Steel & Oak – Small Batch Can Series

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Design went through a period of very clean, minimal design over the last few years, a trend that was absolutely gobbled up by any company looking to target the “hipper than thou” contingent of young adults that course through the veins of Vancouver like white blood cells in tightly-rolled toques, too-short trousers and circle-rimmed glasses. But like many others before it, this trend came with its own set of pitfalls, whether that meant overdoing it and coming off a little too clinical to appeal to a wider audience or just getting forgotten in a sea of identical cans.

If the aforementioned traps were crudely painted train tunnels painted on to cliff faces, then Steel & Oak is brewing’s RoadRunner. Their core range of cans are bold, easily recognisable and extremely inviting and their recent Small Batch Can Series designs by Sami Christianson manage to expertly exploit S&O’s type-forward aesthetic to create a cohesive family of visually exciting cans that are all very different, but all still very Steel & Oak.

Sami is a type and graphic designer based in Vancouver whose work is popping up in more and more places and who has just released an awesome new book. Read on for more!

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You’re clearly well versed in Typography! When did your love of art, design and type begin?

How did you guess!? Well I’ve always been interested in art and design from a young age. I’m pretty sure I was the only person in my high school who knew exactly what they wanted to be when they grew up. As a graphic designer you have to be extremely knowledgeable when it comes to typography. But my TRUE love for letters specifically began about 6-7 years ago. I discovered a designer by the name of Seb Lester who draws beautiful traditional blackletter and calligraphy. I was so fascinated by it that I dedicated all my spare time to learning traditional calligraphy. I practiced a letter a day until I memorized the whole alphabet. Once I was happy with a style I would choose a different one and do the same thing. And well, here I am now! And by no means am I a master but it teaches you so much about letterforms that you wouldn’t know otherwise. You can do so much with just type alone that I find it’s a waste not to use it when you have the chance. Because I’ve dedicated so much time into learning to draw my own type it has opened so many doors design wise. I can do things that I never had the skills to do before.

Steel & Oak brewing co's small batch can series by Sami Christiansson
Steel & Oak brewing co's small batch can series by Sami Christiansson

What does the design process look like with Steel & Oak? Are they hands on, or do they give you the reigns?

Oh my gosh. As a designer I could not ask for a better client. I truly think of us as partners not as client and designer. They completely trust my opinion in every which way. And I respect every bit of feedback they give me. We also have the same taste when it comes to design aesthetic which makes everything that much smoother of a process. I truly believe we end up with such wonderful designs because it is such a collaborative effort in a sense that Jorden trusts my expertise and I trust his.

Do you have a favourite of your S&O designs?

Such a tough question! I don’t think I can choose just one. But I LOVE the whole Small Batch Can Series that I designed. Jorden completely trusted my gut instinct on all the designs. I love how each can has it’s own personality, but somehow when they are all seen together they turn into this wonderful typographic family of beer. To be completely honest, it’s one of my favourite pieces I have designed to date.

Steel & Oak brewing co's small batch can series by Sami Christiansson
Steel & Oak brewing co's small batch can series by Sami Christiansson

Are you aiming for anything in particular with your designs for the brewery? Is there an overarching concept or theme?

I would say if there was any overarching theme it would be simplicity. Which I love because it keeps me feeling challenged creatively with what I can do next that is simple, but completely different from the last and still have an instant Steel & Oak recognition. I want people to be excited about what Steel & Oak’s next line of cans or bottles will look like next.

Could you tell us a bit about any other personal projects of yours? 

Yes! Well I’m one of those people that always has a million side projects on the go. But I will tell you about the most exciting one. I am @Samipaints as well as @PrettyBadWords on Instagram. As I mentioned in the first question, I was self taught in calligraphy and lettering. So when it came to practicing, instead of writing nice sayings I thought it would be more fun to write things that were a little more risqué (hence the name Pretty Bad Words). I started a blog that eventually turned into an Instagram account to showcase my progress. Then a miracle happened and a publisher in NYC happened to find it one day last year. So after almost a year of no sleep I am actually releasing my first book “Please Don’t Do Coke in the Bathroom” – it is a how-to lettering book all done in dirty words. Written, illustrated and designed by me! It will be released on October 24th. You can purchase it for pre-sale on AmazonIndigo, and Barnes and Noble right now. But along with the book I am always updating @prettybadwords with my everyday lettering practice.

Thanks Sami!!

Steel & Oak are based out in New Westminster and are purveyors of some seriously delicious beer! Be sure to pop on down to their tasting room and get your lips around a couple of pints of something seasonal, or seek out their beers in any decent liquor store around Vancouver. They’ve just started canning their Red Pilsner which is an absolute dream of a beer. Find them at steelandoak.ca

Stoked on Sami’s work but don’t feel like scrolling up to click on all those lovely links? Let us make it easy for you. Explore more at samichristianson.com and make sure to follow her @PrettyBadWords and @Samipaints. And of course, pre-order her book on AmazonIndigo, and Barnes and Noble before they all run out!

The Notus Series – Four Winds Brewing Co

Four Winds Notus Series designed by Justin Longoz. Photos by Alison Page

Four Winds Brewing company have one of the most instantly recognisable brand identities in the BC Craft market. Created by Andy Dixon back in 2014, Four Winds’ packaging designs often feature bright ‘n’ bold geometric patterns tempered by an elegant, almost regal blue which has since become synonymous with the brand. A couple of years ago, the immensely talented Justin Longoz stepped in as Four Winds’ resident designer and has done a tremendous job of not just maintaining, but building on and developing the Four Winds brand. This summer, the Delta based brewery dipped a toe into the world of canning with the stunning Notus series – four incredibly drinkable summer six-packs, featuring Longoz’s stellar design work.

These cans took my breath away when they first arrived in the warehouse and I still catch myself staring vacantly into their vortex of colours on the regular. Hell, it’s become such an issue that the last one to leave at night has to do a final sweep of the warehouse to make sure I'm not still standing around drooling. In a vain bid to break the spell these cans have cast over me, I got talking to the genius behind these alluring little vessels to see what he had to say for himself:

Four Winds Notus Series designed by Justin Longoz. Photos by Alison Page

Hey Justin! The Notus series cans are absolutely stunning. Are your designs for the series inspired by anything or anyone in particular?

With the Notus series, I knew I wanted to do simple geometric shapes and bright colours on white backgrounds because I hadn’t really seen anyone in BC doing that yet and I knew that would stand out. I knew I wanted to start doing labels with no words on the front like I had seen with the works of label designers from European craft breweries. Keith Shore of Mikkeller, Karl Grandin of Omnipollo and Kasper Ledet of To Øl are the three designers that definitely come to mind right away. I like the idea of creating simple and eye-catching imagery that leaves people thinking “what the heck is this?” and invites them to pick it up.

 

Just how abstract are the designs? The Vélo design seems to reflect the contents in the colours (lemon and Himalayan salt) and is clearly round like a bike wheel - are the others similarly representative of the beer, but in a slightly more subtle way?

The designs are definitely abstract but I tried to create designs grounded in the concept, flavor, colour and/or content for each beer.

  • Vélo’s design is a representation of both a wheel and of peeling citrus fruit, pulling the eye around the can from left to right. The colours are shout-outs to the beer’s ingredients.
  • The Featherweight design is centered around its main flavor component: the hop. Here I’ve created an abstract hop that breaks apart and allows the eye to flow to the side of the can revealing the description. Sharp edges, like the bitter hops in the beer, float away revealing how light and fruity it is.
  • The Elementary Lager design is based around simple rounded triangles to reflect the idea of the name and its style. A triangle is one of the most basic shapes you can make and the rounded edges speak to the soft, light flavour of the beer. I felt I needed to echo that in the design by keeping it clean and uncomplicated.
  • La Maison’s design has an almost celestial/planetary component to it, where the colours are representative of how I perceive the flavor, colour and general feeling of the beer (summer). La Maison is also a staff favourite at the brewery so I feel the planetary aspect reflects how immensely important this beer is to everyone here at Four Winds.
Four Winds Notus Series designed by Justin Longoz. Photos by Alison Page
Four Winds Notus Series designed by Justin Longoz. Photos by Alison Page

Despite being the same design as the bottle labels, to me, the designs feel like they've been "set free" on the cans. The design elements float off around the can, they're not hemmed in by the dark glass. Do you feel there are particular advantages to designing cans over bottles?

That’s tough to answer directly because I feel like there are advantages and disadvantages of designing can vs bottle labels. The Notus series beers are the first that we’ve put into cans and we opted to get the designs printed directly onto the cans. I found that challenging. There are a lot of guidelines with things you HAVE to do and things you CAN’T do when you do direct printing. The labels that you put on bottles are essentially just stickers so you have loads of freedom to play with shapes, colours and textures. I enjoyed the challenge, but prefer sticker label designs. With that said, I like the idea of cans a lot more for the reason you stated above. The bottle itself is an odd shape and limits the canvas you have to work with. The can is a piece unto itself. You can cover all or most of it in design. When we start releasing limited release beers in tall cans we will be using the sticker labels and I’ll be able to play a lot more with the cans. I’m very excited about that!

 

What are your thoughts on the idea of "cans as a canvas"?

I couldn’t agree with this sentiment more. There are so many breweries releasing an endless number of beers. It seems like the more you use the can as a canvas, the more you’re going to stand out. As the industry grows and mutates, so do the brands and ways to push them to their fullest extent. I’m trying to push the Four Winds brand as far as I can. I want people to see our labels from across the store and think “What is that? Probably Four Winds” without seeing any text or logos.

Something else to consider is that brewing is an art form. It just seems to make sense that you would wrap a work of art in more art. A great example of this is Kasper Ledet who I mentioned earlier. Look at what he is doing for To Øl in Denmark [check out his instagram here]. Every single label he designs is a piece of art with a purpose. It’s beautiful, it’s meaningful and it’s transformative. He’s probably one of the best examples of an artist who uses the can as a canvas.

Four Winds Notus Series designed by Justin Longoz. Photos by Alison Page

What were you doing before Four Winds? Do you do any design work outside of Four Winds?

I used to be an animator in Vancouver and have had many jobs working everywhere from bakeries to liquor stores. One thing that has always been constant is my design work. I’ve been a designer since I was 16. It started small with t-shirts or concert posters for friend’s bands and that sort of evolved into company branding and packaging design over time. Most of my work outside of Four Winds right now involves charity work or branding and packaging design.

 

Anything else you'd like to add?

We talked a bit about the Notus Series inspiration before but I feel like I have to mention one more person that has a broader influence on me. All of my Four Winds work is directly inspired by the work of Andy Dixon who did the initial branding and packaging for Four Winds and is an immensely talented artist. He was a huge inspiration to me growing up. It’s an honor to take over for Andy and I’m glad that I’m able to do what I love for my favourite brewery!

Four Winds Notus Series designed by Justin Longoz. Photos by Alison Page

Speaking to Justin, it became pretty clear why I was so taken with his design work. His list of inspirations is my list of inspirations. The kind of work Keith Shore, Karl Grandin and Kasper Ledet have been doing over the past few years is a large part of why this blog exists. And this won’t be the last time you read those names. Keith Shore, Karl Grandin and Kasper Ledet. See?

And it’s clearly not just me who’s been taken by his design work. A quick ‘n’ casual canvassing of local liquor store employees suggests that the Notus Series six packs have been flying off the shelves. Sat in a chiller alongside a range of busy, information dense six pack boxes, each jostling for attention, a wild look burning in their eyes as they shout “LOOK AT ME, LOVE ME”, the Notus Series cooly looks up from its phone, makes eye contact, gives you a quiet, confident nod and walks you off to the counter where it will offer to pay, but can’t because it’s just a box of beer personified in a tenuous metaphor. A large part of the liquor store game is about occupying shelf space and that’s one of the few potential downfalls of cans vs enormous branded bomber bottles. The Notus’ Series boxes, however, seem to be the ideal solution to that issue. Presented together, they turn almost an entire chiller shelf into an oasis for the eyes, a little one row art exhibit. No wonder they’re doing so well.

It’s clear that Justin Longoz has a lot more up his sleeve and I for one am extremely excited to see what will come of Four Winds’ eventual tall can releases. A huge thanks to Justin for being so forthcoming and to Alison Page for providing such phenomenal photos.

 

Have you tried the beers? Have you built yourself a funky robot costume out of empty six packs? Let us know in the comments!

Thirsty for more? Delve into the archive for more design magic.

 

Design:

Justin Longoz
insta: jstnlngz

Photography:

Alison Page
insta: alisonmpage