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