Apex Predator by Off Color Brewing

Label Approval by | Nov 2015 | Issue #106

Mischief the farmhouse mouse was trying to relax when he found trouble. “Serious trouble,” says illustrator Nikki Jarecki. A lion swallowed him up, Aesop’s Fables style. “It may seem grim, but Mischief is OK,” says Jarecki. “He’s just casually enjoying one of our beers in there.”

Like Apex Predator, all of Off Color Brewing’s labels have a touch of the macabre, admits co-founder John Laffler. But it’s “mostly tongue in cheek.”

“We try to keep things full of wonder,” says graphic designer Tim Breen. “No crass stuff.” Take the lion—“he’s not a bad guy, really,” says Breen. “Maybe he just wanted to play or wanted some beer. Either way, he ended up eating a mouse.”

What may seem simplistic—a pen-and-ink drawing that started as a Sharpie sketch on a bar napkin—is, of course, not so much. Laffler “spent six or seven weeks bugging the hell out of people at the zoo to get an X-ray of a lion,” he says. “Never got an X-ray of a lion.” (They did get one of a cat, though, which helped Jarecki draw anatomically correct lion hips.)

Apex Predator—and every Off Color label—is black and white. Walk down the beer aisle, says Laffler, and “there’s so much color vomiting up at you.”

“It just dawned on everyone to pull back and let the lines do the talking,” adds Breen. A little Edward Gorey, a little Pink Panther, Off Color’s bare bones labels reflect Laffler’s affinity for children’s book art.

Before recruiting them for the brewery, Laffler collected Jarecki’s art and admired Breen’s design for Intelligentsia Coffee, next door to Goose Island, where Laffler used to brew. “That doodle in the corner of the page? That’s my favorite thing you’ve ever drawn,” Laffler might tell Jarecki. “Spend four hours drawing that again please.” Then Breen assembles the drawings into a narrative.

“We take that opportunity to put little pieces of art into the world,” says Laffler. “We don’t view labels as doing marketing or advertising for the beer itself. The beers we make and the art we put out come from the same place.”