Meet The Designer: Nick Dwyer - Beavertown

Some breweries can't simply be defined by the quality of the liquid that they produce. Sometimes a perfect mix of amazing beer, inspired design and perfect timing comes along and takes the beer world by storm. And that's the case with Beavertown, one of the most successful craft breweries in the UK, owned by Logan Plant and made iconic by the stunning artwork of Nick Dwyer, whose skulls and skeletons adorn every aspect of what Beavertown does.  

In the first of Prohibition's occasional 'meet the designer' series, we had a chat with Nick to find out what is at the heart of his design ethos and what makes him tick.  

What was your background and training before working at Beavertown? 

I Studied graphic design, specialising in illustration between 2009 and 2012. I had always been big into art, but the style of drawing that developed on and into the Beavertown branding actually started life as covers of mix-tape cds when I was a hopeless romantic teenager, desperate for the warm embrace of the opposite sex. Almost always ended in We are such good friends! I wouldn't want to ruin that... thanks for the CD though I definitely like mixtape with three libertines songs on!" 

How did you come to get involved at Beavertown? 

I was working as a waiter at a silver service restaurant after I graduated St Martins, working steadily increasing freelance illustration jobs, mostly for exposure. One of my closest mates, James Rylance had met Logan after getting into home brewing and ended up brewing with him in the back of Duke's Brew and Que in Hagerston. They had a couple of experimental beers they were working on and had devised a plan to use different local artists on each one they produced. Black Betty was offered to me, and then Gamma Ray soon after as they were both ready to roll. I'd never tried anything like them, which made it really easy to get wrapped up in the experience and design labels I thought really suited the intense deliciousness of the beers. While meeting with Logan at Dukes I decided it looked a lot more fun than the place i was "working" so asked if I could work the floor there. When I became a waiter it meant chatting to Logan a lot more, becoming mates, helping out wherever I could with the branding, and eventually shoe-horning my way into designing all the experimental labels via leaving my sketchbook out where I knew he would see it. The real pivotal moment was the choice to move into canning the beer, for the sake of the beer first and foremost, which also meant seeing what the old branding looked like on a can. I remember the day in Hackney Wick when Logan came in with a coke can with the Gamma Ray bottle label I designed on it and basically went “Ok time for a rebrand, Nick you're up!" The core beer designs have evolved over the years, we know they come with a story. 

Can you talk us through the process of how say, Black Betty came to have the design it currently wears, and what influences the push to change and evolve the designs? 

Black Betty is relatively simple, but yes they all have some sort of process and story behind them. I still don't actually know the story of Black Betty from the song (I know, terrible, but I don't go to many weddings so don't have to listen to it very often) but I was working on the idea of one of those nights where you don't really remember who you talked to, or what about, or where you are but you remember you were there. Tunnel vision, neon lights etc. The design has stayed very similar through really, as it was a lino-print that I did then chopped up on photoshop and messed around with until it looked right. I think my favourite beer design story is our collar with Boneyard from 2015 - Power of the Voodoo. Logan emailed me from Bend, Oregon, after a few cocktails with some thoughts...  "I love Labyrinth, how about we call it something like “POWER OF THE VOODOO?" Fifty foot woman, crazy monsters, magic people, dancing... Oh and maybe a death star?"  That was a quick one to design but still looked great i think. The more collaborative the idea, the better the design I reckon. I am always right though. Always. 

Do you have a go to Beavertown beer, What is it? 

I would say I have two! When it's available (and its future remains hazy - tragic!) Quelle, our seasonal farmhouse pale is unbelievably refreshing and cleansing. Perfect in the sun, and feels like you can't get drunk on it. Some of the stranger artwork but I like how much yellow there is on the can. So few have any negative space because Logan loves to cram characters, events and scenes into the backgrounds. So do I... but he REALLY likes to. Then Neck Oil... Does exactly what it says on the tin and somehow seems to improve social situations by name alone. "We're all having a neck oil", "Ha thats a good name for a beer, lets be friends." Ok maybe there are 3, Bloody 'Ell. Blood Orange IPA. Give me Bloody 'Ell or give me death. 

What's your favourite Beavertown beer and food pairing? 

Trashy - Neck Oil and the thinnest crust pizza you can offer me. Classy - Anything from our Tempus Project (Barrels) with the stinkiest or sharpest or bluest cheese you have. And a favourite from another brewery or most frequently drunk style maybe? Inhaler from Magic Rock is their Neck Oil I reckon, and it's nice having become pals with their designer Rich Norgate through our jobs. For similar reasons most beers by Omnipollo - Another designer pal Karl Grandin does their iconic and stunning printed bottles and cans. Makes the beer taste better.

Where do you take your inspiration from in art and design? 

A really eclectic mix really. Logan and I share a love for Aubrey Beardsley’s illustrations and notorious dark history. Similar for me with Egon Schiele, Klimt, Bacon and other people who warped ideologies and beliefs into incredible visuals. Then more recently people with grit and determination like Zak Smith - an illustrator who published a book with an illustration for every page of Thomas Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow - an 800 odd page, impenetrable read. When i was at school we studied the beats, and i had a great teacher who pushed us to look a little further than “On the Road” - which I still haven’t read but I’m told thats probably for the best. I think I’ve read every Vonnegut too, incredible characters and surreal alternative realities. 

What other ‘culture’ inspires you? Music, films, etc? 

All kinds of things but mostly graphic novels and music. I’m big into lyrics, and writing. Beer and music also goes so well together its almost like tying the end to the beginning basing beer art and names on bands or songs (mostly post punk / alt rock / bits of hip hop and metal. I love Warren Ellis and Grant Morrison for their incredible, gritty worlds full of crazy sci-fi machines and mind bending abilities. Video games too actually. I don’t play many but when I get stuck in I really commit - not necessarily binge but really commit. I only just finished a game from 2012.. Bioshock infinite… but II’ find they give you crazy dreams then that itself forms a lot of inspiration. Also the classic movies and books like Space Odyssey, Dark Star, Tim Burton etc. Normally I’ll look for something obvious or apparent II could draw in the name of the beer then twist and warp it into something totally new or unexpected. 

Why Skulls/Skeletons? 

Originally it was simple an excellent vehicle to exhibit intricate, very delicate illustration - I love massive amounts of thin lines - but it evolved into a way of having characters that were totally ageless, genderless and sexless based in totally abstract locations. It was mainly for myself to be able to draw something and be able to say “nobody can question whether or not this is realistic!” but I still don’t really know why. On Smog Rocket for example, they had to be Heinkel 111 planes as those were the planes most likely to be over London in the Blitz. Its always rewarding when people notice them too, although they could have been any planes… theres a pyramid in the drawing. There are times when I assign genders to the skeletons, but thats mainly because long hair is probably my second favourite thing to draw. The other day someone reviewing a beer used the phrase “I’m not sure Nick Dwyer has ever seen a skeleton.” Which made me laugh a lot. In the past someone also used the phrase “I wish Nick Dwyer and his F***ing skeleton drawings would F*** off off the beer shelf and never come back.” It was my first ever hater and I have it framed. My dad did apologise eventually... 

Any exciting, specifically design related Beavertown plans in the offing? For instance, is there anything special under wraps for the festival in September? 

It’s all secret at the moment but we are having something of a refresher of the can designs. Watch this space I guess, but I can say I’m having some of the most rewarding days since I first started designing the can designs. There’s a lot more than just the design I’m involved with at the brewery but when I get to stick my head down and crack on its the best. We also have some wrapped vans inbound but will definitely save that one as a surprise - it’s a dream I didn’t know I had until it was in front of me.  

With the festival in mind, what’s the one thing that has you beside yourself with excitement about it? 

Definitely the opportunity to decorate the space! Its already amazing that an attention seeking narcissist such as myself gets to have millions of people holding my designs in their hands (whether they like it or not) but to be there with thousands of people milling about in a space totally brought to life in with Beavertown is going to be mad.  

Finally, Beavertown is obviously going from strength to strength at the moment, with fantastic artwork at it’s very core. What are your hopes for the brewery and where do you see it going over the next few years? 

I sit in an office with our second-to-none sales team having to explain that we physically struggle to produce enough beer to quench the thirsts of all those who seek it, but we are absolutely going to rectify that, just in the right way for us. Logan is fiercely independent and I don’t see that changing, despite very odd rumours of buy outs and such, which is the heart beat of Beavertown. It creates such a family vibe, and motivates everyone to go above and beyond for each other . 
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