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

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Northern Monk Patrons Project part 2

Peel off label on Northern Monk Patrons Project can designs
Northern Monk brewery's patrons project can design at craftcans,ca

Missed part 1? Read it here 

Northern Monk's Patrons Project is the epitome of everything we're into here at Craftcans.ca: incredible craft beer can design and delicious beer. Lets pick things up where we left off then, with some more amazing artwork from the North of England and beyond.

Each one of these stunning can designs is printed on a peel-and-reveal label which opens up to display in depth information about both the artist and the beer, as you can see above.

Patrons Project beers 5.01 and 5.02 are a pair of Light IPAs brewed in collaboration with Mountain Runner Ricky Lightfoot, featuring the photographic stylings of Tom Joy once again. Showcasing the stunning scenery of Northern England, these photographs expertly convey both the solitude of Lightfoot's pursuit and the scale of the landscapes he takes on. This is powerful work from Joy.

Jon Simmons  is the mastermind behind the can design for beer # 6.04 – HAZEMAKER. The Leeds based illustrator/creative director makes great use of metallic gold ink to bring this punchy beer to life with an explosion of hops.

Beer number 7.01 is a double dry hopped saison brewed in collaboration with Copenhagen based yeast wranglers Alefarm Brewing and featuring the photography of Esben Bøg – Jensen. Once again it’s a case of exceptional photography meets exceptional beer. And how can it not be? I got to try this beauty on a recent trip back to England and it was phenomenal. It's hard to see on a screen, but in real life those ferns have a metallic shimmer to them which adds a strong sense of depth against the dark shadows.

More recently, this unholy trio have released a 7.02 and 7.03, featuring a shimmering, dreamlike landscape with another metallic finish and a beautiful shot of a setting sun through the trees respectively. Unfortunately these two stunning cans hadn’t been released by the time I got back England, but if they’re anything like their companions, they must be tremendous.

The last can design for this feature is Northern Monk, Fieldwork and Lonely Planet’s magnificent Travel Notes. Featuring five ingredients from five continents including African mangoes, South American açaí berries, malted wheat and barley from Europe and hops from North America and Oceania, this “International IPA” was a tropical explosion. The photo montage label design tells a vibrant story that perfectly complements this fantastic beer.

I mentioned in the conclusion to part 1 that, given the chance to try these beers I would make a point of keeping the labels and sticking them up on my wall. Well, I got the chance and have acted accordingly. The Patron’s Project so far has produced some incredible beers and even more impressive can design and I couldn’t be happier that the project is still ongoing. It highlights everything we stand for at CraftCans.Ca, truly seeing the can as a canvas and elevating the design work to more than just branding.

I have no doubt that I’ll eventually be writing a part 3 to this feature so stay tuned and follow us on facebook, Instagram and twitter.

Northern Monk – Patrons Project

Passion Fruit Lassi IPA - Craft beer can design by Drew Millward
Across-the-pond---northern-monk

Northern Monk – The Patrons Project pt.1

For the first of our “Across the Pond” Features, we're taking a trip to England to visit Leeds based brewers Northern Monk. I was fortunate enough to live in Leeds for three years while at university, but unfortunate enough that those years came to an end before Northern Monk really got themselves established. As the UK craft beer industry boomed, the North’s answer to Mikkeller has gone from strength to strength and has since taken the kingdom by storm. Their success is as much due to the quality of their beers as to the strength of their can designs and the reputation they’ve built.

Last year they commenced their Patrons Projects series – a range of collaborative, creative, craft brews showcasing the craftsmanship of Northern Monk’s brewers and local artists alike.

“The Patrons Projects were initiated with Northern Monk's aspiration to become an ambassador of the creative community, for as creative craftsmen, we have an obligation to align ourselves with like-minded artists and thought-provokers.”

In essence, the Patrons project is the embodiment of what this blog aims to celebrate: the canvas that is the can and, of course, the beer (or beverage) within. These cans take it a step further with Peel-and-reveal labels that let you take in the artwork in all its glory and, post-peel, reveal a bit more about the creative process behind the beer.

The first batch of Patrons Project beers I came into contact with were brewed in collaboration with Leeds-based photographer Tom Joy  and acted as a sort of mini photo exhibition that traded gallery walls for fridge shelves. At the time of release I worked in an independent liquor store selling exclusively craft beer and these cans took my breath away, as did the beer itself. The idea of can as canvas is fully embraced both outside and in. Tom Joy’s evocative photos adorn three iterations of a coffee porter each infused with a different single-origin coffee bean from local coffee roaster Northern Star.

Northern Monk Patrons Project - Craft Beer can design by Tom Joy

Next up came two collaborations with Manchester based street artists Nomad Clan and Kentucky based brewers Against the Grain. Smokin’ Bees is an imperial whisky smoked honey porter made with organic honey and whisky barrel chips and features a stunning pen and ink illustration that brings together elements of the artists’ northern heritage with the delicious ingredients in the beer. PBJ is a somewhat more playful and incredibly indulgent peanut butter brown ale presented to you by a big surly peanut lit by the light of a neon jelly sign. What’s not to like here?

A hoppy Kraken ambushes a wayward ship on the first beer of Northern Monk’s 3rd Patron series, Attack on the Bounty. James Butler’s bold black ink work brings extra life to this Pina colada IPA – as if it needed it – and equally ties in quite neatly with Siren’s famous illustrative oceanic branding. Beers 3.02 and 3.03, “Tropical Death Party” and “Black Hole Sun” continue the story of these unfortunate seafarers in two more super fruity black IPAs. For more of James Butler’s work, check him out on Instagram or head to easytigertattoo.co/james

Patrons Project 4.01 is a Passion Fruit Lassi IPA featuring the mind-blowing art of Drew Millward, which was recently followed up with a Pineapple & Grapefruit Juice IPA with yet more eye-burstingly bright print work. Rumour has it when asked what sort of beer they should brew, his answer was simply “Um Bongo”. 4.02’s primate adventurer peeks out from an avalanche of tropical fruit over the city skyline drenched in colours not dissimilar from the classic Um Bongo adverts. I would like these prints on my wall. All over my walls. I would like every surface covered.

A post shared by Drew Millward (@drewmillward) on

A post shared by Drew Millward (@drewmillward) on

A post shared by Drew Millward (@drewmillward) on

Northern Monk’s Patrons Project is pushing the boundaries of craft beer, can design… and craft beer can design. Peel-and-Reveal labels make these beauties virtually collectible items and I know that if I was in England still, these glorious works of art would likely have been peeled off and stuck over any available surface. It’s a game changer for both the artists and the brewers. Each can release guarantees the artist an in-person audience equal at the very least to the size of the can run, with the addition of all those who pick up the can and marvel at it in the shops, plus all those craft beer / design fans across the world on Instagram and other social networks. For brewers the eye-catching designs guarantee some “oohs and ahhs” if not immediate purchases and set them well apart from the rest of the beer fridge. What better way to start this blog off?

Follow us on facebook, Instagram and twitter to stay up to date with new posts and see what Canada (and occasionally the rest of the world) can do to keep up.

Join us soon for Part 2!

Artists:

Tom Joy - Instagram  ///  website

Nomad Clan - Instagram  ///  website

James Butler - Instagram  ///  website

Drew Millward - Instagram  ///  website