As you stand in front of the shelves, your eyes glaze over the familiar labels while you look for something new to try. The craft beer section at the Cold Beer and Wine has expanded to an encompassing wall, giving you hundreds to choose from. You recognize your favourites, seeing the similar themes of each brewery. But from the corner of your eye you spot a tall bottle, the bright blue of the water, with Noah’s Ark in the background, standing out against the deep brown of the bottle. The “new” sticker next to the price pulls you in, and you know it’s a must-try.
In the last few years, an influx of craft breweries have popped up all over North America, especially in the Pacific Northwest, with over 100 in BC alone. These breweries are looking foir innovative ways to share their product with new customers, attract them at first glance, and keep them coming back for the taste. In order to brand a new brew, label artwork is a crucial component to reaching the audience.
With different amounts of hops, barley, and malt, with complementary additions like raspberry, honey, or chocolate, local breweries are using flavour-inducing colours to inspire attractive labels. This growing interest in brewing techniques has now spread to the heart of Vancouver Island, where breweries are tapping into creative and eye-catching versions of the crowd-pleasing favourites like Porter, Raspberry, and India Pale Ale (IPA).
Since 2000, Longwood Brewpub in Nanaimo has been working on spreading the word about craft beers on the Island. As one of the first breweries in the area, it has an established name in Nanaimo, with a
restaurant above the Brewpub, and further brewing offsite. With five seasonal and five core beers on tap in the tasting room on-site, Mike Campbell, manager of the restaurant, wants to attract craft beer enthusiasts.
“Craft beer nerds,” as Campbell calls them, tend to seek out new craft beers in specialty liquor stores, looking for the newest flavour and look. These “nerds” are a target audience for breweries, who use art-driven labels to stand out against the others on the shelves.
Longwood Brewpub and Restaurant
Open for over 14 years, this trendy north Nanaimo hub has everything you need. Live music Thursdays, a pool table, and their original 10 brews, this brewery has a solid fanbase and a great location.
My pick: The Raspberry Ale (available in the summer) and the Longwood Mussels.
“It’s not what’s in the bottle, it’s what’s on the bottle,” Campbell says. Each of Longwood’s cans and bottles is designed to suit the flavours of Longwood’s beers.
But before they can hit the shelves, Hired Guns Creative is called in. An Island business devoted to branding for the alcohol industry, Hired Guns uses innovative and colourful ideas to attract new and familiar customers.
“We’ll get people to try [the product] the first time,” says Leif Miltenberger, Hired Guns’ business manager. With their eye-catching designs, the beer grabs your attention, however, getting a buyer to continue drinking it is up to the beer.
In order for the designers to create a label that suits the beer, Hired Guns works with the brewer to develop a theme. The client can have a strong focus for their product, or give little-to-no direction. Miltenberger says this allows for total creative freedom on a project, and Hired Guns can sometimes even name the merchandise themselves. This allows for a wide range of products for the brewery, and the creative’s portfolio.
Driftwood Brewery in Victoria also works with Hired Guns. One of Driftwood’s most popular beers, Raised by Wolves—a name created by Hired Guns—is a favourite at the design company. The label combines bright orange and green to match the citrus flavours of the beer with graphic, inked wolves mid-stride. According to Hired Guns’ website, “this label doesn’t just stand out, it pounces off the shelf.”
“When you see a Hired Guns label, they have a very definite style,” says Kevin Ward, Wolf Brewing head brewer. Wolf Brewing, on Old Victoria Rd. in Nanaimo, follows a very different path when it comes to its labels. Instead of hiring a designer, Wolf recently chose to showcase five different Island artists’ works on each of the bottles of the core brews.
Wolf Brewing Company
A recent addition to Harewood, on Old Victoria Rd., Wolf is a simplistic and casual locale that offers every one of their beers on tap, with inexpensive options to fill a growler or tour the brewery with the friendly staff.
My pick: Black and Tan, for the Westfalia van on the label, and for the full-bodied blend of their honey ale and stout. Don’t forget to check out their beers as soap, made by a local artisan.
Narrowing it down from the abundance of submitted artwork, the small brewery decided to choose pieces that portrayed the beauty and lifestyle of Vancouver Island. Ward says this allows people outside of BC to get a feeling of what it’s like to live here, and see what kind of people we are. His personal favourite painting is on the IPA, a crisp, thirst-quenching brew. The art depicts a downhill mountain biker, deep in a west coast forest, suiting the sharpness of the ale.
“The Porter is a very decadent beer, a fireside beer,” says Ward. “The only thing we thought of was sunset.” The deep purple and bright orange sunset in the submitted landscape painting The Gap, by Mark Hobson, was the perfect choice to complement the dark stout.
“We don’t want to be tied down to any style,” Ward adds. “It has to reflect what’s inside the bottle.” Wolf Brewing found that it was less expensive and much more collaborative to work on the labels as a company, creating designs on their own.
“Everyone here wears a lot of hats,” Enns says, who worked on the submitted artwork labels alongside Ward.
Cerberus, a triple dry-hopped IPA, brewed by Ward, 47, since his mid-20s, was an exciting addition to the brewery’s core beers. The label varies from the others, with a black and white image of the mythical three-headed dog, as the idea was imagined by Ward himself. “They let me design the label and the name. There’s a lot of me in that bottle.”
Ward, who was raised in England, believes that there is a reason why he makes five core beers—the recipes have been tried and tested for hundreds of years. “They’re bloody good beers.”
Craft brewing is a surprisingly cooperative business. In the brewing process, many beers are built on ingredients found on the Island. Wolf’s Golden Honey Ale is made with Fredrich’s Honey from Cedar, and the brewery’s barley is malted by a farmer in Nanaimo.
The interest in finding something new and locally-made, from ingredients in your own backyard, has made for many more small breweries to sprout on Vancouver Island. Just last month, The Foundry Pub across from Maffeo Sutton Park has been turned over to White Sails Brewing, a newcomer in the industry. Working together to create a product that people will enjoy, and keep picking up, is what matters to these brewers. Recipes are adapted, labels are designed, and shelves are stocked.
“There’s no end to what you can do,” Ward says.
White Sails Brewing
This brand-spanking-new brewery opened its doors this month, taking over the Foundry Pub’s location across from Maffeo Sutton Park. With a great downtown spot to attract students, the brewery is already popular with VIU students on Instagram.
My pick: According to their Instagram, they have soft pretzels made by a local bakery. If this is true, grab one of those with a flight (small glasses of every kind) and test them all out with some friends.
Read more: Spice up your Cider