by Sally Colby
Blind Squirrel Brewery
“The Blind Squirrel was born and raised in Avery County, in the small township of Plumtree, NC,” the story begins. “After years of making and consuming wood alcohol, he began to go blind. After a visit to the doctor, he quickly determined that he must improve the quality of his beverages or his sight would be completely lost forever. The Blind Squirrel is now considered to be legally blind, but he still manages to brew up some of the tastiest beer in the high country.”
That’s the story Will Young and his crew like to tell, but they encourage people to come up with their own story about who and where Earl the Squirrel — the name under which the brewers work as one — might be at any given time. The brewery was named for the concept that ‘a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while’.
“It makes it more interactive and fun for customers,” said Young, explaining that Blind Squirrel Brewery is the result of home brewing that was good enough to take to the next level. After three years of developing recipes and completing the requisite piles of paperwork, the brewery opened in Plumtree, NC in August 2012. The brewery quickly gained a following and is preparing for expansion.
“We’re getting ready to expand and increase production by about 1,000 percent,” said Young. “We just got TTB approval for our new facility that’s right next door.”
Prior to TTB approval, applicants must have a permit, brewer’s notice of approval to operate a bonded wine cellar (BWC) or tax paid wine bottling house (TPWBH) before submitting an application for certificate of label approval.
Blind Squirrel Brewery is currently packaging in 22-ounce bottles. “We bottle about seven varieties regularly, but we’re getting ready to move to cans,” said Young. “Our canning line is here, and we’ll be moving to canning in about four or five months. We’ll have a whole new run of labels designed around the blues squirrel logo. Each label will have its own unique feel based on the beer.”
Young explained that he works on label designs with a screen printing company, and some of those labels are also used for t-shirts. The designer sends samples for approval, then once the designs are finalized, plates for label printing are made.
“Cans are more economically feasible for us as a small brewery,” said Young. “It’s a better packaging option to preserve the product. Light can’t enter the can, and it’s much easier for the consumer to crush and pack the can into a bag than it is for them to pile up bottles.”
Young noted that the brewery will continue to bottle some beers in 22-ounce bottles, including their Belgian Tripel, which is brewed with a simple malt bill and only a few hop additions.
In addition to bottles and cans, the brewery also maintains an inventory of glasses with the Blind Squirrel logo. “When people visit a taproom, it’s amazing how many glasses wander out,” said Young. “We’re going to experience a certain amount of shrinkage, so if we’re going to have shrinkage, we might as well get the brand out there.”
Crooked Fence Brewing
Crooked Fence Brewing in Garden City, Idaho, is another young brewery that opened with a 15-barrel system about two and a half years ago.
“We have a tasting room and a draft program, but our first packaging was in bottles,” said Kelly Knopp, resident artist and part-time brewer. “ We starting using cans about a year ago.”
Knopp says people in the area served by Crooked Fence Brewing are interested in packaging that’s easy to take along. “Five years ago, putting craft beer in a can was a big sin, but it’s more accepted now,” he said. “People can take it with them. It’s easier to pack, and it’s a smart business move.”
As one of three partners that comprise Crooked Fence Brewing, Knopp is responsible for the original artwork that appears on all of the bottles and cans. “The other two partners are brewers,” he explained. “They brought me in to do the art work and marketing.”
The original Crooked Fence logo is based on a zigzag cattle fence. “People know us as the brewery that always comes up with something a little weird,” said Knopp. “Our tag line is ‘perfectly unusual’, so we try to put a little twist on everything we do so people can make up their own story.”
When it comes to designing a label, Knopp works along with the brewers as a new brew is under development. “We have about five staple beers that we produce all the time, and we do one or two specialty beers every month,” he said. “Whether we bottle it or not, we always create art work to identify it, even it it’s just stickers for tap handles.”
When the brewing process for a new beer begins, the brewers keep in touch with Knopp to let him know what’s going into the tank. “Sometimes a label is based around the ingredients,” he said, “but most of the time it’s based on what would look fun on a label.”
Knopp says that with numerous craft breweries in the area, the unique, hand-drawn labels of Crooked Fence brews help set them apart in the local market. “When we first opened, the three of us did everything,” said Knopp. “Now we’ve gotten bigger and have some brewers and assistants, so I can focus more on the labels. We also print 50 posters of each label design. They sell really well at the brewery and the restaurant, and both places have the poster. A lot of people collect them, and call ahead to make sure they can get one.”
Crooked Fence Brewing is moving toward more packaging in cans. “We have about six or seven beers in bottles,” said Knopp, “but the cans move faster in the stores. “Bottles allow us to put more art work out there and give people a visual taste of who we are.”
Knopp says it’s much harder to design a label for a can than for a bottle. “My art is all hand-drawn and hand-colored,” he said. “The cans require specific computer files for printing. It’s easier to design for bottles because it’s a matter of having a sticker printed.”
Right now, the crew is brewing a new, fresh hop huckleberry hop beer and Knopp says he’ll have to come up with a name for the beer along with an image for it. “It’s always fun and challenging to come up with art for the new brews,” he said.
Every label tells a story
by Sally Colby