Umami Monster and Mecha-Hop by Garage Project

Label Approval by | Feb 2016 | Issue #109

Of all the ingredients an experimental brewer can challenge palates with, processed extracts could be the most risky. But in the comic-book universe that New Zealand brewery Garage Project created, Mecha-Hop, an “Industrial Process Ale,” was designed as the opposite of an organic brew: Umami Monster.

“The concept for the labels came from this idea of a ‘Kaiju Beer Battle’—namely that we would brew two radically different beers, yet have them be linked by a theme, story and world,” says co-founder Jos Ruffell, referencing the Japanese monster film genre.

In real life, Garage Project brewed an umami beer with kombu (dried kelp), katsuobushi (dried, fermented fish flakes) and seawater.

In the comic-book backstory, their “nefarious alter-ego brewery” dumps the failed experiment into the Wellington harbor. “The ocean currents swept the resulting sludge, mutating as it went, to Australia, where the resulting beast proceeds to destroy Melbourne’s hipsters and bars,” explains artist Tim Gibson. (In fact, head brewer and co-founder Pete Gillespie, who is a former Australia resident, suggested some pet peeves he’d like to see destroyed by Umami Monster, a reflection of the “brotherly snark” between the two countries, says Gibson.)

Back to the comic: “Knowing we needed to put an end to this, Garage Project Industries creates the ‘Mecha-Hop’ to go into battle to save the city,” says Ruffell. The real-life beer features 100 percent malt and hop extracts, which Ruffell says allowed them to “really dial everything up.”

When placed beside each other, the two labels depict the opposing monsters in battle, “Umami Monster, an organic sea monstrosity, and Mecha-Hop, a shining robo-dino,” says Gibson, who worked from creature designs by Greg Broadmore to create the “retro Japanese screenprint poster art” labels. The monsters straddle the ruins of Melbourne, where the two beers debuted at the 2014 Great Australasian Beer SpecTAPular.

This year, Garage Project launches distribution in the US. “For us,” says Ruffell, “the beer is the hero.”