35K Milk Stout by Against the Grain
Against the Grain’s labels have been offending some and delighting others since the Louisville, Ky., brewpub opened in 2011. Just last month, ATG responded to critics of their Brown Note label (which features a soiled pair of tighty-whities) by Randalling the beer through a pair of Hanes.
ATG was founded on that mischievous attitude, a story embedded in the 35K Milk Stout label. The star of the label is Dark, one of six recurring ATG characters, each associated with a different beer theme (dark, smoke, etc.). “As for the baby,” says co-founder Sam Cruz, “it is an infantile caricature of a colleague,” a former boss at a different brewery, where Cruz worked with fellow co-founders Jerry Gnagy and Adam Watson.
They all wanted out of that brewery, but before they left, they entered some beers in a competition and won an unheard of $35,000, mostly for their Milk Stout. “We are company guys, and when asked who we would like the check made out to, we insisted it be to the company. It was the right thing to do,” says Cruz.
“[Our boss] said we would receive some ‘handsome bonuses,’ which I thought was also the right thing to do,” continues Gnagy. “All said and done, I received a good $50 in my check. So that is the [National Lampoon] Christmas Vacation ‘jelly of the month club’ bonus we’re talking about” in the label text.
The three soon left to found ATG along with Andrew Ott, and wasted no time brewing their own Milk Stout. Label artist and kindred spirit Robby Davis brought the 35K story to life. Says Gnagy, “The imagery of me as Dark carrying the childlike [boss] … while carrying the workload and bringing in cash money was a good picture of our relationship.”
Now the ATG team, including Davis, is free to make great beer and be themselves.
“These labels are just who we are,” says Gnagy. “We don’t set out to make something controversial, we just like the look of them and I think they are quite funny. And if I’m not having fun with all this, then what’s the point?” ■