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

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

Story Time with Barkerville Brewing Co.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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!