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The Cans of 21st Amendment Brewery

The Cans of 21st Amendment Brewery

When it comes down to it, most people won’t care what the packaging on their next beer looks like, as long as it tastes good and provides a sufficient buzz, they’ll be happy. That said, we’re not like most people and we’re guessing you’re not either. Sure we want well-crafted brews, but we’re also are fans of sharp and smart packaging. This is exactly why we’re fans of 21st Amendment Brewery.

The San Francisco brewery has not only been churning out delicious beer for over a decade (we still remember our first refreshing “Hell of High Watermelon”), they’ve been canning it (since 2006) in some of the most seriously awesome looking cans around. We had a chance to speak with Shaun O’Sullivan, one of the two founders of 21st Amendment, about the artwork and ideas behind the company’s cans. He was also cool enough to share some of the mock-up artwork so you can see how the final products came about.

CM: Can you describe the process of coming up with the art for each of the cans?

Shaun: When we decide on a beer we want to package we typically have brewed that beer in the past at our pub brewery and may already have a name. We then bring our design folks on board at TBD Advertising in Bend, Oregon and prepare a beer brief, essentially that is the background, story and details of the ingredients in that particular beer. The folks at TBD Advertising will then run with it and work up a design direction and typically come up with three possibilities. We then have several meetings and go back and forth on the design until we decide on a final version. Both Nico Freccia, my business partner, and I are very involved with the process and next to designing and creating new beers, this is my favorite thing about making beer. Sometimes it’s easy and the design and name come right out as was the case with “Allies Win the War,” the collaboration with Ninkasi Brewing Company, and other times it’s a chore. That was the case with the pumpkin beer that we are about to release and we struggled with trying to avoid including the words “pumpkin beer” as part of the name. We found our way eventually and it worked.

In the end no matter how hard the process might be, we are always happy with what we produce, they are unique in their direction, but distinctly 21st Amendment.

CM: Is there just one main designer you work with or is it spread around?

Shaun: Joe Wilson would be considered the main illustrator, but TBD works with others that are great as well. Jon Contino, for example, did the “Hop Crisis” can.

Hop Crisis, by Jon Contino

CM: Have any of the designs ended up taking a completely different direction than you imagined they would?

Shaun: The one that comes to mind is “Brew Free! Or Die.” It actually started out a totally different design. I believe it used to be cattle riding on a cable car at first and clearly it looks nothing like that on the current package.

CM: Why did you guys decide to go with cans in the first place?

Shaun: Back in 2005, I was out at the Great American Beer Festival and visited Oskar Blues and I really saw the future of craft beer. Back then no one was putting craft beer in cans. But, it’s portable, easy to recycle, and perfect for the outdoors. It was also interesting for marketing and telling the story as the can is 360 degrees of space unlike doing a beer label on a bottle, coupled with the box the cans come in, we really have a great canvas to get our story across. And of course cans are cool.

CM: Do you guys have anything in the works that you’re excited about?

Shaun: We’ve got a new fall seasonal coming out as part of our “Insurrection Series” that’s going to be really interesting. I collaborated with Dick Cantwell over at Elysian Brewing to make it and it’s two different pumpkin beers – I came up with a Belgian tripel with pumpkin and spices and Dick created a Baltic porter that’s a lager brewed with pumpkin and spices – and they’re both called “He Said” which is the name we came up with because Dick and I have completely different stories on how we met each other and what sparked the idea of brewing a pumpkin beer together. There will be a dark can and a light can, two different flavors in a four pack. The yin and yang of flavors and colors. Those beers will be amazing. I can’t wait.