Welsh artist Ralph Steadman earned cult status for his stark, maniacal drawings illustrating the works of legendary gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, and Steadman's splatter-paint text and images have continued to reach thirsty American audiences for the past 25 years, thanks to an ongoing relationship with Maryland's Flying Dog Brewery.
A grabby label can be a powerful selling point, as well as a fun way for craft brewers to set themselves, and their suds, apart from more straight-faced macrobrew sibs, said Flying Dog CEO Jim Caruso.
"I think what it's done is, it's really opened people's eyes to how distinctively different craft beer was," Caruso said last year in an interview with CNBC. "It's been huge for us."
Not every craft brewery is tight with a famous artist, though. Most rely on freelance or in-house creatives to bring their brews to life visually.
But when you produce a couple of hundred beers and no flagships each year, finding a unique "outfit" for each can be tough, said Jeff Zearfoss, of Colorado Springs' Local Relic.
"We never brew the same beer twice. Of the 200 beers a year we do, 48 are 'member beers' and traditionally don't have specially designed labels. But even then we've got more than 150 beers, with 150 different opportunities to show off a piece of art," said Zearfoss, whose brewery sells its small-batch, limited-edition creations in 500-milliliter bottles.
Zearfoss is spinning what some might consider a packaging challenge into a community-wide opportunity for artists, doodlers, and anyone who'd like to get more involved in the dry side of craft brewing.
"Putting art in the bottle and having art on the bottle just makes sense," said Zearfoss. "Half a million people live here. I want to find 20 percent of them that feel inspired in some way towards art."
Zearfoss said he hopes the request will get people thinking outside the bottle.
"What we're not doing is reaching out to our pool of artists and saying, 'Well, this beer comes out in three weeks: What do raspberries and oranges make you think of?'" he said. "For us, there's not necessarily any connection between the specific beer itself and the art that's on the bottle. It's just an opportunity to feature a cool piece of art from a cool local artist."
Got a wall mural, handwritten poem or origami creation?
"If you feel like it's art to you, take a picture and submit it. It doesn't have to be the Mona Lisa. If you have a non-traditional art form, I would love to try to see how to get that on a beer label," said Zearfoss, whose taproom is open as a pop-up bar Thursday through Saturday at the Carter Payne Chapel.
Original submissions can be uploaded at Local Relic's website, where visitors can learn more about, and contact, the label artists, each of whom receives two free bottles of beer in exchange for their contribution.
"The same way we're approaching the beer world in this town from a little different perspective, it's our goal to carry that over into other businesses and causes we support," said Zearfoss, whose brewery operates primarily on a membership model. "We want to see the community grow. It's about connecting the arts and artists that live here with the greater community at large. Beer is a cool way to do that."
Mixed media artist Jantzen Peake responded to Local Relic's call for art by submitting a collection of works, including the illustration featured on the brewery's "massively hopped" Imperial IPA.
"Art is one of the hallmarks of craft beer ... but usually breweries have just one artist. Local Relic, they're not just opening it up to one artist; they're opening it up to the whole community, to as many artists as want to apply," said Peake.
It's long been a dream of Peake's to see one of his designs on a beer label, but getting a foothold in the industry has proven tough.
"Just because you're a professional artist doesn't mean you're granted entrances to these companies," Peake said. "Thanks to Local Relic, I can build my portfolio and have something that shows I'm serious about this. Someone gave me a chance."
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