It’s easy to spot beers from Collective Arts Brewing.
The Ontario company’s brews pop off the shelf, their colorful cans adorned with original artwork. Every few months, Collective Arts puts out a global call for art. A team of volunteer curators sifts through them, the selected works destined for the brewery’s cans and bottle labels. To date, Collective Arts has printed the work of nearly 600 artists, who receive a stipend for their efforts.
“We really wanted to start a brewery that had a purpose, one that we were excited about,” says Matt Johnston, Collective Arts’ CEO and cofounder.
Johnston says he and cofounder Bob Russell recognized how hard it was for young artists and musicians to break through. They hope the exposure — the artist’s name appears on the brewery’s labels, and the brewery writes articles and holds events showcasing the works — will help.
Collective Arts entered the Boston market in late September, and the cans are indeed beautiful — a recent can of Stranger Than Fiction porter featured old-style megaphones casting shadows against a brown backdrop. But on their own, pretty labels don’t sell beer. Johnston says the brewery takes the liquid very seriously.
“We make what we believe are fantastic beers,” says Johnston. “We do the entire range.”
Stranger Than Fiction (5.5 percent alcohol by volume) is part of Collective Arts’ regular rotation. It’s an award winner — the beer took home a bronze medal at last year’s World Beer Cup — and it’s delicious. Loaded with chocolate and pale ale malts, the beer is sweet but retains an austerity that staves off cloying flavors.
Lighter but no less impressive is Saint of Circumstance, a citrus blonde ale.
“What makes it unique is we add fresh citrus zest to it,” says Johnston. “We actually hand-zest it. When we first started that was me until 5 in the morning. Now we found a cold press juice company that will help us.”
The zest comes from oranges or blood oranges, depending on the season.
Also available in the Boston area are Rhyme and Reason, an extra pale ale that was the company’s first beer, and Ransack the Universe, the flagship IPA, made with Galaxy and Mosaic hops. The brewery is constantly putting out seasonal releases, which means room for even more artwork, which Johnston says makes it onto the cans “very difficultly.”
“It took us a long time to find a label supplier who could do the digital printing,” says Johnston. “It’s not cheap and not easy. But we’re looking for a way to represent the artists in the best way we can.”
Gary DzenGary Dzen can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GaryDzen