July 1, 2010

The Session #41: Craft Beer Art Inspired by Homebrewing - Sierra Nevada's Beer Camp

(Ed. note: I know I'm a few hours early, but tomorrow's looking busy. So here's my Session entry for tomorrow)

All right, this was tough. I mean, it's easy to talk about how homebrewing has influenced craft beer, but much harder to pick out specific examples and write about them. Even harder when you then need to find artwork and write about that.

So, then, I decided to use my beer blogger's creative license (you get one when you start a blog), and use craft beer art inspired by homebrewing. In this case, the specific example is Sierra Nevada's Beer Camp project, where aspiring brewers get to join Sierra brewmasters and create concoctions. In this case, the real artistic achievement is in Art Director Jason Roberson's fantastical Rube Goldberg-esque vision of the experience. (Full disclosure: Jason's work, including this, was in the show, and he's a pretty cool guy. So I'm biased).

Here's an image of the canvas that is being exhibited in the GoggleWorks Cohen gallery right now.
Okay, now that you've seen the static image, go to www.sierrabeercamp.com and just sit there for a minute, watching and listening to the animations.

It's somewhere between Willy Wonka and Baron Munchausen, except about beer. It's actually a fairly astonishing amount of work for a side project to which many breweries would not devote an entire site, let alone an artistic undertaking of this size.

Now, of course, it helps that Sierra has (relatively) huge resources to devote to this effort, whereas most breweries can't afford to pay for artwork in much more than beer to begin with. But it's also interesting that they've backed this sort of beer fantasy camp so strongly. I know plenty of aspiring and avid homebrewers who would pay some real money for a weekend mostly alone with a brewer like Ken Grossman. Sierra runs this as a contest, but it's not hard to see how it could turn into a revenue stream for them or places like Dogfish, Anchor, or Shmaltz. Put it this way: would you pay $10,000 for a weekend making (and drinking) beer with Tomme Arthur, Fritz Maytag, or Jeremy Cowan? Okay, so you don't have that much, but what if you were an independently wealthy homebrewer (they do exist; I've met some).

What about Sam Calagione,Bill Covaleski and Greg Koch? They get together on collaboration beers, is it impossible they'd get together to make some money? And we're talking real money. 20 people, $10 grand apiece means $200,000, which wouldn't bad for a weekend of "work," even if it's split three ways.

At some level, this blog is about branding, and so it's about business. The homebrew movement begat the craft beer movement, and the passion there still fuels the consumption. But as the craft brew community grows, those homebrewers will remain the base, and every industry goes back to its base when it needs new revenue. Efforts like Beer Camp (run as profit centers rather than contests) inspired by not just the efforts but the dedication of homebrewers, may well turn out to be a new venue for branding and craft beer artwork. For now, we've got Roberson's fantastic piece to tease us with what some of those efforts might look like.

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