams) to say everything they need to. I’m not saying one is better than the other here, I’m just saying… well done Gladstone.

If you’re playing along at home, please get out your felt tip pens and notepad now.

Question 1: In five lines or less, accurately describe the history of Gladstone Brewing Co. and the influence this has had on the brewery. Also, guess what the tap room might look like. (5 marks) [answers at the bottom]

Craft beer branding with Gladstone Brewing Co, BC. Incredible beer can design
Craft beer branding with Gladstone Brewing Co, BC. Incredible beer can design

You can tell that Gladstone’s design team have put in the legwork here. From the colour palette to the diagrams, the minimal design to the authentic fonts, everything here is clearly rooted in the early days of motoring. It evokes images of vintage tin cans; a classic illustrated advert of a hard-working young go-getter, his overalls covered in oil, sporting a strong moustache and possibly making a sexist remark as he clasps a wrench and sings the praises of Castrol motor oil. “If only my marriage were as frictionless as my engine” he proclaims with a sly wink. Classic.

But Gladstone’s exquisite use of mixed printing techniques brings the brand into 2018, effectively contrasting matte colour blocks against stripes of glossy black. The odometer diagrams display a little extra information about the beer and really seal the deal on the theme… “is this about cars? Oh yes, it’s definitely about cars”. This is beer branding at its finest.  They’re honestly some of my favourite cans out there.

Hopefully you’ve managed to scramble through my word forest to this point, or, rather sensibly, just hopped in your metaphorical motor car and taken the road right through it. Either way, your reward for making it this far is a much more concise, much less gushing explanation of the work that went into the Gladstone Brewing Co. branding process from Marissa Johnson, Gladstone’s marketing manager and co-designer. Enjoy!

Craft beer branding with Gladstone Brewing Co, BC. Incredible beer can design

The Gladstone Brewing Co. heritage building operated as the Seale and Thomson mechanics garage and dealership in the 1940s. With the influence of these roots, we opened the doors to our mechanic-inspired tasting room in 2015. Our hand-made tap handles are created from vintage mechanics tools, flights come on upcycled vintage license plates and the room is scattered with carefully curated 1940s oil cans, hubcaps and toolboxes. 

The inspiration of the can design was drawn from this heritage. Hence, the can design is rooted in the simple, impactful aesthetic of the time. From the items in the grocery store, to signage, to motor oil cans, the 1940s brought bold colours, and in-your-face graphics to everyday items. It was such a great time for design that seems to have endless inspiration for us.

The designs for our cans come from Alexandra Stephanson, who is the co-owner of the brewery, and we work together in-house to tweak them, with extreme focus on authenticity. (Before getting in to the brewing industry, both of us came from a visual background - she as a photojournalist and me as a graphic designer.) Rather than searching for retro fonts online, we scour old editions of Popular Mechanics. We spend hours researching, and even specifically narrow it to the year 1948 - which is when the garage originally opened. There's even a font we use that Alexandra created based on her grandfather's handwriting, which involved hours of compiling and scanning. It's a labor of love, and as a designer it's been so great to be working with such clear creative direction.

Craft beer branding with Gladstone Brewing Co, BC. Incredible beer can design

It's safe to say their efforts have paid off. Gladstone have one of the most effective, recognisable craft beer brands on the shelves right now and I can't wait to see where they take it in future. In the meantime, I'm gonna go take our beaten up Jetta to the workshop and get that poor thing painted up real nice in Gladstone Belgian Single blue and cream. If Gladstone decide to go into the Demolition Derby game, they can count on me to bring the Jetta. I'm in.

 

Prefer your brand stories with words? Well, alrighty, take a peek at Barkerville Brewing Co. or Strangefellows!

Less words, more pictures! How's about a look at Scott. A. Ford's amazing craft beer branding for Zero Issue Brewing in Alberta?

Story Time with Barkerville Brewing Co. x Bully Design Co.

Barkerville brewing co craft beer can design by bully design co, victoria, bc

Story Time with Barkerville Brewing Co.

Those of you who are regular sippers from the steaming vat of word soup that is CraftCans.Ca will know I love me a good story with my beer. To me, storytelling separates a good brand from a great brand, a local independent brewery from a conglomerate. It can help root a brewery in its community and make it more than just the place across the street that provides you the liquid that makes you feel good. Hell, there’s plenty of studies out there about brand names and flavour perception if you want to get scientific about it. So let’s talk about Barkerville shall we?

Barkerville is a gold rush town overflowing with history. Although Barkerville Brewing Co. is actually based in Quesnel (it wouldn’t have been feasible to run a successful brewery in such a remote and seasonally accessible spot as Barkerville) it gives a voice to the amazing history of this once prosperous prospecting town. Named after the original Barkerville Brewery which burnt down on more than one occasion, the current brewery takes its logo inspiration from the former brewer Nicolas Cunio who sported a damn fine lip-warmer in his time.

Barkerville brewing co craft beer can design by bully design co, victoria, bc

The designs of the cans themselves combine bold typography with traditional Old West flourishes and extremely effective illustrations. The restricted colour palettes are all gorgeous and oddly comforting, though I can’t explain that part. The type heavy design feels like a bit of a hint that words play a big part in the branding and that you should read every last letter on these cans. And you should, because they’re executed magnificently.

The voice is that of the barkeep in a dimly lit western saloon. Between sips of your sarsaparilla, you summoned him with a nod and he sidled over, polishing a glass with a bar towel, before leaning furtively over the bar. “Say, barkeep… who’s that old man in the corner over there?” you now ask, “he hasn’t so much as blinked since I got here”. Cautiously, after all-too-obviously checking for eavesdroppers, he regales you with any one of these stories, myths and legends... Somehow, that old man stooped in the shadows had something to do with every one of them. …“I’ll take another sarsaparilla, to go.”

Barkerville brewing co craft beer can design by bully design co, victoria, bc

In three to four sentences, the copy creates a sense of intrigue, history and mystery. You’re a part of the Barkerville world, just by virtue of picking up the can. You want to crack it open and taste the history.

The man behind the magic is Matt Salik of Bully Design Co in Victoria, BC. Read on to see what he had to say about the art of storytelling!

Barkerville brewing co craft beer can design by bully design co, victoria, bc

How did your relationship with Barkerville come about?
The owner, Russ Ovans, contacted our company years ago about branding and designing this new brewery up in Quesnel. After looking up where the hell Quesnel was we thought it would be an awesome project and a good fit. Our former account manager drafted a slick project proposal which I don’t think Russ was too receptive of so we grabbed a few beers with him to discuss. You can’t dazzle Russ with paperwork, he’s a sharp dude. After… many, many, many pitchers of Swans Coconut Porter I think he figured out we were good guys and could serve the project well.

That’s what we’ve always loved about Russ, you never have to guess what he’s thinking. Awesome, straightforward guy.

I find copy is often overlooked but you guys nail it with every beer. How important do you think storytelling is for a brand? And for Barkerville in particular?
Storytelling is key for a brand. The amount of writing we do for our clients that’s never even seen by the public is incredible. For us it’s not about tricking the customers into thinking something’s good but it’s about demonstrating to our clients that we have spent a significant amount of time trying to understand them and demonstrating that by showing our work. From there the product writing is pretty mellow. Just stick to what we know works for the client and keep things consistent.

Barkerville, in particular, was a great candidate for this approach given its insane history. Russ would come to us with the new beer and the reasoning/story behind the name, which was always based in truth, and we went from there. Much easier to write for a client when they have rad stories!

Barkerville brewing co craft beer can design by bully design co, victoria, bc
Barkerville brewing co craft beer can design by bully design co, victoria, bc

Barkerville’s story is clearly steeped in history – Had the brewery settled on beer names/stories to feature, or did you get to sift through them and handpick the best? If so, were there any stories you loved but didn’t feature?
This again speaks to Russ’ dedication to the brewery’s heritage and getting things right. I think he almost wanted to create beers that would intentionally go along with the stories which is really cool. I’ve never confirmed this with him but the beer and old stories always tied together really well.

There were a few we discovered on our own that never made it on to a bottle. One being (I believe) the first heavy heavyweight boxing match in BC took place in Barkerville. This could have been a fun one to connect with a really strong beer. “KO Punch IPA” or something. Another one was the first Freemason Temple in BC was also in Barkerville and it had this trick staircase which would retract up into the ceiling when they were having their secret, goat sacrificing meetings or whatever upstairs. Those woulda been fun.

Barkerville brewing co craft beer can design by bully design co, victoria, bc

Do you have a favourite Barkerville design?
It’s tough because we started in a very different place to where we ended up. Initially the 650ml bottles were all screen printed which meant more of a simplified design which connected to the old Barkerville. Era-appropriate type, simple illustrations, old school borders and shapes really made it feel like an old beer when you held it. I think the 52 Foot Stout was my favorite out of those.

The new labels are more appropriate for the Barkerville of today I feel. They still have a nod to the history and period although updated for more contemporary tastes. I like them both and for different reasons. Out of this new batch I really enjoyed the Bedrock Pale Ale. Adding just little touches of stone texture to the type was fun without going overboard. So easy to go overboard in beer design.

Barkerville brewing co craft beer can design by bully design co, victoria, bc

Could you tell us a bit about any other personal projects of yours?
Man… ummm… I work a lot. I do anything from beer labels to branding, websites to web apps, company naming to illustration and print design. Sounds a little like a “Jack of All Trades, Master of Stress” but it’s fun.

I just did a quick redesign of my own site which was great because it did not require approval by anybody but me! Weird imagery in a bite-size site. My style. Also just worked on redesigning a contact resource management system for a large insurance-related web app in the states so I’m all over. I enjoy everything.

What are your thoughts on the growing relationship between the beer industry and art/design community?
I feel in a lot of ways it’s past its peak and now things are going to start rolling back. Like the dot com boom the beer boom is in full swing although it can’t sustain its pace so the role of the designer is going to be crucial in getting those thirsty folks out there to pick up a bottle and give the beer a shot. It’s going to be the companies with great beer that stick around and of those companies the ones with the raddest branding and most appropriate labels are going to win.

Right now if you walk into a craft beer store and star at the wall of 1000 beers it almost feels like you’re attending 1000 different art shows. And while this is cool to see I don’t feel enough designers/breweries are considering the market and trying something a little different. For instance my favorite beer label in BC right now is the Steel & Oak stuff. It’s clean, it fits the name, it’s bold and you can see if from the other side of the store. To me this is smart design and not just more design.

Having said that I’m widely considered an asshole so take this all with a grain of salt!

Barkerville brewing co craft beer can design by bully design co, victoria, bc
Barkerville brewing co craft beer can design by bully design co, victoria, bc

Huge thanks to Matt Salik once again for taking the time to talk to us and give us his take on everything Barkerville. Now go get some beers and your reading glasses and get to it!

 

Not ready for bed yet? One more story? Alriiiight, here’s Christine Moulson of Strangefellows, another top notch storyteller.

LESS WORDS, MORE PICTURES. Why not try Scott A. Ford’s graphic novel designs for Zero Issue Brewing?