Garnett Gerry (left) and Fabian Skidmore celebrate their labels.
Great Lakes Brewery
Hanging around in bars with your sketchbook has its payoffs. At least it did for Garnett Gerry, the artist behind the wacky label personalities at Etobicoke's Great Lakes Brewery.
GLB, just voted Canadian Brewing Awards' brewery of the year for the second consecutive year, was planning a special series of labels to commemorate its 25th anniversary two winters ago and settled on a pared-down, classed-up wine look.
But Fabian Skidmore, manager at the Only Café and GLB's graphic designer, thought the entire brand could use revitalization.
"I was pushing for years to rebrand, because I felt the label wasn't representing the amazing liquid inside," says Skidmore. By the time the brewery's 25th anniversary rolled around, "the liquid had definitely surpassed the design," he laughs.
Skidmore mentioned his marketing mission to Gerry, a regular at the Only rarely spotted without his sketchbook. Gerry showed up the next day with a stack of sketches, and that was that.
Speedy delivery is Gerry's forte. Often, he nails a label on his first attempt. His initial drawings for Lake Effect IPA, Beard Of Zeus IPL and Saison Du Pump pumpkin saison all made it onto GLB bottles.
Though the process behind the art is a team effort that starts with brewmaster Mike Lackey's tasty beer du jour, which is generally named over pints with the team (sales and community manager Troy Burtch, David Bieman, sales rep and branding, and Skidmore), Gerry summons and executes most of the imagery.
"Let the creative be creative," shrugs Burtch, a fitting mantra for a brewery as innovative as Great Lakes.
Label designer Garnett Gerry says he's a compulsive drawer.
Many of GLB's labels are based on characters Gerry's been sketching forever: Lake Effect's wizened boatman, and burly bearded lumberjack Gordie Levesque, who adorns recently rebranded staple Canuck Pale Ale.
Gerry, who's only 27 and completely self-taught, never dreamed he'd become a professional artist - for one of Canada's best breweries, no less.
"Drawing was always something I did because I liked it, because it mellowed me out," he said. He never thought twice about his relaxing hobby until friends started pointing out his talent.
He's constantly sketching, finishing work during his lunch break (his day job is in construction) and while seated at the bar. When I beg for a quick portrait, he speedily produces a good likeness.
Lately, fans have been stopping him on the street, which blows his mind.
"This is something I do half-naked and drunk in my room," he says. His eruption of laughter prevents him from elaborating, but I'm pretty sure he's only half-joking.
GLB's beers run the gamut of styles, but playfulness is the common ingredient in all its label art. Gerry helps bring the beers to life, giving them faces, personalities and, most importantly, a sense of humour.
My Bitter Wife IPA bears the mug of Carrie Nation, hatchet-wielding leader of the pre-Prohibition Women's Christian Temperance Union. For recent Tank Ten release Apocalypse Later, John A. Macdonald is depicted atop a beaver, fighting Gordie the lumberjack with a hockey stick.
Gerry's work promotes the fun side of craft brew, something we can all drink to. Asked whether a laid-back, playful approach is essential to the GLB philiosophy, Skidmore drops a quote from Ron Keefe, the founder and original head brewer of T.O. institution the Granite: "Relax, guys, it's just beer."
Collective Arts, launched last October, has been sending ripples through both the craft beer community and the local art scene.
Founders Matt Johnston and Bob Russell met while working at Hop City Brewing. Bored by one-dimensional ventures, they brainstormed their own concept in the interest of supporting their shared passions, and Collective Arts was born.
Johnston describes himself and Russell as creative junkies with a deep-seated love of music, the arts and all things craft-brewed.
"Combine this with our absolute disdain for the status quo and you have the ingredients that led to the birth of Collective Arts. We believe the art of brewing and the talents of artists are a natural fit. Creativity, curiosity, discovery and celebration are common to both pursuits. Collective Arts aims to make inspired brews and support emerging artists through the natural sociability of craft beer," says Johnston.
The bottles they produce are quite literally pieces of art showcasing music, film, words and visuals by Canadian and international artists.
Each exclusive series, including 70 to 90 labels, lasts only a few months. Series Three is slated for release in July.
The process for selecting the artists whose work is featured on labels is a complex one.
"We conduct a global call for art and music four times a year," Johnston explains. "We then curate all the amazing submissions down to a manageable number of labels for each series. For Series Three, we were overwhelmed by over 1,200 amazing submissions from around the world."
To assist in the huge task, they've recruited six industry leaders: John St. creative director Stephen Jurisic, cultural entrepreneur and artist Fred Caron, multimedia/music journalist Errol Nazareth, Map & Co principal/Spazio Gallery partner Poet Farrell, Indie88 program director Adam Thompson and Audio Blood CEO/founder Sari Delmar.
Series Three includes over 70 pieces of art and music. "Each selected artist receives a payment from Collective Arts along with a commemorative bottle," Johnston says. "In addition to featuring the artists on the labels, we also support and promote them online and through our events. In a sense, this all ties in to what we believe to be the world's most refreshing art and music gallery."
Through partner Blippar, an image-recognition and augmented reality platform, you can access Collective Arts' music, videos and artist info with just a quick scan.
"We wanted a technology partner to help drinkers engage with the artists on our labels on an interactive and intimate level," Johnston says.
Labels have Blippar technology that links to interactive profiles of artists when scanned on smartphones with the Blippar app. Beer coasters also feature artists and are accessible via the app.
But Collective Arts brew is much more than a series of stimulating labels. The beer is produced at Nickel Brook by brewmaster Ryan Morrow. Flagship beer Rhyme & Reason just won gold in the North American Pale Ale category at the 2014 Canadian Brewing Awards.
In order to showcase Morrow's obvious talent and explore even more exciting territory, the next logical step is expansion.
"We have so many things we want to do, but first we need to increase our brewing capacity. To do this, we're building a brewery in Hamilton in partnership with Nickel Brook. It'll be called Arts & Science," Johnston reveals.
They chose Hamilton because of its evolving creative scene, Johnston explains. The new brewery should be operating by the end of 2014 - big strides for a company that ran its first call for submissions before it had a flagship beer.
"Before we brewed our first case, there were a lot of skeptics. It's not like we did any research. We just said, ‘Boring is boring - let's do something that inspires us and others,'" Johnston says. "Luckily, we didn't listen to the skeptics, and both artists and drinkers appreciate the passion we put into the art and the beer."