A Splash of Color: Breweries Add Murals to Brighten Neighborhoods and Taprooms

Feature by | Oct 2017 | Issue #129

Born from a counter-culture movement, the craft brewing industry attracts creatives of all types: brewers, chefs, musicians, and artists. Get enough of these people into a space—especially one with an excess of big, blank walls—and it’s not surprising when collaborations in the form of large-scale artwork follow. Across the country, brewers are adding elaborate murals to define their environment, express themselves, and add color to their taprooms and communities.

Breakside Brewery
Portland, Oregon
Photo by Shane Lopes

A flurry of lines and colors in a 41-foot mural brings life and vibrancy to the façade of Breakside’s third location, which opened in March. The mural was inspired by a portrait of Henry Fonda from the 1966 western Once Upon a Time in the West by Chilean artist Alvaro Tapia Hidalgo, who also created the wolf on the brewery’s Wanderlust IPA label. Portland artist Nicky Kriara brought the work to life on a grand scale. “Rather than having a plain building with our name painted on the side, it just seemed like [a piece of art] would add to the neighborhood,” recalls founder Scott Lawrence.

Interior artwork, like colorful tree slabs along a staircase, pays homage to the “Slabtown” neighborhood, and the highly designed space embodies Breakside’s growth since 2010, when it debuted with a no-frills brewpub. “We really wanted a showpiece brewery, so we hired local designers and a couple local artists,” Lawrence says. “You’re enhancing the overall experience by providing something great to look at while enjoying something great to drink.”

7 Seas Brewing
Tacoma, Washington
Photos by Lauren Colton

Knowing that the Prairie Line Trail, a walking and bicycling path following a former stretch of the Northern Pacific Railway in Tacoma, would run adjacent to 7 Seas’ newest facility, founder Mike Runion offered up his exterior wall to the City of Tacoma as a giant canvas. Artists Esteban Camacho Steffensen and Jessilyn Brinkerhoff worked with 10 Native American artists to complete the 19,200-square-foot mural, which debuted in June.

Titled “Working Forward, Weaving Anew,” the mural depicts a cedar tree throughout history, from its role in Puyallup Native American life to European industry. “It displays the historical evolution of the area and its industries in a beautiful way,” says Runion, who worked with the city to select the commissioned artists. “The mural does a great job of showing some true and difficult history, and does so in an honest and beautiful way.”

DC Brau Brewing Co.
Washington, DC
Photos by Ryan Donnell

“Our murals are really wild, colorful, and eclectic, and that’s how we see ourselves, too,” says Brandon Skall, CEO of DC Brau. Since opening in 2011, the brewhouse and taproom walls (and even equipment) have been decorated with more than a half dozen works from artists both local and international. The makeshift gallery grew from an abundance of white walls, says Skall. “We normally just say, ‘You’re the artist, this is your space, do what you’d like to do.’”

Such was the case of “Solomon Grundy,” a moniker DC muralist Kelly Towles gave to the small tank he anthropomorphized with paint. Towles’ other work includes a brewhouse mural Skall describes as “a big guy holding beer riding a graffiti cloud,” left, and a denim-vest-clad fox on the walk-in cooler door. In November 2011, DC Brau also welcomed Italian street artist Pixel Pancho for a five-hour live mural painting. The resulting “Robot Reindeer,” resides on the taproom wall.

Wiseacre Brewing Co.
Memphis, Tennessee

With her intricate and often fanciful illustrations, artist Rachel Briggs shapes Wiseacre’s visual identity—including packaging design, a taproom mural, and a new work installed on the building’s exterior in September. “It’s a pattern that brings in different characters and elements from quite a few of our brews, as well as cultural landmarks and symbols that represent Memphis and the Broad Avenue neighborhood—all together in one amalgamated piece,” Briggs explains.

A shipping container outside Wiseacre showcases the lesser-known icons of Memphis. Painted on plywood and exposed to the elements, the murals have been replaced periodically since 2014. “We’ll focus on rappers, streetball legends, punk rockers, scientists, and more over time,” explains brewery co-founder Kellan Bartosch. In the third and current iteration, from Memphis street artist Michael Roy (also known as “Birdcap”), fanciful cartoons pay homage to local eccentric Robert Hodges, who goes by Prince Mongo.

Wedge Brewing Co.
Asheville, North Carolina
Photos by Jack Sorokin

Much of the graffiti street art surrounding the newest location of Wedge in Asheville’s River Arts District existed long before the brewery made its second home there in February. “Murals are a tremendous component of our new Foundation location,” explains general manager Shelton Steele. “We wanted to embrace this art form, and use it to distinguish our brewery.” Brewers Andy Shepard (pictured, left) and Ian Leightner sit in front of the 7,500-square-foot taproom’s façade, which artists Ian Wilkinson and Gus Cutty transformed into a sky-blue mural featuring cherubs holding beer and spray cans.

Inside, a mural below the bartop by local illustrator Julie Armbruster gives a whimsical take on the French Broad River, which runs just west of the brewery. “We will continue to support the local artist community, just as they support us,” Steele says.

Scratch Brewing
Ava, Illinois

“Going through the door, you’re taken to another world,” says Scratch co-founder Aaron Kleidon of the Illinois brewery’s Serpent Room, which opened in January. A taproom expansion and 50-seat event space made in collaboration with local artist Brett Douglas Hunter, the rustic, wooded exterior belies the cacophony of colors and textures covering every inch of the interior. “Brett painted and carved murals on all four walls and [the] ceiling of the Serpent Room—the space is all about his art,” says Kleidon, noting that Hunter spent more than a year on the detailed project.

Known for its foraged-ingredient beers, Scratch considers art an important part of its aesthetic. “Supporting local artists is no different to us than supporting local farmers,” Kleidon adds. “It’s important to the local economy.”