By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Breweries use and support the arts in different ways. For Eugene-based Ninkasi Brewing Company, support of the arts and collaboration with artists has been key to the 10-year-old brewery’s brand and growth.
“The forward-thinking use of artwork in our creative has been a significant factor in the success of our brand,” explains Jon Rogers, Ninkasi’s chief marketing officer.
In 2015 Ninkasi launched an Artist in Residence (AIR) Program, which celebrates its first anniversary this month. In addition to his work for bands such as The Black Keys and Dave Matthews Band, Eugene artist Neal Williams created art for Ground Control, an imperial stout fermented with yeast that survived a trip to space and back. He’s now been working with Ninkasi for a year as their current AIR, but plans are for him to continue working with the brewery’s in-house design and marketing teams.
“When I came to Ninkasi, I got the chance to see the brewing process and learn more about the care and attention to detail that goes into the beer,” says Williams. “It's all about taking the time to produce something of quality. I feel exactly the same way about my illustration work.”
With the 10-year anniversary coming up, Williams, Ninkasi’s design teams and co-founder Jamie Floyd all decided it was time to refresh Ninkasi’s beer branding.
“Neal did our Dawn of the Red rebrand,” explains Floyd, “but the full rebrand is a team effort, including Neal. They worked together to create those new looks. The beers have character, and they have personalities. It’s good for us to be able to give some personalities to things and have it look right. The rest of our brand has shifted to more of a graphic style, and have more stories that make it look like a brand suite, that gives it all continuity.”
Ninkasi recently released the new looks as part of their first full rebrand. Part of the success of the new look, says Floyd, is that Ninkasi’s in-house design and marketing teams can work alongside brewing and sales teams. Through meetings with brewers, marketing and sales, designers and artists gain a better understanding of the stories and journeys that each beer has gone through, from development to customer feedback.
“Our art team has made some incredible strides,” says Floyd. “Having so many skills in-house is amazing, and it helps a lot to have it in-house. We can see things all the way through, and have creative ideas that are not borrowed. The brewing team shares research beers they’re doing and [they] get a chance to talk about the beers and why they’re doing them. If those beers become beers we produce commercially, then the marketing team knows what the brewers thought, and that really gets their creative juices going.”
Ninkasi’s interest in the arts also leads to some arts that you might not normally think of — such as running. Running is a large part of Ninkasi’s company culture, including an end-of-run pint (a Wednesday employee running club finishes at the tasting room). “We thought that a lot of times breweries tried to make beers for runners, it didn’t work,” says Floyd. “We are runners, and we know that when we’re done we don’t want a light lager — we want an IPA. And we just ran, so we don’t worry about the extra calories. ”
Creating the beer went beyond usual test brews and pilot batches. During March and April, initial batches were produced and distributed to runners at 25 Beer Run Test Batch events, held nationwide in partnership with local running communities. “It was great to get the input of what runners wanted and do test batches with them,” says Floyd. “Running clubs liked it too because they were involved, and felt involved. It was a lot of fun, and it worked.
Ninkasi is now partnering with local wholesale partner Bigfoot Beverages and TrackTown USA, the local organizing committee for the Olympic Trials, to bring Beer Run to the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field during the July 1–10 competition. Beer Run IPA will be on tap at four locations during the Trials, which are expected to attract over 172,000 fans.
For Floyd and Rogers, the arts are at the heart of Ninkasi. “We bring multiple artists with varied skills into our brewery,” states Rogers. “Our goal is to continue to enhance our brand, our workplace and the greater Ninkasi community.”
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.