Graphic design and art direction for bottles, cans, merchandise and visual branding for the Danish craft brewery To Øl. To Øl was founded in 2007 and travels the world to create exclusive craft beers and explore the frontiers of brewing. According to ratebeer.com To Øl was ranked as the ninth best brewery in the world in 2014. Their products are sold in more than fifty countries. Since its first commercial release in 2010 To Øl has produced over 250 different beers.
I met the founders of To Øl while we attended the same high school in Copenhagen. back then I did some labels on a xerox machine for the first experimental brews they created in the schools kitchen. In 2010 To Øl released their first commercial beer and again I was summoned to create the artwork. I have been onboard ever since. Today I’m serving as art director and graphic designer for the company. I’m responsible for overseeing all visual aspects of To Øl’s operation from the labels and cans sleeves to the office decoration and merchandise.
Large breweries like Carlsberg, Heineken or Budweiser may only maintain a line of about ten beers which they reproduce again and again. Those breweries may benefit from a very consequent design approach. To Øl’s large portfolio of beers – often consisting of small batches only produced in limited amounts – seems more fit with an open and fluid design strategy. That mirrors the experimental style of the brewery.
To Øl has no strict design system or style guide. Each design is a negotiation of what a beer can look like just as each beer is a negotiation of what a beer can taste like. This doesn’t mean that everything coming out of the design department at To Øl is completely different nor is that the goal. There is a loose style running through everything. My vocabularium as a designer is evident in all the designs. It can be compared to an author having a distinct way of writing but engaging with different subjects. This loose approach makes room for a great deal of experimentation and creative freedom. But it’s also means that the visual output is somewhat incoherent. Sometimes the designs are good other times bad and in the worst of cases mediocre.
I’m primarily using typography, photography and abstract forms in my work for To Øl. There has never been made any strategic decision to focus on this areas. They are just my personal focus within visual communication. Coincidentally it also seems to make sense on a strategic level since most craft breweries deploys figurative illustration in one form or another. The photos, text and abstract forms makes To Øl stand out.
My work for To Øl is inspired by a wide range of sources like art history, architecture, contemporary art, politics and science. I think that my upbringing in Denmark also plays its part. The graphic design of Per Arnoldi and Bo Linnemann (Kontrapunkt), the architecture of Arne Jacobsen, the furniture of Børge Mogensen and the art of Asger Jorn, Per Kirkeby and Poul Gernes all has a special place in my heart. The names mentioned above does not only function as inspiration but also as someone to rebel against. There influence is so omnipresent in both the public space of Denmark and in Danish mainstream art history that it can almost seems suffocating. But there is no reason in denying their influence on my work for better or for worse.
I consider most of To Øl’s design to be part of the actual experience and not just marketing. I have never subscribed to the idea of considering form and content as different replaceable parts. They are completely intervened. They are actually the same. If you are dining at a michelin star restaurant and the dish looks like shit but tastes nice it will of course ruin your experience. So to have a good product you also need to have good design. Good should not be mistaken with beautiful design. Good design is often what makes us question our understanding of the beautiful.
When designing for To Øl I don’t try to create a direct illustration of the beer. Like drawing a barrel and cherry on a Barrel aged cherry porter. Beer is an abstract experience a lot like music. You are trying to convey something hard to describe with words. Drinking a beer is much about feelings. The taste, the texture, the carbonation all makes you feel something and might bring back old memories. The alcohol kicks in and the experience gets saturated. Hopefully the visuals can be a part of this process and maybe enlarge it.