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.
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:
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.
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.
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!