John Casey Combines Art and Beer for The Trappist

Photos © Brian Stechschulte / Artwork © John Casey

Every time you walk into a bottle store, beer fights for your attention. Row after row of tasty options entice you with help from label artwork. Sure, you might have a taste for an IPA or the latest must have Imperial Stout, but more than you might want to admit, what’s wrapped around that bottle, has an influence on your buying habits, especially if it’s a new beer. Design and marketing play a key role on labels, t-shirts and any other trinket a brewery or bar decides to sell. Artists play a big role and often don’t get credit beyond a paycheck or free beer.

Shortly after The Trappist opened its doors in Oakland, artist John Casey wandered in and not only discovered the wider world of craft beer, but also developed a creative relationship with the owners, Aaron Porter and Chuck Stilphen. He’s designed several successful t-shirts for the bar and their collaboration beer label for Evil Twin’s Wet Dream.

Casey’s Oakland studio

Casey earned a Bachelors of Fine Art from MassArt in Boston and arrived in the Bay Area with his wife back in 1998 during the dot com bubble. They both worked in the tech industry and Casey’s been exhibiting his artwork around the region and in far-flung cities like Paris. He describes his work as, “Surrealistic, kind of fun and trippy.”

When he met Porter and Stilphen a few years ago, he was getting a little tired of the traditional West Coast IPA. According to Casey, “I was looking for something a little more interesting and malty. I went into The Trappist and started chatting with them about beer and just got more and more interested in what they were serving. After awhile, I gave Aaron and Chuck some stickers and they were intrigued by my work.”

For the most part Casey doesn’t do commercial work, but has made a few exceptions. His first t-shirt design for The Trappist featured a guy on a tricycle with hops bursting out of his head. The t-shirt sold out and the creative relationship continued when Porter and Stilphen asked him to design a label for their 2011 collaboration beer with Evil Twin called Wet Dream. It’s a brown IPA infused with espresso that debuted at the Copenhagen Beer Festival.

Casey’s first t-shirt design for The Trappist

Casey had never designed a beer label before, but was interested in the challenge, especially because he’s given a lot of creative leeway. For the Wet Dream label Casey considered several different options. He said, “I could have used some really obvious image connotations. Some early proofs had some splattering paint, but I decided to lean more towards dream because wet seemed so obvious. The challenge was combining the logos and three distinct fonts, while trying to follow Evil Twin’s previous label format.”

Proofs went back and forth between Casey and Evil Twin’s graphic designer before it was finalized. The label size changed multiple times and a few accommodations were made for the American market. In the end, Casey kept the label artwork and color pretty minimal. The design was featured on a t-shirt and logo glassware that you can still find at the bar.

Casey’s latest project for The Trappist went on sale back in March. It’s another playful t-shirt design featuring a torso less figure with hops flying out of his pants, the bar’s name resting on his forehead and gold teeth that spell Oakland. It’s the perfect representation of the hop crazed beer geek.

Casey’s latest t-shirt design for The Trappist

When asked if he works for free, money or beer, Casey said, “We come to a beer agreement and they’ve always been very good to me. They like the work, they’re pretty open to it, and if I meet them part way, it’s because I do want to promote the beer. It’s not just about the artwork.”

Two recent sculptures

Walnut Creek Welcomes the ØL Beercafe & Bottle Shop

Photos © Brian Stechschulte

“Walnut Creek has been screaming for a place like this.” – Anonymous ØL Beercafe Patron

Chuck Stilphen must have heard that sentiment echoing through the East Bay hills when he set out to open the ØL Beercafe & Bottle Shop in Walnut Creek. As co-owner of the successful Trappist bar in Oakland, he already has a pulse on craft beer’s surging popularity. His five-week-old venue fills a void in a thirsty and growing community.

According to Stilphen “the Walnut Creek area seemed to be lacking in any quality beer places. Created with the spirit of The Trappist, we developed a plan to create a hybrid bottle shop and beer cafe, roughly using the business model of a few places in Portland and City Beer Store in San Francisco, but taken up a notch in design and comfort.

ØL Beercafe is located on a quiet downtown street just a half mile from the Walnut Creek BART station. In case you’re wondering, ØL is Danish for beer and there’s plenty to choose from. Eighteen taps sit behind the bar located in the back of the establishment. Nearby, a six door cooler and small room enclosed by windows offers over 100 bottles to choose from that are priced to go, or you can pay a corkage fee ranging between $1 to $5 to drink them on-site.

Stilphen plans on extending the beer options to over 300 and explained that “whenever possible we try to duplicate our bottle selection to match the draft choices, so if you taste something you like you can bring some bottles home as well.“

At first glance the selection appears primarily Belgian oriented, but a healthy dose of craft beer styles from around the country are also available. Don’t worry hopheads, you’ll feel right at home with Sculpin and Pliny at your fingertips. You’ll also be happy to know they serve each beer in appropriate glassware and the staff is knowledgeable, polite and helpful with suggestions. They won’t hesitate to offer you a sample if you’re torn between two options.

Other then six bar stools, seating is primarily located just inside the entrance where brewery photos line the walls of the lofty yet cozy interior.  Every design element was thoughtfully considered from the vintage lighting to the rustic wooden tables, chairs, bar and doors that give the space an old European feel. Capacity is set at 50, which has been maxed out so far on Friday and Saturday evenings.

If you get hungry while your there a small snack menu is available, which includes a rotating selection of artisan cheeses, Fatted Calf sausage, jerky, olives and almonds. Need something a little more substantial? No worries, you’re allowed to bring in food from the outside. Stilphen is also negotiating with nearby Skipolini’s Pizza to make their pies easily available to customers.

ØL Beercafe is currently open from noon to 11pm daily and expect them to host a steady stream of special events. On Saturday, October 29th, it’s Meet the Brewer night with Ale Industries, who will be featuring their new Pumpkin Ale, East Bay IPA and a rare barrel aged beer.