It’s the age old question – “which came first the beer or the label?”
The mystery that is this question takes a turn once again with Schlafly Beer’s newest twist on its annual beer creation designed in support of the St. Louis art community. Every year, the brewery taps a local artist to work with the brewing team to develop the label design for the special release beer in celebration of the Art Outside Festival, which this year takes place on May 26-28 at the Schlafly Bottleworks location.
The process is interesting as it brings artists from two different worlds to create something new and original. The brewery is always on the lookout for a local artist who is doing something eye-catching. They then reach out to the artist to see if they would be interested in collaborating. So far, I don’t think they’ve been turned down.
This year’s featured artist is Noah MacMillan, the illustrator behind St. Louis’ Loufest posters. He worked with the brewers to combine inspirations from initial brainstorms to nods to the beer itself.
“In our first meeting I was like a fly on the wall, just listening to the brewers discussing the use of different concoctions with obscure processes, and somebody joked that it was a bit like listening to a bunch of alchemists compare notes. This became our initial design direction, yet we still didn’t know the final flavor profile of the beer.”
The image of alchemists stuck and both artists began creating. MacMillan creating the art, Schlafly creating the beer.
The beer that came from this project is influenced by the popular cocktail called ‘The Kentucky Mule,” made primarily with Kentucky bourbon, ginger beer and lime juice. It is a golden ale with ginger and lime that is aged on bourbon barrel chips. “It is what we call the bourbon drinkers Moscow Mule,” said Schlafly Beer’s Brand Specialist Will Rogers. “The beer doesn’t pick up too much of the bourbon character, so it’s not overpowering. It’s nice and light.”
From there MacMillan combined the new beer profile with the original alchemist idea and Dr. Kentucky was born.
“I was trying to create the character, sort of a witchdoctor with the head of a mule, coming up with this concoction in his lair,” said MacMillan. “All of the design decisions, the colors came from the recipe. It’s gold, its green coming from limes and ginger and brown from the bourbon barrels.”
The beer, which arguably is the longest name for any Schlafly beer on record, harkens back to advertisements for dubious medical tonics and cure-alls: Dr. Kentucky’s Concoction from his Curious Cabinet: Batch No. 40004. The number is the zip code of the county in Kentucky where bourbon is made.
The beer doesn’t drink as heavy as its 8.0% ABV with 30 IBUS might suggest for ale brewed with lime juice and ginger. It is then aged on bourbon-barrel wood chips to bring sweet, spicy and rambunctious flavors to the beer. The golden, hazy beer features Magnum hops, pale malt, white wheat and carapils with an American Ale yeast. Ambassador Brewer Stephen Hale explains, “The design complements the quirky characteristics of this beer. Pouring it in a classic copper mug is entire your call, rebel.”
This label is full of symbolism and was fun to decipher. The main image, is the mule headed, Dr. Kentucky, the crazed alchemist, his laboratory, with multiple hand on his stirring stick, mixing, pouring and tasting his latest concoction.
“The surrounding reference images are from early medical diagrams, old astrology charts and other crazy stuff, so some of the visual elements are pulled from that sort of language,” said MacMillan. “Lots of symbols and numerals.
8.0% ABV | 30 IBU
We asked Will Rogers for his take on the new beer.
Aroma: In the nose, you’ll get a nice hint of ginger with a bit lime.
Drinkability: When you drink it it’s subtle and nice, more like a ginger-beer. Nice carbonation level, a bit bubbly on the tongue. Some sweet lime up front and then the ginger bite sort of cleans that off you palatte. And of course there will be just a bit of a bourbon note. Very nice and refreshing.
Dr. Kentucky’s Concoction from his Curious Cabinet: Batch No. 40004 is available in 750 ml bottles for $13.99 at both Schlafly brewpubs as well as select retail locations in the St. Louis area.
Dr. Kentucky’s curious cabinet will also come to life at the Art Outside Festival. Every purchase of the beer comes with a tag for consumers to redeem at Art Outside by opening the curious cabinet of the corresponding number on their tag. Prizes include Schlafly swag, unique posters designed by MacMillan, but some drawers will just have raw ginger and limes – select your number at your own risk!