It will come as no surprise to visitors to South Jersey Beer Scene that the ideas which resulted in some of the sharp graphics on Tuckahoe Brewing Co’s canned beers featuring ideas such as four bell-bottomed blueberries crossing Abbey Rd (Blueberry Fields Forever Sour), or a top-hatted Tom Petty strumming a Rickenbacker (Damn the Torpedos IPA) all started with local artist Mike Bell visiting Tuckahoe Brewing Co. a few years ago. Mike got into a conversation with head brewer/co owner Matt McDevitt and Sales Manager Rob Callaghan and started talking about can branding over beers. Mike is a veteran in the ad business, having spent 24 years as an art director, and expressed his interest in creating a label for one of their beers. He was looking for something as he puts it, “interesting, eye-catching and fun.” Mike told us him and Rob became “an efficient brainstorming team” and he was brought onboard to design a can label for Tuckahoe’s latest IPA release.
Sampling the new IPA and chasing it with Mike’s private stash of tequila, the team started producing some sketches for the label. They knew they needed to produce something as visually distinctive as the taste of the IPA itself and Mike had the perfect idea, a Hop-Headed Octopus swimming across the label of their latest release, The New Old School IPA.This bold, colorful label was a considerable departure from the brewery’s previous tall ship and nautical themed aesthetic. Mike supplied the art and his nephew CJ Smith of Smithgraphix did the production finalizing the design and the rest is history. Striking and memorable, the label was an immediate success and helped increase the sales of the beer, and the rest is now history.
Mike’s art comes from wide ranging influences as exhibited on his website Belldog Studio. Classic movie monsters, stars from old hollywood, sci-fi, music, and pop culture are evident in his work for the brewery. 24 years in advertising and a deep background in fine art have resulted in an efficient process, that, like the name of the first IPA label he designed, is a mix of old-and-new-school. Bell either pencil-sketches or ink-draws the labels and then paints the art. He then works with CJ Smith to digitally render the design.
Mike and Rob have continued to collaborate on several labels using many different themes. Bell’s diverse palette, using nubile mermaids (Marshallville Wit), skull-faced pirates (Anglesea Red) and gourd-headed surfers (Holly Beach Pumpkin) brought new attention to some of Tuckahoes’s legacy core beers to help differentiate them from other beers on increasingly crowded shelves where art may just be the determining factor on trying something new. The updated labels gave some of Tuckahoes core beers art distinctive and as memorable as the tastes of the beers themselves. Nothing was more evident in the brand change than the Loch Ness-inspired sea monster on the label of TBC’s I Want to See Mountains IPA, voted as one of the best beer labels of 2018 (#9 on the list) by Thirstybastards.com.
This collaboration was rudely interrupted this year by the Covid-19 pandemic. Breweries, bars, and restaurants were shut down, employees were laid off, and people were hurting. Rob saw a need and stopped in. Rob, along with a few people in the industry, including South Jersey Beer Scene founder John Couchoud, NJBA Executive Director Alexis Degan, Czigmiester Brewing Owner Matt Czigler, and Twin Elephant Brewing owner Cindy DeRama, quickly formed the non-profit Brewery Strong and began to raise money to help those in the industry. Callaghan enlisted Bell for the visual art and Frank Santoro for his digital background to create an image which realized his vision for what the Brewery Strong logo should represent. Arms crossed, pint glasses raised, Stronger Together. Brewery Strong’s logo adorns T-shirts, gaiters, stickers and tote bags. Visit the website to check out the organization’s merch where 100% of the profits go to Brewery Strong or make a donation. Every little bit of assistance is necessary to a segment of our local economy still needing all the help we can offer. To date, they have raised over 60K and have sent grants to more than 200 people. For more info and to see some of the great merchandise visit BreweryStrong.org.
Mike’s art has been on frequent display inside the brewery’s tasting room – full sized prints and matchbook covers; when the pandemic ends and the inside reopens, hopefully we’ll see it there again. His artwork is exhibited at 47 galleries in 17 states and at the Dream Factory in Germany. Visit https://belldogstudio.com to see more of his fresh, contemporary and eclectic imagery.