It was just two years ago when Matt Johnston called up Bob Russell and asked if he was still serious about starting their own craft brew business.
“He said yes,” recalls Johnston. “And I said good, because I’ve left my job and we’re going full steam ahead.”
Starting a craft beer business, Johnston says, is a leap of faith, and they believed they had the experience and concept to make it work. Johnston had been in sales and marketing for Moosehead brewery, and general manager of their premium beer company; Russell had his own graphic design company.
Together, they developed a branding approach that was typical of the craft genre — that is, it is both idealistic and costly.
Three or four times a year, they put out a global call for artists to design new beer bottle labels for Collective Arts.
Artists from 38 countries have submitted in the past, more than 7,000 submissions. They curate 80 pieces of work; so far, 334 artists and musicians have appeared on their labels — two-thirds of them Canadian. The company has paid out $70,000 to artists so far and is in their fifth call for art now.
Johnston realizes they could produce and brand their beer more cheaply.
“We’re not doing it as a marketing ploy; it’s because we love what we do and are passionate about it, as are all craft brewers. That’s the beauty of craft.”
The names of their beers are also works of art, ranging from Saint of Circumstance to Ransack the Universe, State of Mind and Stranger than Fiction (“a full-bodied porter … Ridiculous amounts of chocolate and pale ale malts make this porter a smooth and creamy brew”).
To date, Collective Arts has been a contract brewer, but soon they will share the first bricks-and-mortar brewery to operate in Hamilton in years: the Arts and Science brewery on Burlington Street, which they will share with Nickel Brook.
“It will really take the shackles off us, where we can grow and have fun creating beers, and expand across the country and into the U.S. And all that beer will be coming out of Hamilton.”
What: Retail craft brewery
Owners: Matt Johnston and Bob Russell
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