All About Beer Magazine - Volume 35, Issue 1
March 1, 2014 By

Brewing up Art

The artistic aspects of Angel City Brewery of Los Angeles are apparent as soon as you see the Art-Deco-inspired labels on the brewery’s bottles. As a member of the Downtown Los Angeles Arts District, Angel City has supported the artistic community in which it lives ever since reopening under current ownership in 2012. Emily Hope, events and marketing manager, explains that the company’s “mission is to be involved with our community, and our local community happens to be filled with artists.”

In addition to having a rotating art gallery in the brewery taproom with opening nights coinciding with Los Angeles’ monthly art walks, Angel City supports the local arts community through its Heritage Festival, a mixture of beer fest, food fair, art show and music concert. Heritage Festival was first hosted as part of Angel City’s grand opening, but it will be an annual event, with part of the profits going to Art Share L.A., a warehouse providing community space and subsidized live/work lofts for artists.

Equally laudable, Fort Collins Brewery of Fort Collins, CO, recently supported the arts by funding a brewery of another kind—the FCB Art Brewery, a partnership with Downtown Artery. Artists were chosen to work at the art brewery on their own projects and to create some beer-inspired art. The artists retained ownership of all of their work, and other than using some of the art on labels for one-time-only beers, the brewery received no direct benefit from the art produced.

“Creativity is a fundamental driving force of Fort Collins Brewery,” says a spokesman for the brewery. “Visual artists are right in that area, and supporting them allows us to show the connection between beer and more-traditional art.”

Beer Festival Meets Art Fair

While Angel City Brewery and Fort Collins Brewery may be providing financial support to artists, many others are celebrating the connection between beer and art in other ways.

Last year, Victory Brewing Co. of Downingtown, PA, was looking for a fun way to host brewers from around the nation who would be congregating in nearby Washington, DC, for the Craft Brewers Conference (CBC). Victory brewmaster and president Bill Covaleski decided that Victory would host a beer and art pairing event and reached out to longtime friend Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Brewery of Milton, DE, who immediately jumped on board.

“I’m always thinking of ways to connect craft beer to other things that people enjoy in life,” Covaleski said. “I knew that artists, with their creative mind-set, would be able to appreciate the diversity of beer, so I wanted to connect these two things.”

Thus was born “Amber Waves—The Art of American Craft Beer,” which saw 25 art-loving breweries from across the United States showcase one beer paired with a piece of visual art from their own collections. After the event, all of the works of art were auctioned, with proceeds going to The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, a charity supporting wounded military personnel.

Calagione, the head of arguably one of the most creative breweries in the business, was rightfully proud of the results. “Thirty years into the craft beer renaissance, it’s amazing that we can still come up with new and exciting events. Only now is beer being recognized for its complexity and character. An event like Amber Waves [was] such a great opportunity to hammer home the idea of beer as an art form itself.” Brewers from across the nation in town for the CBC attended the event. Industry veterans, who attend beer festivals all the time, universally enjoyed the artistic twist to Amber Waves.

In a similar vein, Rawi Nanakul organizes The Art of Beer, a beer festival in Sacramento, CA, which for three years has celebrated beer’s role in the world of art. Nanakul, a photographic artist, creates 6-foot by 8-foot photographic portraits of breweries printed on metal. The festival started as a means to showcase his beer-inspired work, but has grown to host two dozen California breweries and hundreds of beer and art fans.

Rawi Nanakul
Rawi Nanakul organizes a beer festival that celebrates beer’s role in the world of art.

“We partner each brewery with an artist,” says Nanakul. “The breweries make a beer that is intended to be tasted while enjoying the associated art. The breweries really enjoy that aspect about this festival. It gives them an opportunity to tell a story beyond the liquid.”

As Nanakul points out, connecting beer and art allows the brewer to add an emotional dimension to the liquid. The beer need not be merely hoppy or malty or sour. When paired with art, beer can evoke joy, cause reflection or incite passion.

The established arts community also recognizes this and is embracing the artistic aspect of beer. The Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, FL, for example, is home to the world’s most important collection of Salvador Dali’s paintings. It annually hosts Liquid Desires, a beer festival held at the museum where more than 50 beers are served among the Spanish surrealist’s most-famous works.

“It’s been fun to find the tie-ins between Salvador Dali’s work and craft beer. In 2010, Bell’s Brewery [of Kalamazoo, MI] featured a reproduction of Dali’s famous ‘Persistence of Memory’ on its Oberon mini-keg with the melting watches replaced with Oberon logos,” says Carly Meek, marketing manager for the Dali Museum and organizer of Liquid Desires. “Cigar City Brewing [of Tampa, FL] brewed a beer called Surreal Ale for the grand opening of the Dali Museum’s current location. Of course, all the experimentation with flavors that craft brewers do is very much in the spirit of Dali.”

The Liquid Desires event at The Dali Museum. Photo courtesy Salvador Dali Museum, Inc.

The success of these events would come as no surprise to beer lovers in Portland, OR. Residents of this Pacific Northwest city, known colloquially as “Beervana,” are highly educated in the artistry of beer. In fact, Portland’s principal public art gallery, the Portland Art Museum, has twice hosted Art & Beer, a beer and art pairing event, in 2009 and 2010, organized by Eric Steen of Beers Made by Walking.

Chad Kennedy
In 2009, Chad Kennedy (formerly of Laurelwood Brewing) brewed a beer inspired by Homesteaders, a painting by Arthur Runquist. Photo by Vivian Johnson.

Brewers from Coalition Brewing, Hopworks Urban Brewery and Rock Bottom Brewery in 2010 and from Laurelwood Brewing, Lucky Labrador Brewing and Lompoc Brewing in 2009 toured the museum’s collection. Each selected a work and brewed a beer, drawing inspiration from the art. Patrons were then able to sample the beers alongside the art at the Art & Beer event.

Events like these allow brewers to interpret a work of art created by someone else and connect it to their own work. One of the most interesting aspects of art is how it affects people differently. You can learn a lot about people by seeing how art affects them. By connecting beer, which is a social lubricant anyway, with art, beer acts as a catalyst for a discussion about art, and how it is reflected in the beer and about the brewer’s own artistic background. The art allows patrons to enjoy the beer more deeply.

Don Tse
Don Tse is a freelance beer and whiskey writer from Calgary, Alberta. He enjoys art of all kinds, from abstract expressionism to imperial stoutism. Follow him on Twitter @BeeryDon.