Monday, 16 November 2009 14:42

The Art of the Craft Beer

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The Beer Goddess spoke with four influential people in the California craft brewing industry.  These three breweries - like many others - take the art of their labels very, very seriously. 

 

 

 

 

I first spoke with Tony Magee, the co- founder of Lagunitas Brewing, based in Petaluma, California.  Along with their rebel chic look adorning most of their beers, Tony had the brilliant idea to use Frank Zappa's album covers as a series of beers.  He obtained permission from Frank Zappa's widow, Gail Zappa, to use the first album, the Mothers of Inventions' Freak Out, before the album was about to turn 40 years old.

Tony studied composition in college and it goes without say he is a huge Zappa fan. Lagunitas released five beers, honoring five Frank Zappa albums. The first beer: Freak Out Ale came out in 2006. Following Freak Out, came Kill Ugly Radio (an Imperial IPA), marking the 40th anniversary of the second Zappa album, "Absolutely Free." Gail wanted Magee to use the picture of Frank that's inside the album (with the slogan: Kill Ugly Radio).

Lumpy Gravy Ale is the third ale that Lagunitas produced in celebration of Frank Zappa's musical legacy.  Produced in memory of the fortieth anniversary of the release of the Lumpy Gravy album (1968), the bottle displays the original cover art from the album and a Zappa quote:

[blockquote]Without music to decorate it, time is just a bunch of boring production deadlines or dates by which bills must be paid.[/blockquote]

Amen Frank...and Tony.

The next installation was a Belgian Style Tripple called "We’re Only In it For the Money." The last and final beer in the complex and wonderfully subversive world of Frank Zappa was Ruben & the Jets. An imperial stout, the release celebrates the 40th anniversary of Zappa's fifth studio album, Cruising with Ruben and the Jets. Clocking in at 8.6% ABV, Ruben & the Jets is a chocolate peppery stout.

Check out some of what Tony - the man behind the beer - had to say:

BG: The Frank Zappa beers, was that your idea?  Are you the big Frank Zappa fan?

TM: Yeah, ya know - certainly the composition. Back in college time, I wanted to do that.  I was good, but other people were great – had to move on and do other things.  …he’s considered to be a 21st century composer and it certain circles, he’s really, really seen as that.  Most people only know the other side of him.  We were going along I realized the first Zappa album, Freak Out, was just about to turn 40 and just on a whim one afternoon, I sent an email off to a company called Right To Disc, that publishes all the Zappa discs these days, they just ignored me…tried calling them and nobody called me back.  So one day I kinda just took up…I guessed that Gail Zappa’s email address was what it is and just sent it off to her.  She responded the next morning and goes, ‘Yeah, I love your idea, let’s talk!’

[inset side=left]"We just realized we could accidently come across a vein, a little thread we could connect with people who liked the same things that we liked."[/inset]

So the idea was just to do the Freak Out, it was just kinda cool, you don’t always realize how resonant a thing can be.  I started getting emails from all over the world, almost immediately…ya know, Zappa fans. If you took like a room with a million people all standing shoulder to shoulder and you said the name Frank Zappa, it wouldn’t matter whether they were accountants or truck drivers or what….they would light up.  We just realized we could accidently come across a vein, a little thread we could connect with people who liked the same things that we liked.  So, I called Gail back and asked, ‘Hey can we do the next album when it turns 40?’ And she said, ‘Sure, let’s just keep doin’ them!’

BG: Had she had your beers at all?

TM:  Gail drinks a little bit of wine, but not really much beer.  There's this widely held idea that Frank Zappa was a teetotaler.  But, it wasn’t really that at all.  He didn’t do drugs because he didn’t feel like they made him any smarter.  He didn’t like drinking because he thought most people used drinking as an excuse to be an asshole…in his own words. He and Gail said they drank – they liked English Ales.  So, I don’t know if Gail actually drank the beer…A lot of people there in the family, the circle there - they all dug it, everyone was kinda enthusiastic about the whole thing. So, we just kept doin’ them. And after the 5th album, Gail kinda flipped out on me and it was sort of a sad story.   But, all good things come to an end.  And sometimes that’s the only way you know they were a good thing – is when they’re over with.  It was cool. It was fun, ya’ know. 

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BG: That’s a great philosophy though.

TM: Yeah, it was like a touch of greatness. I mean, imagine you suddenly got to go to their house, talk to their children and see where they lived and where they worked. That was a cool thing.

As far as the other - non-series - beers like Lagunitas Lucky 13 and Little Sumpin Sumpin Ale, artist John Wishman (Ocho Loco Press) is the artist behind the modish labels. Tony came across his art and loved his aesthetic.  And as far as the dog?  A friend of Tony's found him in a clip art book, and he thought he had "great eyes."

BG: What about El Chupalupalo?

TM: We just did a little private label of our pale ale for Sam’s Liquor’s back in Chicago. Sam’s is a big warehouse retailer, like Bev Mo, only times ten….we labeled like 1,500 cases or something. They did that label, I didn’t do that one….it’s pretty cool, colorful though.  The stories on the side of the label, I write that stuff.  I think that’s a big element in our brand.  That’s something that pretty much is becoming more common and it’s something that we’ve been doing since the first day.  I think we inspired a lot of other brewers to talk to their consumers like that on the label, rather than just writing about the flow, the qualities in the beer, colors…all this sort of wine talk…

[b] Another brewery that sees the advantages in the diverse range of human modes of expression and aesthetics is Lost Coast Brewery. [/b]

Lost Coast - Founded in 1986 by Barbara Groom - is one of the only female-owned and operated breweries in the United States.  Lost Coast is famous for its delicious and award-winning beers such as Great White, Downtown Brown and Indica IPA.

I spoke with Briar Bush, the General Manager at Lost Coast.

BG: So, Duane Flatmo designs the labels?  Same artist for all the beers?  Do you have exclusivity (as far as beer or drinks)?  How and why Duane? 

BB: He designed all but the 8 ball stout and the Rasberry Brown.  I can’t tell you the name of the person that did those two because they were just onesy’s and the name just slips me. Duane was here in Eureka, his relationship with the brewery is based on one him having to know me from another business that I was involved in that utilized him back in the early 90s.  I think it was 1990 and 91, we used him on a couple projects.  And then Barbara Groom appointed him back in 1995 or 93 to commission the Downtown Brown label because Duane was actually frequenting the pub back then as a patron and so he liked the beer, liked the pub, liked the atmosphere…saw the relationship right there.  Barbara looked at the cupid style art of what he would do with human figure heads and said ‘wow, that would be a Downtown Brown, Mr. Downtown Brown, that’s what he should look like.’  So, from there, the relationship developed.  We’ve never had anything there that suggested he couldn’t perform outside of our relationship.  I think a brewery would discipline themselves to say well, I certainly wouldn’t want to use that same style of art.  Duane does very conventional looking art as well as that neo-cupid style look.  I think he himself would discipline himself from ever engaging in another brewery and so would another brewery in using that look.

BG: I noticed you send the labels and coasters out for collectors, when and why did you start doing this?  Was there a really good response from the labels?

BB: Probably back in the early 90s, there’s huge amount of it comes from the eastern block countries over there in Europe.  I would say mostly east of Italy, we never see anybody from Germany or France.  Seems to be Poland and Czecleslovakia east.

BG: Interesting, I assume it’s because of the art and the labels?[inset side=right]"Barbara looked at the cupid style art of what he would do with human figure heads and said ‘wow, that would be a Downtown Brown, Mr. Downtown Brown, that’s what he should look like.'"[/inset]

BB: There’s more breweries there that are just unknown and are very small and I think they have this relationship mindset towards the small American breweries and maybe this is there way of identifying with the far west, because they are little bit more east.  ...with their mentality/philosophy thinking in those countries – I don’t know.  It’s really funny.  You certainly don’t get somebody from England, from the UK, Australia – never.  It’s always from these eastern block countries.  They’re very polite and they send self addressed envelopes.  We send them usually coasters and labels.  They collect this stuff. 

BG: There probably weren’t a lot of female brewers in 89 and the early 90s, how do you think they’ve affected women in brewing?

 BB: Oh no, there was only a couple and Barbara was certainly one back then.  I think needless to say, this is why she mitigated her actions by hiring male head brewers and/or eventually my position as general manager because she had a very hard time explaining out her positions and her business model or even creating a business model, particularly around distribution, because there is a propensity out there in the beer world not to give too much respect to females particularly in the higher up brewing and they seem to think it’s a male business.  It’s very dominant industry – it’s 98% males.  I think the consumers are somewhat incilated in they’re not as biased.  But when you’re looking at distribution in particular and internal works of the industry, such as equipment manufacturers, suppliers, vendors…again, they’re all dominant male…Barbara and whatever other females back then I’m sure were looked at in a very strange/odd relationship and put peer pressure on them. 

BG: Are Barbara and Wendy still active in brewing and choosing the next release?  What about the labels?

BB: Well, it’s probably about 50/50 – we work together very closely.  One thing she does maintain engagement in is some quality aspects and where we’re headed – the visionary as to where we’re headed.  So, if I were to decide to come out with a new beer style, like I did with the Tangerine Wheat a couple years ago, I certainly made her cognizant of it.  Then it was her and I together that worked with Duane Flatmo to create that look that he was generating for us and took it to market.

BG: You then work with Duane, and say this is how we want it, here are some ideas and give me a rough draft?

BB: Really, we allow him to give us a couple of ideas verbally, then sketch out a couple thumbnails, and then from there explore it to a little bit more graphic intent.  Once we decide on it, we then commission him on a full piece of art, which is a lot of money because he is literally painting one piece that we then own all rights to that and that can take him a couple-few weeks to knock out and get it right.

BG: Do you think this has really helped sales and had you stand out as far as branding?

BB: I’ll answer it to you in this way: from the business model perspective, if you don’t own the rights to that art, and someone else to – such as him and then he decided to sell it.  I mean, worst case scenerio, he could sell it to another brewery.  So you have to own your art, so it’s very, very conducive to us to ensure that we own the rights to that art and that we withhold all such rights.  As far as the art itself, by giving him all of the latitude to create what he thinks is most conducive image of graphics and the color and the intensity, the fusion of such to literally put out what he considers to be a valuable piece of art and then us carrying all of his exposure costs that he’s got  and him making money obviously off it, it’s very symbiotic.  It allows him to have the free reign to create something that’s wild.  Then we get to put it on our beer product and hopefully if the product is living up to the standards of the art, and vice versa, we’ve synergized something that will be successful in the marketplace. … I mean, it stands out on the shelf.  It’s got a uniqueness to it.  We’re definitely in a mode that different and has nice colors that it appeals on the shelf.  That’s the first thing you gotta do is get the consumer interest, when they’re just looking randomnly to see what their next purchase is going to be. 

BG: Absolutely, and when Budweiser is taking up ½ of the shelf space.

[inset side=left] "As far as the art itself, by giving him all of the latitude to create.. It allows him to have the free reign to create something that’s wild... hopefully if the product is living up to the standards of the art, and vice versa, we’ve synergized something that will be successful in the marketplace... "[/inset]

BB: Yeah, and of course Budweiser and Anheiser Busch is fenominal at reinventing their packaging just about every year.  They go through evolutionary phases continually to get just the right look that they think strikes the right cord with the consumer.

BG: What’s the story behind the 8-ball Stout?  Why was it named 8-ball?

BB: I think Barbara was kinda loosely telling me that people were kicking around saying, ‘well, jeesh, this beer is as black as an 8 ball.’ And I think Barbara is one that likes certain edginess and she said, ‘wow, 8 ball, that kinda says it all, I like that as a name.’  Then obviously went to an artist, that basically drew an eight ball as the label.  I’ll tell you, the beer doesn’t sell very well.  It’s a very slow selling item, but it’s also a nitch that doesn’t generally have a lot of volume activity, being a heavy oatmeal stout like it is.

BG: So, there were a few complaints this past summer from the Hindu community about the Indica India Pale Ale, claiming that Lord Ganesha is the image on the bottle.  Can you clarify what image was supposed to represent or invoke?   Is it being altered or changed because of the complaints?

BB: …and the summer before that and the summer before that... <chuckling> Last summer was definitely the second worst for the amount of negative feedback, so you were right about that. It was a pretty busy year for us putting out fires with that issue.  Duane again was commissioned by Barbara. I think it’s the weakest art of the line that he’s given to us.  It is definitely the weakest of images. It doesn’t have the level of graphic understanding. It’s kinda too busy, there’s just a lot going on there.  Just my feeling about it.  To answer the question, Duane just added it all up.  Barbara came up with the name Indica, which is the core root of the country of India.  And that is where IPAs stem from, so that was a perfect match, perfect name.  And then Duane just obviously drew the image of what he thought India was all about…and so ya know we put that on the label. We got it approved by all regulatory agencies and so we pushed forward and marketed it.  I think it was in 05, was when we got hit with the first wave of this problem.  It came from the San Francisco Bay area, where an actual Hindu person became privy of this beer product on a beer shelf.  From there, once information started fanning outward, the community started searching it out on the internet and saw all our Internet related offerings of t-shirts and posters and things like that that they really because excited about that issue.  First thing we did is mitigated the exposure of that art, by taking all graphic forms of it off of the website, so there was no image of it.  Then the second thing we did, was we took it out of all chain distribution and so that it could only be found in very small markets that are driven by consumer interest to have such a unique type of product in generally having a greater degree of tolerance towards any art associated with it.  That didn’t pan out very well…there was a lawsuit that got thrown out of the California courts so we felt we could do whatever we want because we basically won the case through default.  But in reality, we decided to go one step further, and remove two of the arms from the Genesh through the aid of Duane Flatmo.  Duane also took off the mark of Buddah that was on the forehead there.  So basically, that would mean that to anybody that’s a real Genesh aficionado, that it’s only got two arms and two legs, it’s really an elephant, it’s not a Genesh, and if it doesn’t have the mark of Buddah, etc.  We kinda felt like, this way we could say, we did something.  We are not going to rid ourselves of all of these images because we have a right to produce what we want because we’re regulated and we’re within compliance…

BG: Did you lose a lot of sales because of this?

BB: Oh, that particular brand/style there, the Indica IPA makes up roughly 3% of our business. I would say we lost about 10% of that 3%, so in other words, that calendar year we might have had our sales contract by 3/10 of 1 percentage point because of this entire issue.  But at the same time, there’s a certain amount of culture out there that likes the edginess that’s probably come back to wash any of those losses, just through their support of it. 

BG: What’s the best selling beer right now?

BB: Our best is the brand, Great White.  That makes up over 60% of our business. 

BG: Oh, wow!

BB: It’s our workhorse. Irony is, we haven’t had anybody worried about marine biology issues, suggesting that we’re exploiting the Great White shark to market our beer.  Usually what we get is anybody that’s part of the surfing culture will certainly feel connected to this brand. 

BG: Well, it’s one of my favorites. Well, great, I think that’s about it.  Thank you very much!

[b]I also had a conversation with Ken Wright (Brewery Tours & Promotion) & Chris Cochran (Marketing Coordinator) at Stone Brewering Co. in Escondido. [/b]

The two co-founders, Greg Koch and Steve Wagner, decided on a gargoyle to represent Stone very early on, as gargoyles have traditionally been associated with brewing establishments for the same reason they are found on castles and cathedrals. They of course sluice water from rooftops, but just as importantly, they ward off evil spirits. For centuries, after all, whenever beer spoiled it was attributed to the work of diabolical forces (rather than bacteria). The fact that they are made of STONE is an added plus! Their fans show an unusually deep level of devotion to the gargoyle, many getting tattoos of the very same to display their enthusiasm in perpetuity.

The first production beer for sale was Stone Pale Ale in the summer of 1996. They did not start bottling, however, until 1997 and the label then was very similar to the current one. Since then, the Stone gargoyle has assumed a number of forms, conceived of by a couple of local artists: The Arrogant Bastard Ale, Stone Brewing Co. Logo, Stone Ruination IPA and Stone Levitation Ale were all drawn by one artist (now a motivational speaker), while the “Tribal” gargoyle associated with the Bistro and  Distribution Department, the sketched version and the streamlined “Anniversary” gargoyle were created by a Stone fan and friend in the media department, in Escondido.

The text on the back of the Stone Pale Ale bottle says it best: 

[blockquote] Gargoyle: A fearsome figure carved from stone that has powers to ward off evil spirits. Our Stone gargoyle wards off modern day evil spirits such as chemical preservatives, additives & adjuncts. One taste, and you can tell he does his job very well. [/blockquote] 

BG: So, the Arrogant Bastard Ale, Stone Brewing Co. Logo, Stone Ruination IPA and Stone Levitation Ale were all drawn by one artist (now a motivational speaker).  What’s his/her name and how did you meet him?  Has his career launched since his art is being featured on Stones bottles? 

CC: ...He was the original artist that Greg and Steve approached to draw the gargoyle for Arrogant Bastard Ale Stone Brewing Company….I’ve been with the company for 8 years, and I met him on numerous occasions in the past…he was just an aspiring artist.  He was a craft beer fan and liked beer and Greg and Steve have always been big on doing trades and I think they just set up some sort of account with him to do the work kind of partly being paid and partly being paid in beer. I believe he approached Stone. The artist name of the original gargoyle is Thomas K. Matthews.

BG: And they still reside in San Diego?  CC: He’s still Southern California….he does motivational speaking for corporations now.  KW: I saw him less than a year ago and I commented on the fact that he gets no percentage – we just paid him a lump sum at the time and plenty of beer – the beer was probably worth more than the check we wrote him – and I asked him, ‘do you have any regrets? I mean, you’re logo is everywhere, and you don’t get residuals or anything.’  He said no, because coming up with that label was probably the best plug I ever did for myself and so he’s really cool with the arrangement and enjoys the fact that he did this thing and now it’s everywhere.

BG: How has that changed his career?

[inset side=left]"As long as I can remember working here, I always received requests for artwork for tattoos and instantly I was perplexed by it.  It’s humbling. It’s flattering, it’s weird...I grew up loving cereal, but I never emailed asking for a Captain Crunch logo to get a tattoo."[/inset]

CW:  <laughing> Well, I don’t know, it drove him out to be a motivational speaker – so I don’t know!

BG: What is the name of the media department friend that sketched the  “Tribal” gargoyle associated with the Bistro and  Distribution Department, and the streamlined “Anniversary” gargoyle?

KW: Edward Ruiz

BG: What has been public reaction to the art / bottles?  Then (10 years ago) vs. now?  How do you gauge the success of your marketing?

CC: I’ve been with Stone for 8 years and was a fan beforehand…early on, there was a lot of people would come in and make reference to a demonic picture, the devil, Satan, other things like that – when they didn’t really understand what it was. I think if they saw the Arrogant Bastard Ale logo by itself, we got more of those types of comments…it was one of those things, a lot of people used to make comments.  One store I remember explicitly, was a lady coming in to buy a shirt for her son for his birthday…she said, ‘oh I can’t buy him that, it has the devil on it!’ …you just have to educate people about what Gargoyles are all about.

BG: When did Stone start noticing the fans tattoos?  That’s wild!  Why do you think so many people tattoo themselves with your logo or the beers?  Has is made the brewers/owners less apt to ever change the ingredients or anything about the beers?  I mean, they marked in on their skin for Life! 

CC: As long as I can remember working here, I always received requests for artwork for tattoos and instantly I was perplexed by it.  It’s humbling. It’s flattering, it’s weird. Ken and I are about the same age. I grew up loving cereal, but I never emailed asking for a Captain Crunch logo to get a tattoo.

BG: That’s marketing genius.

CC:  Yeah! Some of the guys are really passionate about it…they get their entire backs done, it’s pretty crazy.

KW: I think we wouldn’t really alter our approach because of our phylisopical orientation – we’ve always done beers that appeal to us, and whether or not other people are on board is really a secondary concern.  I think we want to remain true to ourselves.  There are beers that we do change up the recipe on from year to year, by intent, to completely different release from one year to another, but as far as changing the personality of our key brand, I don’t think we would ever do that – because the beers are who we are.

BG: So, the name Arrogant Bastard is great and in your face.  Do you find the people that drink it are more men? 

CC: I think that more men drink beer and that would equate to the fact that more men drink Arrogant Bastard Ale…if you saw that beer for the first time, your thinking, ‘okay, I have a brother, a cousin, a neighbor, a boss or uncle who is the Arrogant Bastard’ and that type of appeal to it. But then repeat sales all show that it’s definitely the beer that people want, not the logo or the image.

[inset side=right]  "I thought, ‘my God, this is the beer I’ve been trying to brew at home for three years.’  ..the cool graphics are initially going to catch your eye, but what keeps people passionate and devoted is the character in the beer itself." [/inset]

BG: So, the logo maybe caught some people eyes, and the taste…

KW: Yeah, for sure…my personal experience the first time I saw a bottle of Arrogant Bastard ale, it was in early 1998 at the Jimbo's in Escondido, and this is not unusual for a Stone fan.  I mean, you remember your first kiss…it’s a very fond and pronounced memory.  I remember seeing it on the shelf at Jimbo's and I thought, ‘Arrogant Bastard Ale, well, you know, clearly these people think very highly of their contribution’ and I was skeptical and then I read the back of the bottle and what it said: "This is an aggressive beer and you probably won’t like it.”  I thought, ‘I’ll be the judge of that’, and I mean, I saw that as a gauntlet being thrown on the ground as a challenge and I tried it.  When I tried it I thought, ‘my God, this is the beer I’ve been trying to brew at home for 3 years.’  ..the cool graphics are initially going to catch your eye, but what keeps people passionate and devoted is the character in the beer itself.

CC: ..I recall the first time I saw Arrogant Bastard Ale…this is a funny story..it was in an Albertsons in San Marcos and the word “Bastard” was whited out.  It’s a very rare bottle…the people at Albertsons were like ‘well, we’ll carry that beer, but you can’t have the word bastard on it.’  You can find it occasionally…they felt that was something bad.  But then, their mind changed rather quickly when they saw the sales.  They’re like, ‘you can call it whatever you want, just keep bringing it to us.’  KW: It’s the number one selling single serving craft beer in the country.

BG: So, you mentioned the gargoyle wards off modern day evil spirits such as chemical preservatives, additives & adjuncts.  What kind of beers is Stone warding off/or be the opposite of?  I assume the “fizzy yellow beer” that is mentioned in the Arrogant Bastard warning page?

KW: You know, those ones that are brewed in Canada... the beers that get lighter and lighter with each ad campaign…the ones that have the colored stripe on the bottle…and ya know, these are beers that, I don’t want to cast too many expersions on the folks that make these beers, because clearly, if you’re making beer for a living, I mean, you’ve made the right choice.  Granted some of us are better at it that others.  But, they’re after a different brass ring.  These are publicly traded companies…maximize their dividends.  If you’re going to make that your first priority, you are going to have to skimp on ingredients.  You’re going to have to do focus groups to find out how to expand your market base.  But that has never played into our equation here…and I think that’s true of most craft brewers.

Amen to that.

Read 1580 times Last modified on Wednesday, 06 November 2013 08:49
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