You’re standing in a grocery store beer aisle packed with unfamiliar craft beers. You gaze upon bottle after bottle, open to trying a new brew yet unsure of the beers inside the various brown glass vessels.
Chances are, if 101 North Brewing has a bottle in the aisle, you’re likely to pick it out based on looks alone. That’s because the Petaluma-based brewery has taken a different path to illustrating its labels.
“We try to reach as many senses as we can,” says co-owner John Brainin. For the owners at 101 North, which include brothers Joel, Jake and Joey Johnson, as well as life-long friends Brainin, John Lilienthal and Anthony Turner, the innovative graphics tell a story for each beer’s inspiration and affect beer drinkers the way album art primes listeners to the record they just put on the turntable.
“We’re all former musicians, and we wanted to treat the labels like album covers,” explains Brainin. To that end, 101 North has employed local graphic designers and artists immersed in the rock and roll scene in the Bay Area.
The brewery’s first release was the highly acclaimed Heroine IPA, with a distinct amber color and rich, full flavor. With the chance for misreading the word, the crew at 101 North knew they had to embody the ale in a strong female hero.
They looked to artist Leslie Hotchkiss, a native of San Rafael who now lives in San Francisco. Hotchkiss spent years designing an array of gig posters and album covers for San Francisco bands and venues.
“She whipped out a hell of an art piece,” says Brainin.
He’s not joking. The Heroine IPA label shows a striking goddess in full power-mode, with the flames and wings of a rising phoenix flaring up behind her. It’s now one of the most recognizable labels in the North Bay.
Brainin says that each label is a piece of art in its own right, with many of the originals hanging in galleries. Take the stark and challenging work donning the Stigmata American red rye ale, which also exists as a large-scale oil painting by Healdsburg artist Molly Perez.
The second label 101 North commissioned was the Naughty Aud imperial stout. Brainin credits co-owner John Lilienthal with the idea for the devilish image upon the bottle, inspired by Lilienthal’s time in Germany.
The wintry release, full of malty goodness and notes of caramel and bourbon, boasts a hair-raising image of the cloven-hoofed, fork-tongued anti–Santa Claus known in German lore as Krampus, drawn by legendary San Francisco rock and roll artist Alan Forbes, a long-time friend of Brainin.
Most famous for conceiving the Black Crowes icon, Forbes has also done work for bands like White Stripes and AFI. He inked the “Brotherhood Steam Beer” label for Anchor Steam Brewing and the Black Crowe’s Chris Robinson last year.
“He did ours first though,” laughs Brainin.