2 Crows Brewing x Midnight Oil Design

The Dream of the Nineties is alive in…Halifax.

Despite being barely a year old, 2 Crows brewing is making waves over in the Maritimes. If their name is a mission statement – it’s inspired by the nursery rhyme “One crow sorrow, two crows joy…” – i'd say it’s mission accomplished. While I haven’t managed to get my lips around any of their drool-inducing beers as yet (we’re talking foedre aged, often-fruited, brettanomyces madness here), I have had the pleasure of staring at their cans on my instafeed for a good few months, forcing a couple of insurance claims for water damaged phones in the process, and oh what joy it’s brought me! These cans are right on the money, folks.

I was lucky enough to encounter a can of Chaos Ghost for the first time in a well-known Vancouver brewery shortly before Christmas. Clearly it had wandered across the astral plain from the Maritimes specifically to reveal itself to/haunt me. Chaos Ghost embodies virtually everything I secretly want from a label. Sure, I’ll wax lyrical about storytelling and branding, typography, and all that jazz, but really all I’m after is some pretty colours, a friendly little character and a relatively nonsensical name like Chaos Ghost. Don’t take yourselves too seriously out there, folks.


So, naturally, my curiosity was piqued and I was stoked to see the rest of 2 Crows' cans were similarly playful and vibrant, exploiting the 90’s vibe with an uncommon finesse. 2 Crows’ beer labels open the bay window wide on the particularly cobwebby cellar of Nova Scotian can design. They are a blast of fresh Maritime air to rouse the comatose grandfather of East Coast beer branding. That’s not to say there isn’t any good branding over there, but from where I’m standing on the West Coast, it looks like a lot of breweries haven’t updated their image since the British first arrived with a few barrels of beer, a couple of flags and a boatload of questionable intentions.

Designed by Alex MacAskill of Midnight Oil Print and Design House, 2 Crows’ beer can designs are a beautiful collection of upbeat, feel good designs; each unique, but held together by a consistent type framework. They feel a little like the East Coast equivalent of Twin Sails’ limited release cans and those babies sell out like crazy, so clearly they’re onto a winner here. Something about the irreverent designs makes the beers feel super accessible to me, especially in the case of Amateur Hour with its notebook doodles, complete with that “S”.

But that’s enough from me, here’s what Alex had to say about his work for 2 Crows brewing:


I'm a huge fan of your work for 2 Crows, how did your collaboration come to be?
I was approached by 2 Crows back in May about starting this project: can designs for a series of limited edition beers that would be brewed once and sold til they ran out. I believe my name was thrown out to them by one of their neighbouring businesses, Inkwell Boutique, a great lil shop of handmade goods that carries some of my printed wares. That's the great thing about Halifax, we've got a tight knit and very supportive creative community. 

How involved are the brewery? Is it a fairly collaborative process or do they give you free reign?
It's a pretty perfect work dynamic really. Sometimes they have ideas in their mind and give me some reference images or explanations to interpret my own way, sometimes they just give me notes on the flavour, ingredients and brewing style and let me go to town. We'll have email chains going back and forth with edits and tweaks to narrow it down from 3-4 concepts to one final piece. A lot of the times having an email chain with 4 or 5 people CC'ed is a designers worst nightmare but they've been a dream to work with. They have great taste and suggestions, they respect my work and my input, and ultimately I think the fact that in two months the cans will be all gone plays into it. If it's only around for a short while why not have some fun and get a little weird! 


I'm a big fan of your 90's aesthetic - I think you've implemented it a lot more successfully than most. What inspired you to go down the 90's route?
The first beer, In Theory, was based on a mural that 2 Crows has in their taproom by local graffiti artist and muralist Christian Toth. It's got that geometric 90's graphic design vibe, so they wanted to do something based off of that. To be honest it was something I had never really done before. 2 Crows folks said they were into my super illustrative and gritty looking poster work, and then asked me to do something in the complete other direction. It's always a thrill getting to try out new styles, and knowing they liked my other work and trusted me with this new task made it a lot less stressful. The first few were sticking to that 90's theme and I'm really pleased with the results. But to avoid the risk of repeating ourselves or getting people too used to it we started playing with other ideas. More contemporary geometric design like the Bonanza, simple but bold type treatments like I Love You, and weird out of left field styles like the doodle-filled looseleaf design of Amateur Hour. 

What inspires you more generally?
I'm a printer by trade, so the visual language of print itself very much informs the way I design. Textures, layering colour, playing with registration, they're things I learned to love through screen printing, letterpress, and woodblock carving, and I carry it over to my design work even when it's something digital, or offset printed. For inspiration I like to look where those qualities of print were a little more prevalent and the technology was less refined, which often is in mid-century cartoons and comics, food packaging, department store catalogs, wall paper patterns, etc. For illustration and design styles I'm really into tattoo flash, vintage graphic tees, gig posters, that kinda stuff. 


Chaos Ghost is definitely my favourite, what's the story behind the name and design?
I'm always a little embarrassed when my reasoning is this straight forward but I basically drew up a sketch that had some ghosts and looked chaotic haha. Like I mentioned earlier the folks at 2 Crows had me trying some new things and thinking about design a little differently than I normally do, so instead of one main focal point this one was more of an all-over pattern. We've tried to have some recurring elements in the can designs so even though they're all so different there's still some unity. A lot of that is the type layout, but some simple shapes have been popping up in multiple designs that reference beer or the brewing process. Carbonation bubbles, hop or grain shapes, and droplets, so liquid-y drop shaped ghosts worked quite well. The colour scheme was based on that mural in the 2 Crow taproom. 

What do you think of the ever-growing connection between the art and beer communities? And the possibilities of using a can as a canvas?

I've been wanting to design beer labels for ages, so this job has been a dream come true. Looking at the calendar I think I'll be able to fill a 12-pack of unique cans I've designed by February, which I never would have anticipated. Without sounding too cheesy brewing is an art form, and I think that like all artists, brewers appreciate other forms of art and are showing it by bringing visual artists and designers on board. A big part of my background is in designing for the music industry (album art, merch, gig posters), and in a way this is very similar. It's responding to what someone else has created, and trying to match or compliment those qualities in your own work. 

Are you working on anything else that you'd like to share?
A few new 2 Crows brews I did the design work for are being released over the next few months, that's always exciting. Most of my life lately has been dedicated to rebranding my freelance design and print work as a brick and mortar shop, Midnight Oil Print & Design House. We do graphic design, letterpress, and screen printing in-house. Everything from wedding stationary to biker bandanas, corporate logos to skateboard decks. So every day is a little different but always exciting! 

Thanks for taking the time to talk to us Alex!


Stay tuned for a little update post in the next week or so featuring some of Alex's newest 2 Crows Brewery label designs!

Like a bit of print-inspired design? Check out Doublenaut's incredible label designs for Bellwoods Brewery!

"These are funky 'n' all, but I like a story. Give me stories!" - Right this way for a lesson in brand story creation with Strangefellows Brewing's Christine Moulson

Across the Pond with Rich Norgate and Magic Rock Brewing

All Photographs by Sam Needham

This week we’re throwing it Across the Pond to one of the UK craft breweries that first opened my eyes to the impact of can design on sales, Magic Rock Brewing.

A stone’s throw from the world famous Brighton Beach on England’s South Coast is Bison Beer, the independent craft beer shop where I worked and where I truly fell in love with beer can design. Located as we were in such a tourism hot spot, our clientele was hugely varied. Alongside the craft beer fiends, traditional ale drinkers and thirsty lager lovers looking for a Stella were equal numbers of potential customers who didn’t necessarily like beer or even know what “craft beer” was. What really struck me when trying to help both groups find what they wanted was how often they would nod along to my recommendations, feigning interest as they blissfully and blatantly ignored every word I said before settling on the can/bottle they thought was prettiest. And every time it happened I just thought “fair play, that’s exactly what I would do too.” And it is exactly what I do, still.

One of the biggest winners as a result of this tendency was Magic Rock. Almost without fail, I would turn to the customer with a handpicked beer from the fridge to find them already grasping a glimmering Magic Rock can, their eyes wide, a puddle of dribble forming below. In fact, no can was more successful at converting the “I-don’t-like-beer” girlfriends who had been dragged into the shop against their will than Magic Rock’s Salty Kiss Gose. The undeniable allure of those shiny pink cans ought to be a case study in a research paper on learned gender-based consumer responses. It was truly incredible.

Photographer: Sam Needham

I absolutely love Magic Rock’s cans. Their bright colour palette and menagerie of playful circus characters just screams fun. You want to pick them up take a closer look at the friendly little guys on the can. Then you pick up another can, you spot one of the characters from the first can. You pick that can back up and it becomes a sort of Where’s Wally (Waldo for the North Americans) / Spot the Difference game. Suddenly you have three cans in your hand. Four – you’re juggling now. You’re part of the Magic Rock circus. You are bad at juggling, better drink one. It’s a vicious cycle.

Recently Magic Rock branched out and started doing more and more smaller batches of limited release beers and with that came a slight departure from their core can designs. These new cans used a similar design language, but were bolder, brighter, contrasted against black cans. They are still very Magic Rock, but this different treatment really emphasises that these beers are something different, something special.

I had the pleasure of speaking to Rich Norgate, Magic Rock’s in-house designer about the new direction and the inspiration behind the original can designs:

Photographer: Sam Needham
Photographer: Sam Needham

It’s been great to watch the Magic Rock identity grow and evolve over the years. Recently the iconography seems to have moved away from the overtly circus themed to something more abstract and bold, while still retaining that playful, fairgroundy feel. Was it a deliberate choice to shed the more explicit circus references or just a natural evolution?

I’d like to say it was completely deliberate but that’s not the way I tend to work. From the start of the brand I’d always liked how the illustrative style looked on a big scale. When we first designed the wrap for our van I was really happy with the result. The characters really worked well at scale, creating more of a pattern based design. The more recent design of the 500ml big lads was created after I’d done the design for the 2016 edition of the rainbow project can; I’d again used the illustrative style on bigger scale. From a brand perspective we felt the relationship was still strong between the current style but it allowed us to have a product that would look slightly different on the shelf. These label cans are small batch one off brews so having a style to the brand to associate with these is important. 

It’s interesting because the new treatment of the style has been received well. I’ve always been interested in pattern design and geometric shapes, I enjoy the mechanical process of designing in this way, and I suppose this comes from my Graphic Design side. Whilst I’m really enjoy working in this way I worked on a new core can last month in the current design style and it was refreshing to revisit the style and treatment. 

As an in-house designer there’s a danger of getting a little too comfortable with the brand which can lead to the work looking a little aged and laboured. To keep things interesting and fresh I try to evolve as a designer with the work. You have to keep the brain active. I’d rather push the work. 

Photographer: Sam Needham
Photographer: Sam Needham

Various characters pop-up across the range of beers – do any of them hold any particular significance? Have you named any of these recurring cast members? I know I would…

Some are and some aren’t. I can’t really go into too much detail but we have one called Shazza which is based on someone I met who had spent way too much time in a solvent heavy print room. Stuart our head brewer completely immersed himself in his character and was known to dress up as the bearded lady at early meet the brewer events. For the sake of the brand and people’s eyes we had to put a stop to that. 

The move to pressure-sensitive labels on black cans is genius – as if the cans weren’t recognisable enough already, they’re now even more visually striking than before. I love that it gives you the opportunity to experiment with different finishes as with the black on black bearded lady cans. Do you find it’s given you a bit more freedom?

I’ve always viewed print techniques and finishes as bells and whistles to the finished design. I’ve never been against them but due to budget constraints in previous jobs I’ve always tried to keep things simple and get the design to work in its simplest form. That’s not to say now I have an endless budget to play with but there’s more of an opportunity to look at different finishes. 

Photographer: Sam Needham

Are your Magic Rock designs inspired by anything or anyone in particular?

I’ll keep this list short. Things that have inspired me from a creative point of view: The Designers Republic - Warp Records - The Face magazine - Eley Kishimoto - William Morris - Kate Gibb - My tutor at uni John Young, I have a lot of thanks for him. 

What does your design process look like?

From a Magic Rock point of view I like to start with the name of the beer, these mainly come from our MD Rich Burhouse. I like to start here as it gives me a hook into the visual side of things. Then I’ll doodle in my sketch book before taking it into Adobe Illustrator, from there I start to work it up and things evolve. I’m in a really nice place with my design at the moment. I always used to question my work and compare to others, this is a good thing to do and can really help you develop as a designer. However sometimes this can lead to not listening to your instincts. I’m in a place now where I’ll make a decision and stick with it; I question it less and just go with it – but that's not to say I care about it any less. It’s a refreshing and peaceful way of working. 

Photographer: Sam Needham
Photographer: Sam Needham

Is Magic Rock your full-time design gig these days?

It sure is. In addition to designing I help organise events and work on project based ideas. 

What are your thoughts on the ever growing connection between beer and art?

I think the important thing is the connection with the brand. Obviously the product in our case beer is the frame that holds the brand together but if this isn’t consistent and strong (not in the ABV sense) then people can quickly move away from the brand. It’s my job to create a brand that people enjoy associating with. This goes beyond the design; it’s how you communicate your tone of voice and personality. We want people to feel part of Magic Rock. 

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

Not from a design point of view at the moment. I try to switch off when I’m not working, I still think about design but I find it’s important to do other things. It’s all about balance. Surfing and riding bikes is a good tool for this. 

Photographer: Sam Needham
Photographer: Sam Needham

Bellwoods Brewery x Doublenaut

Bellwoods brewery x Doublenaut can label design

Talk to anyone about East Canada’s craft beer scene and it won’t be long before the name Bellwoods pops up. Every so often you come across one of those rare places that really exemplify what it means to be a craft brewery. Bellwoods is one of those breweries. Their beers are as delicious as they are ambitious and they seem to strike that perfect balance of not taking things too seriously while pushing craft beer to the next level with every release. From my vantage point way out here in the West, Bellwoods strikes me as Brassneck’s older, Eastern Canadian brother.

Anyone already familiar with Bellwoods will already know exactly why I’m talking about them here: Their branding and design work is some of the most consistently eye-catching out there on the shelves. I’ve actually wanted to feature Bellwoods for a long time now, having been stalking their Instagram since I first arrived in Canada, but only recently did they start consistently putting their beers in to cans adorned with the same pressure sensitive labels as their bottles, thereby giving me the perfect excuse to get them on this here blog. And here they are, finally, for your viewing pleasure.

Bellwoods brewery x Doublenaut can label design

I love Bellwoods’ branding because it just feels so…authentic, so understated, so effortless somehow. I guess in that sense it reflects the impression I get of the brewery itself. It feels like a perfect partnership between two parties that just… get it. And get each other. The artwork has that classic screen printed gig poster vibe that just fires off all the right signals in the design part of my brain. Like they’re drawing on and are part of a great design tradition. The artwork is just excellent- really, really excellent.

The brains behind these intensely collectable label designs are design studio Doublenaut, a talented trio consisting of Matt McCracken, Andrew McCracken and Ross Proulx. Here’s what they had to say about their work with Bellwoods Brewery.

Bellwoods brewery x Doublenaut can label design

How did your relationship with Bellwoods come to be?
Our office at the time was conveniently next door to them the year they opened, so a relationship naturally formed after going in a few times for beers and meeting the owners. They needed labels designed, so it was perfect timing. We’ve been working with them ever since.

What I love about your labels is that they’re essentially gig posters shrunk down and stuck to cans and bottles. Each beer style has its own personality – I almost feel like if each beer was a band, I could clearly imagine what kind of music they would play. They really have that classic screen print poster feel to them. Is that intentional?
Definitely. Our company got its start in design through the gig poster world. Bellwoods were a fan of the posters we had done in the past, and wanted to capture that feel on each bottle. Since beer labels are generally quite small and require a fair amount of information on them, keeping the design organized, simple and bold makes for a striking and readable design. Many of the labels end up being adapted to screen printed posters for sale, so people can collect their favourite label like a gig poster at a show.

How long have you been designing gig posters?
Doublenaut has been designing gig posters since 2004.

Bellwoods brewery x Doublenaut can label design

What do you guys regard as your greatest influences? What inspires you?
Our surroundings, really. We’re all into hiking, travel, live music, visiting art galleries and museums. The culmination of all of those definitely have an impact on our work.

What does your process look like?
Our process is pretty simple. After we're given a new beer name/style of beer, our ideas begin from research and sketching. Once we have a couple directions we’re happy with, we’ll present roughs to the client and turn those into a final design based on their feedback.

Bellwoods brewery x Doublenaut can label design

Do you have a favourite label you’ve designed?
Ross: Runes Matt: Wizard Wolf Andrew: Roman Candle

What do you think of the ever-growing connection between the art/beer scenes?
We're all for it. In addition to the recipe, great artwork catches people’s eye and gives the beer a unique identity. Beer labels were pretty boring to look at for a while, so it’s nice to see so many companies having fun with their art and expressing their creations in new and interesting ways.

Bellwoods brewery x Doublenaut can label design

I could stare at these all day. In fact, I basically have.

If, like me, you can't tear yourself away from these designs, what follows are a couple of options to help at least pry your gaze away from the LED box for a few short minutes:

  1. Head to your local private liquor store and hassle them until they hand over any Bellwoods beers they happen to have in their possession (whether for sale or not) then carefully peel off the label and stick it to the inside of a cheap pair of sunglasses so you can at least walk about a bit.
  2. Head either to Bellwoods' real life bricks and mortar brewpubs and purchase yourself some cans, bottles or even a screen printed poster, OR, get one from Doublenaut's own webshop as I intend to do. Then carry it around on a scroll like some kind of medieval messenger so you can gawk at it at will.

That's it, that's all. Those are your only viable options.



Like the pretty things? How about some more pretty things designed by Justin Longoz for Four Winds?


Like the tasty beers? Check out the aforementioned estranged BC-based step-sibling of Bellwoods, Brassneck. My words, not theirs.

Four Winds Fresh Hop & Blackberry Jam

Fresh to Death

Well, those fine folks over at Four Winds just keep on giving don’t they? Off the back of their summer success with the Notus series, they’re flying into fall with a couple more stunners, the Fresh Hop Wild Ale and their newest release, “Blackberry Jam”.

Fresh Hop sticks with the clean, minimal vibe we saw in the Notus series but shifts things away from the abstract realm to shine the spotlight on the star of the show, fresh BC hops. Rich, 70’s lawn tennis club greens evoke a real earthy freshness, perfect for a green hop beer.

Likewise, deep, sticky jam purples contrast an array of soft greens to give Blackberry Jam that bramble bush feel. Just looking at the label you know how this beer is going to taste. I feel like I want to lick the can.

Here’s what Justin Longoz, Four Winds’ resident designer, had to say:

Photo provided by Four Winds Brewing Co.

Blackberry Jam

The Blackberry Jam can is one of my favourite designs. The design itself is actually just “jam” drops of various sizes laid over the top of one another. I re-coloured the cross-sections where the drops overlapped with colours that popped and said “Blackberry” to me, generating this pattern. From there, I wanted to push the design a bit further and laid out 3 drops for the printers to cut out from the label before putting the gloss finishing layer over the whole label. The cut-outs reveal the aluminum can under the label giving an added shimmer to the glossy finish.

Photo provided by Four Winds Brewing Co.

Fresh Hop Wild Ale

With the Fresh Hop Wild Ale can I wanted to keep the focus on the hops and their nice lush, green colour. I used these two elements as the backbone for the design. The rising hop box puts the spotlight directly on the hop. Past that I didn’t want anything else distracting from the hop design, which is why we pushed all of the copy to either side of the label. Then I put a box around the rising hop to sort of say “this is the most important part of this beer”. The thing I like the most about this design is that it has a sort of 70’s/80’s TV company logo animation with an upward fluttering sound, like the retro PBS animations or the classic TVS animation. I know it sounds weird. But I had those fluttery computer sounds running through my head when I made this label.


Like what you see? You'll love our interview with Justin about the Four Winds Notus Series cans!

After more great Vancouver breweries? Meet Christine Moulson of Strange Fellows Brewing!

The World of Strangefellows with Christine Moulson

Strange Fellows are one of those rare craft breweries that are universally respected on the Canadian craft beer scene. Nearing its 3rd birthday, this is one Vancouver brewery that truly understands the art of storytelling. If you’ve been out in Vancouver at any point in the last year, you’d be hard pushed not to have sunk at least one can of their gorgeous Talisman, a West Coast Pale ale which essentially acts as their flagship.

But if you’ve only seen these beer cans in the dark light of a club or at the tail end of a crawl around East Vancouver’s breweries, here’s what your next steps should be immediately after you’ve finished reading this post: Get yourself down to Strange Fellows or your closest private liquor store and buy yourself one of each can (if you have to buy them each as four packs, do it, you’ll want to drink them all anyway); go home and light a fire (whether woodburning, electric, toaster oven, youtube, or otherwise) and put on your slippers; sit yourself down in a nice armchair, perhaps snuggled under a blanket or in your favourite smoking jacket; crack open the beer of your choice; then – finally - burn all the books you own. You don’t need them anymore. The Strange Fellows stories are all you’ll ever need. Plus the extra fuel should keep you warm as you power through those 24 beers you just bought.

Vancouver Brewery, Strange Fellows, Beer can design by Christine Moulson

The Strange Fellows brand is artfully conceived. Their beer cans, bottles, website and communications strategy enriches and brings to life a world of curious myths, fables and folklore from cultures far and wide. The can designs are subtle and feature medieval looking block prints that illustrate snippets of exceptionally well written copy, teasers designed to draw you into the Strangefellows world, a world that is strange and extraordinary. They transport you to a different time, hinting at old traditions, traditions you can experience at each of their monthly Strange Days, held at the Vancouver brewery. As soon as you enter the Strange Fellows world you know exactly what to expect from the beers which are brewed using techniques inspired by traditional methods but infused with more than a jolt of creativity.

Good copy is something you don’t really notice is missing from most beers until you encounter the brands that actually put some thought in to it. Strange Fellows’ story telling gets you invested in the brand on a much more emotional level than some off-the-shelf tasting notes. It’s about world building. And they build an enticing world. Go into any liquor store and count how many times you read the words “aromas of citrus” or “herbal, piney flavours”. Now read the tale accompanying Strangefellows’ Blackmail Milk Stout:

Vancouver Brewery, Strange Fellows, Beer can design by Christine Moulson

Fuck your citrus notes; I want to drink Norse secrets, damnit!

And on that note, it’s time to hear from the lady behind the stories, Christine Moulson, Strange Fellows’ in-house designer and general word wizard. Here’s what she had to say about creating the world of Strange Fellows:


Strange Fellows definitely seems to be one of the best known and most well respected Vancouver breweries. Obviously that’s in part down to the exceptional quality of the product but I’d certainly argue, and I believe Iain agrees, that it’s also largely down to the strength of the brand. You manage to do what a lot of brands fail to do, and that’s telling a cohesive, engaging and intriguing story. How important do you think storytelling is for a brand? And for Strange Fellows in particular?

I am a big fan of storytelling. We learn so much about others by listening to their stories, and can find some common ground that we might assume at the outset does not exist. Strange Fellows is all about finding that common ground - no matter where you come from or what your beliefs, we all share some fundamental truths, and we hope our stories highlight those truths. We can sit down and have a beer together and enjoy some common ground.

Vancouver Brewery, Strange Fellows, Beer can design by Christine Moulson

All of your communications are exceptionally well worded. Copy is often overlooked on beer cans, but clearly a lot of thought has gone into the copy on each can and each brand evokes a new curious piece of folklore. Does your writing take cues from any author/genre in particular?

Western folklore and superstition in general I guess. There are so many examples of the same concepts being told in different tales in different cultures, but they often all boil down to the same essential message. Similarly, the same archetypes appear in different folklores who serve to illustrate the same message. I find the fact that we still follow so many traditions based in superstition without questioning the reason also very interesting and related. I take the nugget of a truth or a superstition and start from there, or sometimes it is the beer that starts the story. Like a vain peacock to the sour beer that is Popinjay. When I tasted the beer, the image of a peacock came to mind and the story followed from there. I have no idea if people actually read the stories but I hope they do.


Do you have a favourite folkloric tale?

I enjoy all of Aesop's tales for their utter simplicity and truth.

Visually, the brand really stands out from the crowd. You don’t see many block prints on… well anything these days. What inspired you to take that route? Is it something you have a lot of past experience with?

I decided to use block prints for the brand imagery for several reasons. I was inspired by the awkwardness of Medieval woodcuts, a visual look I feel suits the stories. I wanted a bold image that would stand out in a sea of so many colours. I like the forced imperfection of carved images, and I think the hand-crafted images reflect the craft nature of the product.  The good thing about going to art school is that you learn many different techniques, so while I had not done block printing for many years, I was able to create the look I was after.


You curate the Charles Clark gallery at the Brewery – What are your thoughts on the ever growing connection between the art and craft beer communities?

I am so happy that we were able to carve out a little piece of the brewery building for the art gallery, albeit with forklifts driving through it. I love it when I encounter art in an unexpected or unplanned way, so being able to provide a space where folks can experience an artist's vision in an un-intimidating way is very satisfying. I have recently passed on the Charles Clark Curator badge to someone else at Strange Fellows, and am excited to see what the future brings.

Vancouver Brewery, Strange Fellows, Beer can design by Christine Moulson

I see you’ve also designed identities for Dames wines, which are gorgeous. Do you have any ongoing or personal projects you’d like to tell us more about?

Thanks! Dames Wines will be releasing a new wine in the new year, and I will do the next label in the series. Soon, very soon, I hope to be able to devote some time to making more masks for Strange Fellows, as well as explore some sculptural work of my own.  My on-going goal is to make more time for my own artistic expression, but it is so hard to find time given the demands of a young business and a young family.


Finally, is there anything else you’d like to add?

Thanks for reading the stories on the cans!

And thank YOU for reading my stories about the stories on cans.

Like beers you can read? Then you need to see Scott A. Ford's beautiful packaging design work for Zero Issue brewing.

Reckon literature belongs in a library and not on a beer can? Check out Steve Kitchen's awesome low-brow, skate inspired character design for Parallel 49!

Parallel 49 – Steve Kitchen

Steve Kitchen craft can design for Parallel 49 Brewing, Vancouver

If you live in Western Canada and you’ve even so much as looked at a beer list or visited a liquor store in the past year or so, I’d be willing to wager you’ve come across Parallel 49 Brewing. After 5 years in business, the BC craft beer behemoths are one of the few breweries to have reached a scale that allows them to distribute their beer far and wide and, at the same time, keep both government and private liquor stores across BC and Alberta stocked up around the clock. No matter where they're stocked, if they're there you can't miss them.

Bold Branding, Killer Character Design

Parallel 49 beers are hard to ignore. I mean they are bold. They are bright. They’re obnoxious even. But that’s what makes them so bloody brilliant. Bawdy characters scream at you from the shelves, daring you to pick them up. Or don't, whatever, they couldn’t care less. There’s something vulgar about them, something totally shameless and unabashed. It’s that 90’s skate / gross-out B-Movie / metal aesthetic back with a vengeance.

But it’s more than an aesthetic, it implies a certain attitude. With names like Wobblypop, Jerkface 9000 and Trash Panda, they clearly don’t take themselves seriously; they’re just doing their own thing. It shouts “we don’t pander to trends”. They are the branding equivalent of the skater kids who catch a tonne of heat from everyone for being anti-social and weirdly dressed, when really everyone wishes they had the confidence to be themselves. It's that effortless, carefree confidence that polarises people, particularly those whose identity shifts with the changing trends.

Although all my instincts are telling me to take that school yard clique/brewery identity metaphor and run with it as far as it will go, I’m not here to ruffle any feathers. If you must know who’s who in this pretend school yard of drunken children, you’ll have to track me down and get me drunk. (Think you know who's who? Answers on a postcard to jj [at] craftcans.ca)

Steve Kitchen Jerkface9000 craft can design for Parallel 49 Brewing, Vancouver

Iconic Characters

The mastermind behind Parallel 49’s inimitable branding and the creator of this ever growing family of characters that adorn their cans and bottles is Steve Kitchen of Combination 13. Steve’s branding and his range of can and label designs are without a shadow of a doubt a huge part of Parallel 49’s success as a brand and those I’ve spoken to at the brewery seem to emphatically agree. His artwork puts the brewery in a class of its own and, whether you’re into his work or not, you have to agree that it is one of the most recognisable, most unique brands available on the Canadian craft beer market.

Steve Kitchen Wobblypop craft can design for Parallel 49 Brewing, Vancouver
Steve Kitchen Ruby Tears craft can design for Parallel 49 Brewing, Vancouver

Hey Steve! You’ve managed to develop one of the boldest brands in craft beer with your work for P49. How did your relationship with P49 come to fruition?

Prior to the inception of the brewery in 2012, my gig poster artwork was well known here on the streets and poster poles of East Vancouver - The vision for the owners of Parallel 49 was to see that kind of random creativity adorning their beer bottles & cans. Upon meeting with the guys, we drank some early batches and kicked around some design ideas - I then produced a set of six initial designs and the rest is drunk history.


What does your character design process look like? How closely do you work with the brewery throughout this process?

It’s mostly sketch work in an attempt to find a character design that is fitting, I tend to throw ideas at the wall until something sticks with the owners - Often I’ll be given a beer name to work with or I’ll present my own artwork and name combinations. How closely I work with the brewery on each label varies each time, they are pretty good at offering feedback and don’t take the process too seriously. I like that they let me do my thing independent of any solid design constraints and are open to taking chances on bold concepts.

Steve Kitchen Cowboy Crusher craft can design for Parallel 49 Brewing, Vancouver

You clearly have a strong aesthetic. I get an old school Marc McKee skate graphic vibe from a lot of your work... who inspires you and has inspired you the most would you say?

Thanks JJ! My inspirations are somewhat of a mish- mash which straddle gig posters, surf / skate graphics, old school americana, candy wrappers, pinball tables and weird advertising - I tend to be drawn to disposable artwork mostly, always something that serves a purpose but in an attractive way. I've always loved the low brow aesthetic of Vince Ray’s artwork, instantly recognizable with a strict colour palette, Jim Phillips and Jimbo Phillips are natural inspirations too, as are Coop & David Vicente - The artist who has inspired me most however, is Reg Mombassa - Reg’s Mambo era artwork I've always found curiously appealing and eternally original, with their slightly twisted humour & unique stylings - Although our art styles are worlds apart from one another, it was Reg that taught me art doesn’t need to take itself too seriously, and that a good design can also provoke and amuse in equal measures.

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Do you have a favourite character you've designed?

That’s a tough one! Lost Souls (above - yes I know it's not a can) comes to mind as it’s really in your face and quite creepy - I’m always looking to have these characters almost jump out of the label at the consumer, and in the case of Lost Souls, I think we got it right. Filthy Dirty is another favourite; he gives off a troublesome air of sneaky mischief & punky attitude. We also have a brand new major IPA – Trash Panda - that’s just been released featuring a nasty Racoon character - I’ve used a nice vintage looking halftone in the print and implemented the aluminium shine of the can as highlights in the artwork - We fully expect him to ruffle some feathers in the Craft Beer world very soon!

Steve Kitchen Trash Panda craft can design for Parallel 49 Brewing, Vancouver

What are your thoughts on the ever growing connection between beer and art? (the idea of the can as canvas)

As an artist myself I think it’s great! There’s so much creativity & diversity in craft brewing, it seems only right to couple that with equally creative & diverse artwork - There are no rules to speak of in this relatively new industry and brilliantly, the majority of breweries approaches the task uniquely. You only have to visit your local liquor store to see the array of art styles on offer. For me, craft beer and craft art makes for a perfect marriage I’m grateful to be a part of.


Thanks Steve!


Steve Kitchen Filthy Dirty craft can design for Parallel 49 Brewing, Vancouver

If you haven’t already done so, I recommend checking out Parallel 49’s website and scrolling through their Instagram so you can browse their back catalogue of beers and check out all the gnarly characters that Steve has designed over the years. It’s an extended family of bold, silly characters with ridiculous names, the newest addition to which is Trash Panda, a hazy IPA with a tonne of dry hops and part of Parallel 49’s core range. Just look at the rabid little fella! Not a huge amount of breweries would pick a garbage dwelling rodent brandishing a fish skeleton - the traditional cartoon signifier of bad smells – as their mascot. But shit, I mean, why not. Why not? That’s just the beauty of the brand. They do what they want with their labels, which implies the same for their beer. And people love that. People wish they had the courage to do exactly what they wanted. Maybe if you drink their beer you’ll gain the necessary courage to do so as well. Only one way to find out, eh?


Not a fan? Prefer something less in your face? Something a bit more refined? Check out Sami Christianson’s designs for Steel & Oak or Justin Longoz’ work for Four Winds’ Notus Series.

Like it bold? Check out ‘Berta’s finest with Pete Nguyen’s craft can designs for Yellowhead Brewery.

Zero Issue Brewing – Scott A. Ford


A good brand tells a story. That story makes your product more than just a commodity, it gives it personality, allows consumers to identify with it, to invest in your brand emotionally. And that story can be anything – whether it’s “we like trucks”, “we are an exclusive club with exceptional taste” or simply “we make great beer and also we’re right next door to you so come and drink it”.

Few brands, however, take this advice quite as literally as the MacDonald brothers at Zero Issue brewery in Calgary. Mark and Kirk MacDonald are unabashed sci-fi fans and comic book lovers and their brewery is a celebration of their passions. In fact, “Zero Issue” is actually the term for special comic book releases that generally detail a character’s origin story. So perhaps it’s no surprise that these brothers jumped at the opportunity to really tell a story through their brand by harnessing the canvas that is the craft beer can and turning their product into what is essentially a graphic novel, enlisting Winnipeg based graphic artist Scott A. Ford to design their brand and can artwork.


These can labels are truly outstanding. The way I see it, the illustrations essentially act as the front cover of another issue of the comic book – Ford has a phenomenal knack for capturing what feels like the pivotal moment in each imaginary issue, suggesting vast worlds with minimal details and bold colour palettes. Each can provides a tantalising hint at a thrilling story and the longer I stare at the artwork the more I want to find out about the backstory. I want to read this beer. It’s one thing to pick up a beer with a great brand story and think “oh yeah, this is cool, I can get on board with this” and that happens fairly often in Vancouver, but to pick up a beer and go “oh man, I NEED TO KNOW MORE – WHAT HAPPENS NEXT!?” … that’s a pretty unique feeling. If I could find any Zero Issue here in Van, I could definitely see myself drinking a lot of them purely in the hopes of gaining some kind of miraculous insight, as if the story is there swimming in the boozy ether of oblivion.

Alas, it’s not, so the second best option seemed to be to reach out to the artist himself in a bid to find out more:

Hi Scott, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. 

The folks at Zero Issue clearly like their sci-fi and comic books, but to what extent did they hand you the reigns? How involved were they in the process?

Honestly, Zero Issue has been one of the best clients I have ever worked with. They came to me with an overall aesthetic, and the names and visual themes behind each of their beer varieties. So right from the start I had a really great foundation to work off of, but beyond that they were happy to let me do my own thing. It was my choice to go with flat 2d perspective on all the cans, the consistent central character, and the simple bold colour schemes for each illustration. But they still had really helpful feedback throughout the entire process. I definitely felt like we were always on the same page when talking about the art and branding of Zero Issue.


Does the Zero Issue character have a storyline sketched out somewhere? is there a Zero Issue for Zero Issue?

Actually, funny you mention that, when I started these separate illustrations, I never thought of the central figure as the same person, but by the end, I was starting to come up with a story in my head of how these vignettes were perhaps connected by a single narrative.

So, unbeknownst to Kirk or Mark, I took it upon myself to string these illustrations together into a single (although fairly abstract) sci-fi story, and made it into this little, almost collage-style, comic book. It was really just a personal passion project that was born out of this commission. I printed it and sent it to Kirk and Mark as a surprise and they really liked it. And they even ended up paying me for the extra work I put into that comic, even though they didn't actually commission me to do it in the first place. So now they technically own the rights to that comic and, as far as I know, they haven't released it to the public yet. 
So, maybe to answer your question a bit more concisely: yes, there is a "Zero Issue" for Zero Issue, but it might not be ready for the public yet. 

Do you think there's an Alberta Aesthetic? We find we can usually guess a 'Berta brewery from the style of artwork on the can. This definitely isn't your typical Alberta can though. Were you conscious of that when designing?

I live in Winnipeg, so to be honest, I wasn't aware of any Alberta brewery trends. However, it was a conscious decision to do something different from most modern can designs, so I'm glad that you feel it stands out. I've seen a lot of can designs that try to put too much detail on such a small product, so from the start I knew I wanted to do something really bold and simple. I wanted to make something that would stand out from a distance, something that would be clear and eye-catching from all the way across the liquor store. So, yes, I was conscious of general beer art trends, but not specifically Alberta beer trends. 

What are your thoughts on the idea of the "can as a canvas" // the growing inter-connectedness of craft beer and the art/design world?

Beer can art is definitely a growing trend, and something that I wanted to contribute to with Zero Issue's can designs. My girlfriend and have actually started collecting cans and bottles that we think are particularly nice. Obviously I love packaging and graphic design, but I think some people still see graphic design and branding as very "corporate" and not artistic. I try to treat every project like a work of art, no matter its application. I think if you design a product that simply "looks nice", like a standalone piece of art, then the product sells itself and it feels less like just an advertisement on a bottle.


Do you have anything else you'd like to add about these labels?

Funny story, since I've been working out of Winnipeg, and Zero Issue beers are currently only available in Alberta, so I hadn't had the opportunity to try their beer for myself. So naturally the tension was building and I was keeping my fingers crossed that it was good beer. And then out of the blue, my friend came back from a trip to Calgary and surprised me with some Zero Issue cans. I was super excited to finally be holding my can art with my own hands, but the cherry on top was when I finally cracked them open and they tasted super good! 


Finally, do you have any personal projects outside of all this that you're excited about?

I am currently working on my first full-length graphic novel, Ark Land! It is also my first ever professionally published book, by ChiZine Publications out of Toronto. In short, Ark Land is a colourful and whimsical sci-fi adventure story about a humble fantasy world turned on its head by the arrival of mysterious alien arks. Basically it's The Legend of Zelda meets District 9. It's a project I've been dreaming of and working on for a long time, and it's easily my most passion-filled project to date. Needless to say, I am extremely excited to finish up this book and get it into the hands of the public!

When I first saw these cans before I knew anything about the brewery I was really excited to see such a different approach to a beer label. I loved the colours, the energy of the illustrations – everything about them. Since I’ve spoken to Scott, learnt more about the story behind Zero Issue and stared at the artwork for hours on end, though, I’ve realised how invested I am in the story being told here. The descriptions of each beer are beautifully crafted to pique your curiosity. Alongside the artwork they hint at more; a rich sci-fi adventure that’s unfolding somewhere, secretly just out of reach. I want to know more. I am emotionally invested in the brand. It works. The trick works!


Check out the 'Berta competition - read our interview with Pete Nguyen about his designs for Yellowhead Brewery.

Prefer something a little more abstract? Take a look at Four Winds' Notus Series, designed by Justin Longoz.

Yellowhead Brewery – Pete Nguyen

Remlar Pale Ale illustration by Pete Nguyen, Photography by Adrien Veczan

The ‘Berta Beer Boom is on! Provincial brewing restrictions were eased back in 2013 leading to a 100% increase in the number of craft breweries in Alberta between 2014 and 2016 and the craft bug is clearly catching - another 20 Albertan brewpubs or breweries are slated to be opening in 2017 alone. And for all those playing along at home: what do new breweries mean? PRI- … NEW CANS!

But today we ain’t talkin’ bout no new brewery but an old(er – at least in craft beer terms) brewery that opened up in Edmonton in 2010. Everyone in Edmonton has heard of Yellowhead Brewery and, by extension, their flagship Yellowhead lager. For years they existed as a one-beer brewery designed specifically to cater to a pre-craft-boom beer scene so when the seas changed (or whatever the North Saskatchewan river equivalent is) and demand rose for “not-lager” beers, they found themselves severely limited by the turnover time of lagers and their limited tank space. They literally couldn’t brew any different beers, no matter how much they wanted to. Thankfully, they found the money for some extra tanks and gave their brand image one hell of a refresh and are currently crushing it.

Now, having only sampled their Pale ale somewhere deep into Canada 150 celebrations, I don’t really feel adequately placed to talk about the quality of the beer, though I remember it being tasty. But those cans – oh, those cans are a thing of beauty. If memory serves, I first encountered Remlar (the Sturgeon King) gazing deep into the viscous, hazy waters of a mostly melted ice bucket. Sharp lime green shimmered from the depths, inviting me in. Submerging my hand into the alcoholic’s plunge pool I swat away icy cold, now-desperate Heinekens and cans of Coors, hunting for the elusive source of the piercing green. Fingers wrapped tightly around the prize I tear it from the arctic abyss to be greeted by Remlar’s grumpy little sturgeon face. It’s a gorgeous can. That vivid lime explodes off a murky teal highlighting the features of an artfully designed swamp creature. Yellowhead’s new look lager shows a similar mastery of colour selection. A semi-transparent electric yellow hijacks the aluminium shine of the can and starkly contrasts the rich matte black linework of a half-wolf-half-hawk. And they're both pretty metal.

Yellowhead Lager, illustration by Pete Nguyen, Photography by Adrien Veczan

It’s a far cry from their old branding and a welcome change of direction for the brewery. Needless to say, I wanted to find out more. So I did! Pete Nguyen is an Edmonton based illustrator and art director and here’s what he had to say about his work with Yellowhead:


Hi Pete, I’m a huge fan of these illustrations! What inspired you to go down the 'mythological' route?

Thank you! The mythological approach was a concept that we came up with as a team (Yellowhead guys and me). We wanted to showcase a mascot for the brand, but everything came up a little dull so we decided to make up our own or riff off of Alberta myths. The Premium Lager showcases an Albertan take on a griffin, the Remlar Pale Ale is a movie monster version of the infamous sturgeon king of the north Saskatchewan river, and the Saison Tete Jaune is a take on the myth that your hair still grows when you’re dead, in this case, the dead is alive and the hair is monstrously long…and blonde.

How involved were Yellowhead? Did they have a solid idea of what they wanted or were you given free reign?

The team at Yellowhead were great. They wanted to do something different, and were extremely open and helpful in brainstorming ideas. We worked together creatively, and once we got the initial concept everything else came quickly.

Do you think there's an Alberta Aesthetic? We find we can usually guess a 'Berta brewery from the style of artwork on the can.

There’s a very ‘no fuss’ way about Alberta. Previously, there was no reason to have forward pushing design/art on beer, it’s all about the taste and the price, but it’s changing. There are some amazing local breweries and distilleries that are really putting resources into their labels to stand out more and people are noticing.

As an art director you're presumably kept pretty busy - do you have any personal projects outside of all this that you're excited about?

As an Art Director, I usually source illustrators to get the job done, but I started off as an illustrator so I try to do as much illustration as I can on my free time to keep my skills up. I've done a few more things for Yellowhead for their tasting room and merchandise. I also got to do a huge mural of a samurai and noodle dragon at an Edmonton Ramen shop last summer, and I continually work with bands doing merchandise and album artwork.

Yellowhead Tasting Room illustration by Pete Nguyen
Yellowhead Brewing Growler by Pete Nguyen

What are your thoughts on the idea of the "can as a canvas" // the growing interconnectedness of craft beer and the art/design world?

I think it’s great! Sometimes art only reaches people who seek it out, but put some creative work on a can and you have people who never thought twice about art get really excited about it. The craft beer community understands that really well. They go through sort of the same obstacles to get noticed and be considered above the larger brewers. Also in Edmonton they get the scene, they want to support art, music and each other and it really shows in how they approach marketing their beers.

Thanks Pete!


It only takes a brief scroll of their YellowHead Certified Programm page to see that Yellowhead really do put in the leg work when it comes to supporting the arts. It’s another example of the growing power of breweries to be an integral part of the local community and an amplifier for local creatives looking for support and exposure. It’s a topic that we’ll definitely be delving into a little deeper in the future and there’s plenty to chew on... so for now, kick your feet up, crack open a can of Remlar and have a little peruse of Pete Nguyen’s other work.

And while you're at it why not check out some of our previous articles like last week's look at Brassneck's new cans or our interview with Justin Longoz of Four Winds Brewing! Or y'know... just head to our archive for the full list of features. The choice is yours! "oooooo!"


Yellowhead Brewery, Edmonton, AB

Featured artists:

Pete Nguyen

Phenomenal product photography by Adrien Veczan

Brassneck, Oh Beautiful Brassneck


We’ve all seen them – bands of seismologists hanging around at stations and street corners in their shoddy labcoats, holding their seismometers aloft and proselytizing about “The Big One” – the magnitude 9.0 earthquake that could hit the Pacific Northwest at any time. Well just a couple of weeks ago, Vancouverites living in the Mount Pleasant area could have been forgiven for grabbing their emergency coolers and taking refuge in their underground parkades as a gentle rumble built to a wall-shaking tremor and a 5-6 foot wave of drooling craft beer enthusiasts flooded the streets. Soaked through with sweat, they blindly fought their way through the blistering hot, smoke-filled streets in search of Brassneck, navigating by muscle memory alone as they waved their wallets in the air chanting “cans, cans, cans”.

Brassneck is consistently rated as one of the best breweries in Vancouver but their beers rarely make it further than their tasting room and when they do they only reach a few select taps around the city.  It should come as no surprise then that the announcement that they had started canning their beer was greeted with such fervor.

Brassneck has a particularly strong identity and a very unique aesthetic - an impressive feat for a brewery that doesn’t really package their product for off sales other than in growlers. The brewery’s identity was originally designed by Alex Nelson & Beau House of Post Projects, with whom they partnered once more for this their first foray into the world of cans. Teaming up with photographer Vishal Marapon they produced an exquisite run of digitally printed pressure sensitive labels. Few pressure sensitive labels manage to escape the “sticker-on-a-can” look, no matter what you put on them. These, however, really do. Metallic inks expertly matched to the silver of the can commandeer the metal as part of the design, while high contrast shots taken around the brewery and tap room by Vishal Marapon are paired up at random with bright daubs of colour that act as the backdrop for the name of the beer.


We got in touch with Alex Nelson at Post Projects to find out a bit more about the design process and the concept behind these cans:


Hi Alex! I’m enamoured with the new cans. Could you tell us a bit about your design process and the concept behind them? Did you face any challenges designing for such a prolific brewery?

Our client, Brassneck Brewery founders Nigel Springthorpe and Conrad Gmoser, wanted to develop a series of cans that would evoke and reference the brewery space and tasting room. The final concept that we landed on involved collaborating with photographer Vishal Marapon to develop a series of high contrast black and white images which showcase the space and its myriad textures and surfaces.

The next challenge in the process was to find a way to develop a design system that would account for the huge (and constantly evolving) range of beers that Brassneck offers—32 of these beer styles were included in the first print run alone. A key factor in executing the cans was leveraging the latest in printing technology to maintain the quality and flexibility required for a project like this. Working with the team at Summit Print, the cans were run on HP digital printers and made use of a technology called database printing. This allowed us to use a group of base templates and run a series of 16 different photographs on the back of the label. To accommodate the beer style variations, we developed a ‘chalk smear’ design element which is then applied to each roll of labels.

Brassneck is always creating new beers. It’s a key part of their brand and who they are. Since opening in 2013, they’ve brewed and released over 80 different styles. It was critical to the project that they have a label design system that can be updated and executed as quickly as they make new beers.



I'm really into the idea of the "can as canvas". Do you have any thoughts on the interconnectedness of the art/design and beer worlds at the moment?

For better or worse, design and beer are indeed becoming bedfellows these days. Our design decisions are mostly focused with producing something that's on-brand rather than trying to make a can a piece of art.

One interesting thing to note is that, due to the rise of smaller craft beer producers, you’re seeing a need for alternative modes of printing and packaging, such as shrink wrapping and pressure labels that can satisfy the smaller batches that these breweries produce. With the smaller runs, there seems to be a sense of decreased risk that leads to more experimentation in label design.

It’s safe to say these cans could not be more Brassneck if they tried. Post Projects absolutely knocked it out of the park in terms of producing something on-brand and in doing so created a can that acts as a canvas for Vishal Marapon’s stunning photography. Brassneck has always stood well apart from the noise of the craft beer market, in my opinion. By only serving their beer through their own tap room and trusted partners they aren’t forced to dilute their essence or make any compromises. No doubt, the beer wouldn't have made it anywhere near a can if they were going to be anything less than perfect and, of course, they don’t have to jostle for shelf space and risk getting lost in a sea of brands because they’re only sold in one fridge. The one at Brassneck.