La­bel art

great lakes brew­ery

NOW Magazine - Beer Guide - - BEER GUIDE - By SARAH PARNIAK

These days it's not only the beer that's beau­ti­ful – the la­bels on the bot­tles have their own creative pedi­gree. Two brew­eries give us the in­side scoop on their in­spi­ra­tions.

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.

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 self­taught, never dreamed he’d be­come a pro­fes­sional artist – for one of Canada’s best brew­eries, no less.

“Draw­ing was al­ways some­thing I did be- cause 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 prePro­hi­bi­tion 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.” drinks@now­toronto.com | @s_­parns

“I was push­ing for years to re­brand be­cause I felt that the la­bel wasn’t rep­re­sent­ing the amaz­ing liq­uid in­side.”

La­bel de­signer Gar­nett Gerry says he’s a com­pul­sive drawer.

Gerry (left) and Fabian Skid­more cel­e­brate their la­bels.

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