June 3, 2011

Session #52: The Case for Collecting Craft Beer Art

For Session #52, Brian Stechschulte of All Over Beer chose the topic of breweriana, or beer collectibles. That is, as he puts it: "What old or new beer related items do you collect and why?"

While I am weirdly obsessed with the business, branding and design of craft beer, and I write about that here, I am still just a craft beer nerd who loves the flavors and character of real beer. So I've got much of the same stuff that everyone else does. I've got t-shirts that I feel compelled to wear at craft beer events to signal myself as a member of the club. I've got a cabinet full of glassware I use every now and then for tastings but mostly to look pretty and remind myself that - even though I rarely observe this at home - deep inside, I care about the vessel in which a beer comes. I have a growler covered in pithy stickers declaiming the superiority of hops. But it will surprise no one in the world that I am going to use this post not just to talk about collecting craft beer art, but to advocate that others who want to collect think about it as a hobby.

Here is why:

Art is usually flat and fits on walls.
Seriously, this is a big reason. I know it seems silly, but with just my little array of t-shirts and glasses, I have come to appreciate how awesome it is when a collectible can go on a wall and not take up floor or drawer space. Even sculptural art in craft beer is usually small (like tap handles). As Americans, we collect stuff far more often than we need to, and that stuff takes up room we can use to store food, beer, or (gasp) spaces to gather with friends.

Art does not need to be expensive.
Probably the biggest barrier to casual fans collecting art - aside from just not thinking about it - is the feeling that art is expensive. Trust me, it's not, or I wouldn't have any (note the pun in the title of this blog). On my walls right now I have signed pieces by Carey Stoudt Matson of Stoudt's Brewing, Wayno of East End Brewing, and Great Sex Brewing that all cost under $50. I have some bigger stuff by Jason and the team at Sierra Nevada and Erin Fuller at Furthermore, and almost nothing I own cost more than a couple hundred. Whoa! Hundreds?? Remember, you think nothing of dropping $20 on the right bottle of beer, so keep it in perspective. Would you rather have 5 more t-shirts and 5 more glasses, or a unique piece of incredible art?
Erin Fuller's bird litho for Furthermore

Yes, it's true, it helps that I had access from running a show, but I promise I paid full price and only bought things that did not sell to others (of which there were many). The point is that, especially with graphic design, prints are almost always affordable, and you can find things to fit your price point. Which brings me to:

Beer art is not hard to find
Seriously, it's not. Almost all of your favorite brewries hire artists, either in-house or, more commonly, as freelancers and contracted firms. Artists - at least the ones who work for craft breweries - like money, and generally like beer. It is easy enough to find them (many have websites) and see what a print costs. I have known some brewery artists that such beer aficionados that they've traded work for some rare or cellared beer, though don't assume that will be the case. New breweries, especially, are largely strapped for cash and would largely love to sell you a limited-edition print of their work. Buy something at a high markup and think of it as a reward for supporting a small brewer.
Randy Mosher, homebrewing maven and designer extraordinaire.

Of course, there are breweries like Dogfish Head that have made printmaking and selling a part of the business, so there's a very easy place to start. Beer Drinker Rob sent me these photos of the great Marq Spusta pieces he got from DFH:

Art is different.
Everyone has a glassware collection. Not everyone has canvases of the work for Life & Limb or tins of Matt Polacheck's Coney Island Lager series. It's a good niche for those looking to be into something different. That's why it appreciates in value. Now, no one should go buy prints of Ralph Steadman's work for Flying Dog just to resell them later, but take care of a good piece of art and it will retain value a heck of a lot more than that t-shirt you wear twice a year. More importantly, the beer art on the walls of your living room or man cave is excellent conversation starter.

When you buy art, the money goes good places.
Artists and breweries, as I may have mentioned, need money. And you want them to succeed. Look, when you buy a t-shirt or a glass, there's some markup to be sure, but your overall contribution to the brewery after tax is what, a few bucks? When you buy art, you're largely paying for the time and talent of the individual (and maybe for framing). That means that the money goes straight to people who need and appreciate it (more directly if you do it in cash), not to a manufacturer in some other country that makes the glasses or shirts. Look, you buy your local brewery's beer more than you might otherwise because you want them to stay in business, so why not take that a step further and reward yourself with something really cool?
You are the type of person who collects art.
This is maybe the biggest objection, and to me it's the one that makes the least sense. Look, art isn't just waterlilies and cubist nudes. It's anything that someone used their creative talent to generate with an eye toward aesthetics. So those beer label designs you think are cool count. You don't need to have an opinion on Rembrandt or Pollock to know when you see something you like. If you care about the effort that goes into your beer, then you care about the things that make artists and designers tick. And if you like the work, why not buy some and enjoy it at home?

If it's something you're thinking about and want a little more information, or even just want to know what artist did what, the Curator is here to help. Just drop me a line and I'll do what I can to chase down a name or website of an artist for you.
The work of Ska Brewing's Dorn Roberts

Some of the most successful collector started by buying the artists they liked, as cheap as they could. I'm not saying your favorite Brewery's designer will start fetching Picasso auction prices, but the point is that those collectors didn't need financial return to be happy; they had the art they wanted. The only thing worth a warning about collecting is that, like all hobbies, it can get addictive. Once you buy a piece or two, you start to keep your eyes out, and then before you know it you don't have enough wall space. 

1 comment:

  1. Hey Greg.

    Thanks for the mention. As you know, I love brewery art and couldn't agree more with your case for purchasing it and enjoying it. I'm on the hunt for some Ralph Steadman stuff, and I'll let you know how that turns out.