Neck Oil Redesigned! (The beer inside remains the same)

12 Apr 2017

Disclaimer / summary: Nothing about “Beavertown, Neck Oil, Session IPA” is changing other than the artwork on the outside of the can. Nothing about the people brewing it, the ingredients, the brew kit, the music they listen to when they brew it or the happy smiles on their faces as they do is changing. The person who designs the artwork for the branding of Beavertown has designed a new illustration to go with it, thus freeing up everybody else to play their various roles in getting it brewed, packaged and sent out to the thirsty masses. If it tastes different it’s all in your head. If it tastes better, then yeah we totally changed it.

This is exhaustive as I can be and achingly heartfelt. You have been warned.


Almost 3 years to the day, I arrived at a freezing cold warehouse in Hackney Wick, 10 mins early (lots has changed), in order to be sitting on “the good side” of the shared, second hand chaise lounge that made up my office seating, on a dubious mezzanine directly over the brew house (steamy), only to find Logan, who had been brewing the early shift (lots has changed) standing with a can of something else with my Gamma Ray bottle label wrapped around it.

“Looks good doesn’t it,” with something that almost seemed like disappointment in his voice, which kind of threw me off. As a fresh-out-of-art-school illustrator I craved not only opportunity to show people my work but also, obviously, praise. I had been helping out with the branding and some of the marketing while I had been a waiter at Dukes Brew and Que, and had recently been able to leave that to focus working from the actual brewery to step it up. I designed a couple of one off beer labels – Bloody ‘Ell, Heavy Water, in addition to the initial Black Betty and Gamma Ray bottle labels, but most of my work was making sure the excellent illustrations of Jonah Schultz looked their best on the bottle labels. He had done most of the formatting before submitting them to us, so I would liaise with label suppliers and later on add a little colour to them at the request of Logan, something I knew never sat well with Jonah. More recently, I had been hearing from Logan that the plan was to go into cans, for reasons I’m sure we have drilled into you more times than you would have liked – no light penetration, much less oxygen getting in, environment, size, weight etc. (I really can’t help myself can I?..) so I had been working on making the branding suitable for the packaging change and factoring in that it was an all-over-the-can ordeal. I had sent Logan some mock ups, and I know he had been wrapping all kinds of cans with the current labels, and thinking about different colour combinations. Sometimes it can take a long time for Logan to agree with or sign off designs for cans, especially core range or more consistent releases, but who can blame him? As much as we are a great, sickly sweetly loving team, Beavertown will always be an extension of Logan’s personality in the form of a realised dream, come to life, and he is nothing if not a meticulous perfectionist. After deliberating the old branding, all of a sudden he had wrapped the can in one of my spaceman labels, and immediately seen something he wanted to represent the beer. It was the first day of a huge rebrand that we knocked out in under two months. At the time it felt like everything was happening at a very natural pace, but looking back on it, I think I was drawing, redrawing, composing, colouring and printing mock-ups all day, every day for about 3 weeks.

There were certain vibes that Logan would throw out that he wanted encapsulated within the design. Gamma Ray and Black betty maintained almost all of what the original labels had represented, and the themes from the original branding carried through. I took them and put my own spin on them. 8 Ball had always represented vistas and deserts, and we had talked a lot about making in more psychedelic so I put together a sort of burning man in space theme. Smog rocket had been based on Industrial Revolution London, so I moved into some sort of alternate reality blitz scene (German smoked malts so planes based on German planes, smoke, etc.) However, Neck Oil was initially a bit of a puzzle, and a design I put off for a long time. It seemed an impossible task to aptly represent the sentiment behind the beer. Logan’s grandfather referred to beer as “Neck Oil.”

When I left Duke’s, I drew skull portraits of all the amazing people I had worked with, as I have always been a bit of a sap, and wanted to put my heart into a decent goodbye, and was trying to find the time to do ones of all the brewers and brewery staff – some 15 odd people, most of whom were existing close friends of mine and Logans. Neck Oil had made the incremental transition from Batham’s Best Bitter clone to an American style session IPA. It was finally at a place we were more than happy with it (it hasn’t changed since). This beer had also never been in small pack before. Around the same time, the gravity of our situation was really starting to dawn on everyone. We were about to move to a big new space in Tottenham Hale where we would not only be brewing a vast amount more of our beer due to increasing demand, but also putting it into our very own cans. It was during one of those disgusting conversations about how much fate is involved in people’s lives, and how lucky we all were to have found each other and be working together blah blah blah that we decided the cans of Neck Oil would be a good homage to everybody who had helped up get to this point. I started making arrangements to finish off all the portraits and see what they looked like on a can, whilst dropping in that “old gold” colour because football or something.. Go.. Wolves….

It looked very different to the other designs, one reason I think changing it makes sense at this point, but it was objectively quite striking. It was also skulls. I arranged them so they were almost an idea bubble from Logan at the bottom left, then his various confidants, conscripts, pack horses and brewery geniuses spread out before him. While we definitely have our various positions, you could be forgiven for thinking Beavertown has a flat business structure with the way we all get so stuck into everything. The top of our staff page on our site reads, “everybody here amounts to everything,” and as cheesy as that may or may not sound out of context, it’s pretty spot on for how we interact within these oddball four walls. In hindsight, this design works well because a lot of people don’t know what I’m talking about when I say I work at Beavertown, until it twigs that I’m talking about “the spaceman beer!” or “The skulls beer!”. It’s a bit like when your mum calls all your games consoles “Nintendos” or every Pokémon “Pikachu.” That’s the best example I could think of, so I’m sorry if it doesn’t resonate with you. I am, believe it or not, quite a young person.

Side note: It also spurred a funny mention in this article:

And my first bit of hate in this comment:

You never forget your first. I actually haven’t really had a second. Not sure the ego could take it. Both on the illustrious Stonch (Jeffrey John Bell’s) blog.

This is a good juncture to explain the move from the “B logo” to the “Skull.” The reason for all the skulls and skeletons was initially quite simple (or in beer reviewer language, “thin and disappointing”). I was drawing a lot of robots when playing around with narratives for comics and longer stories for what would hopefully be graphic novels when I was freelance. Although you can argue, and be 100% right, that if you are creating the story and illustrations yourself, there should be no obstacles to what the characters can and can’t do, who they are, and where they come from. In my mind, robots where great because robots can technically do anything, because they are robots. It also made sense to me because humans usually create robots. This was all very much overthinking, but I have always had to have things make sense to everyone, not always something that happens mind you. The transition to skeletons came when I was drawing a robot couple who where in command of the moon and used it to defend earth from asteroids. An astronaut crashes on the moon, one of the robots falls in love with him and the other destroys themselves in a jealous rage. Nothing to do with my then very new (still going!) relationship AT ALL. The robots had sort of cages protecting their computer parts, it looked like a rib cage, I changed it to skeletons, called the thing “Boner” until one of my tutors pointed out how stupid that was and I changed it to “Supermoon.”

From that point on I loved drawing skeletons. It actually spurred the original lino cut Black Betty label. They have so much potential for delicate lines, have no gender or race and can also, technically do anything. I left university calling myself an illustrator, because I didn’t really do graphic design (I obviously do now, but it became essential). I drew pictures and like to think that I told stories. The B in triangle, taken from the dollar bill, with heavy masonic themes a plenty, worked perfectly on the original branding, and was actually a very smart way of referencing the American influence on the beers. Working on the core range designs, it was always a little tricky to include both the pyramid and logo, as it felt quite limiting but ultimately led to iconic, thematic imagery, based on scenes and landscapes. As we did more specials and one offs, I was having a harder time finishing off a design then placing the logo on top. I really wanted it to be part of the design, seamlessly integrating into a scene or battle or vista or weird man batting away fighter planes with his hands. We didn’t use the font that the B was in for anything else, which was also a point of quiet contention for me for some time. It obviously represented something very important to Logan, as it had been a core idea from the beginning but changing it out was very much a necessary evil for us, a company becoming more and more recognisable by the day. To summarise, it now meant the Beavertown logo could blend nicely into designs for the cans that could have uninterrupted depth, and a 360 degree scene almost free from obstruction (darn you people allergic to barley and gluten / shops / bars / importers / exporters / people who like to know what they are drinking.

As for the new Neck Oil design itself, that’s another idea that emerged quite naturally and then warped and weft through the drawing, colouring, mocking up, and eventually group critique* stages. *My favourite and least favourite part. I’ve thought about it so long, in my mind I’m definitely right in all my choices for the drawing and colour but in reality… nuh uh, Nick, nuh uh. This is why it’s important to get feedback early… Anyway, I wanted it to be an inversion of “In a galaxy far, far away,” mixed with the planet of the apes **spoiler alert** idea that addresses how things will go full circle and fall into archaic disarray in the future, while tying it in to the Beavertown universe of Gamma Ray and Lupuloids battles, 8-Balls festival on Mars and other ones that are still in my brain for later. The weary traveller finally arrives at a monolith of the past, the pyramid, now fully made out of the skulls of all those once part of the beery battles. Strange somehow autonomous and strangely organic skulloons build using these skulls, as though some sort of alien caretaker, invested in maintaining whatever planet they are on as a slightly misguided museum of the past. You can play “where’s the references to other beers” but it’s quite an easy game, I think.

Here is an artistic representation of how it happened:

It was hard to remove the people that got us to Tottenham Hale from the can, because they are some of the best people that ever existed and busted spheres to help get us here. Heck, the majority are people I see every week, if not every day, and the others are all off doing various other phenomenal tasks around the globe. Logan, Freddie, Tiago (about to finally head off on his adventures he’s been threatening for years) and myself are the only ones that remain. The brewery is a bustling, electric place, full to bursting with talent and enthusiasm I can barely start to comprehend when I avoid work by going and staring at the fermentation vessels in a knowing way for the majority of the afternoon before someone offers me a tank sample. While the main motivation was bringing Neck Oil in line with the other designs, I also wanted it to maintain the sentiment that, my god our people are good people. I am sparticus etc. You are skull…ticus. In short, you know who you are and your shining skulls-with-hair-faces will be missed, but you are in no way forgotten. Damn, that got sappy. Sorry, not sorry.

There will probably be less context and history to the next post (in a while) which is definitely a good thing. I hope you enjoyed hearing about it. I’m actually doing a lecture covering some of this and more in Edinburgh in June via the wonderful Brewers Journal lecture series so hopefully see you there for rambles and disjointed thoughts.

This is the first of a few re-jigged designs, but is probably the most drastic. Ill be slowly drip feeding drawings as I go on Instagram (nicholasd) so if you are interested that will be where the majority end up so I don’t continue to clog the Beavertown one.


The cans will be filled within the next week or so and straight out to you. Print coming soon too.

Surprise me