Local craft breweries spend plenty of time crafting the right recipe: the flavor and texture they want, how much brightness and depth, how far they can push boundaries.
And that's just the artwork.
"That graphic piece is a huge component of a brewery's identity," said Surly Brewing Co. owner Omar Ansari. In Surly's case, that means strikingly bold art ""to reflect the beer that's in the bottle. We don't really make wallflower beers."
As a burgeoning array of local craft breweries vie for shelf and tap space, the artist is almost as important a hire as the brewer. In a sense, an old Winston cigarette ad applies: "It's what's up front that counts."
To promote and convey what's inside their cans, bottles, kegs and growlers, breweries turn to gifted -- and simpatico -- artists for labels, logos, coasters, posters and tap handles. Thus, Jesse Brodd (Harriet), Chuck U (Indeed) and Michael Berglund (Surly) bear no small amount of credit for their brands' success.
Their work is not as fleeting as the product itself.
"Somebody recently paid $150 for a 2007 bottle of [Surly] Darkness on eBay -- just for the artwork," Ansari said. "Another guy called and wanted all the Darkness labels [they change every year]. He wants to get them all tattooed on his back and said he was going to leave room for the upcoming ones."For a look at how, in Ansari's words, "the same creative process that goes into the beer goes into the art," we caught up with the three local artists.
JESSE BRODD, HARRIET BREWING
Home, age: St. Paul, 38.
Day job: Brodd's Garage, working on websites, e-marketing, events and social media. Clients have included Sue McLean & Associates and Lutsen Mountains. Brodd also is part owner of the brewery.
Artistic background: "In Milwaukee, I went to art schools growing up. I came here to be an architect and decided I didn't want to draw toilets, so I studied graphic design. One day in 2005, I was at a party where people were painting, and I sat down and, lo and behold, started painting."
The hookup: Harriet Brewing founder Jason Sowards "had seen some of my stuff. Then I got him to look at my personal art site, and he said, 'Now that's the stuff that I'm talking about.'"
Trying to convey: "Expressionism and intention, expressing the fact that we love bright colors, we love high action, movement, the brightness of the beers."
Pairing beer with art: "We taste the beer and make sure we have a description. Then I sit down and go to town on a painting and a design."
Guilty pleasure: "Booking bands at the brewery and being somewhat of a concert promoter."
How to get noticed in a crowded craft-beer scene: "We don't look at others, and we don't conform to what others are doing. We let the inner creativity come."
CHUCK U, INDEED BREWING CO.
Home, age: Minneapolis, 30.
Day job: Owns Chuck U Art ("I sometimes call it Chuck U Megacorp just for fun"). "I've done a lot of album covers and T-shirts. The beer labels are the coolest thing so far."
Artistic background: "When I was a kid, I wanted to draw for Ninja Turtles. That was my first dream."
The hookup: "They just kind of found me. I got an e-mail and actually ignored it. At first I thought it was just some guy in his basement sending me an e-mail."
Trying to convey: "Fun, whimsical, adventurous. They wanted a style similar to what I was already doing."
Pairing beer with art: "So far we have just the two beers, Midnight Ryder and Day Tripper. The main way to convey different beers is switching colors."
Guilty pleasure: "While I'm working, I'm always watching TV. It keeps a certain part of my brain occupied or something. I'll be painting and 'Law & Order' or something like that will be on. I download whole seasons of shows on Netflix."
How to get noticed: "[Co-owner Rachel Anderson] had a pretty good idea: Just make it awesome, and it will stand out in itself."
MICHAEL BERGLUND, SURLY BREWING CO.
Home, age: Plymouth, 50.
Day job: "Wearing 17 hats" at the advertising support/design studio MNFX. Also designed the "Land of 10,000 Beers" area at the State Fair.
Artistic background: "I wanted to do this ever since I can remember."
The hookup: "We kind of bumped into each other. I won their coaster contest and then started on a couple of pilot projects with them."
Trying to convey: "An edgy, almost subversive quality. I get to unleash my id and be very aggressive and uncensored, from the standpoint that it's an adult image, and I can work without boundaries."
Pairing beer with art: "I've had the pleasure of working with [brewer] Todd Haug ... and we talk about ingredients and flavor profile and the artistic intention of the beer."
Guilty pleasure: "Dinosaurs. I go on dinosaur digs in the summer and do a lot of paleontology art. That doesn't pay the bills, but it helps me feed my passion for the scientific world. I haven't been able to do a dinosaur beer label -- yet."
How to get noticed: "The decision was to put the beer first, make it bold and big and follow it up with graphic design that showcases that. In general, as you're trying to grow a brand, you want to be sensitive to overdoing things. But we really haven't pulled any punches."
Bill Ward • 612-673-7643