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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.
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."
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."
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