great lakes brewery
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.” email@example.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.