A Triumvirate of Craft – Collective Arts Brewing

Whilst at Indyman this year the small bar tucked in next to Wild Beer drew my eye as it had an art stall next to it and some very eye-catching beer mats (I also had a very good Guava Gose from them!).  Turns out this was one of Collective Arts Brewing’s first forays into the UK beer scene.  Hailing from Hamilton in Ontario they are a brewery which links beer, art and music together to create a very interesting package.

On returning to Birmingham I noticed they had a tap takeover at The Wolf on 9th October which was fortuitous as I was already meeting friends there for the cheese night!  So whilst enjoying the beers on tap and in cans I grabbed a quick chat with two of the team over from Canada.

Graham Steele is the Ontario Sales Manager and Toni Shelton the Communications Manager.

I started off asking Toni a bit about the brewery:

“We’re about 5 years old and the brewery is about 3 years old.  Collective Arts was founded on two – beliefs creativity fosters creativity and creativity brings beer drinkers together.  Bob Russell and Matt Johnston, the two founders, are both creative junkies one from the design world and one from the beer world.  They came up with the idea that beer drinkers are looking for a better, more creative experience and that’s where Collective Arts came to life.  Our first and foremost focus is beer but on the outside of the can we use limited edition works of art from artists and bands around the world.  In the last 5 years we’ve probably featured upward of 1000 artists on the cans as every 3 months the cans change in design.”

I asked Graham about how the brewery had got into the UK, he told me they were able to launch in the UK as they already have great links to the art and beer community here and around the world.  They also have a limited edition can range using UK artists to launch in the UK.  They signed up with a distributor (Cave Direct) for London Craft Beer Festival and that led them to be able to pour at Indyman.  I wondered how they’d enjoyed Indyman, back to Graham “it’s a perfect example of the beer festivals I want to see in Ontario.  Every brewery we envy or want to embody for the most part was there.  It’s a great venue filled with beer fans that actually want to try new and different things.” 

We moved on to talk about the styles from the brewery.  Unsurprising the ‘bread and butter’ of their brewmaster are IPAs and sours.  Graham told me they try to be as experimental with the contents of the can as they are with the outside.  The only style he feels they are lacking at the moment is a lager.

Distribution wise they are across Canada, in 13 states in the US and also in 5 markets in Europe.  As part of their introduction into the UK they’ve been collaborating with Cloudwater, Wild Beer and Magic Rock and he says that the familiarity of these brands in the market helps them to get their brand out there.

I asked the guys if having distinctive, eye-catching artwork was a big benefit these days as we see more and more cans and bottles arriving on our shelves?  Graham said that “where we are at the moment great beer is the bare minimum, you need great presentation, great beer and a great person to tell the story and our brand is so deep in that.  I’d like to think that a first time buyer of a Collective Arts beer sees that beer mat or can and say what is that I’ve got to try it but then the liquid speaks for itself.”  He said they get a lot of new drinkers drawn to their branding who then try the beer, like it and want to try more.  Toni told me “we don’t just put art on our cans if you look at our website we do artist features twice a week and stripped down sets from emerging bands.”  A great thing I noted was that for every beer mat (and there were a lot of great designs!) the name of the artist is on there so you can look them up right away and get yourself some unique new artwork for your home.  It’s also open submission so anyone can submit art, be it painting, drawing, photography whatever, to the website for consideration.

We talked a little about where they look to promote their beer and Toni told me “the three places we look to have our beer are bars, art galleries and music venues.  The perfect situation for us is when the band that is playing is on our label, a lot of time we’ve had the band’s album art on a can and we’ll pop up at the show to do a tasting and they’re playing on stage so it’s the perfect triumvirate for us.”  Toni also told me that every time they launch a new series of art they hold a big party.  At these parties they want to ensure they have all new art on the cans, new posters, new banners, new pieces of art everywhere.  They have a full band playing along with graffiti artists doing brush work – it sounds great to me!

It’s great to see these new breweries coming to the UK and we are lucky that venues like The Wolf are keen to host them – even having live art during the evening.  There were 4 beers on tap and 2 in cans.  All tasting really good and offering a range from sour to IPA to porter.  The brewery were giving out free samples around the bar which allowed people to try out a couple of the styles and hopefully got them going to the bar for more.

I’ll leave the last word to Teri and the ethos of the collective “It’s about putting some creativity into the world because we all know we could use a little bit more of that right now.”  I couldn’t agree more!

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