When the coronavirus hit and led to widespread closures, Chef Adam Sklar wasn’t sure what to do with his newfound free time. Most chefs will tell you their trade isn’t a typical nine-to-five job with weekends off. It’s a role characterized by long hours and late nights. As the corporate executive chef of the three Marathon Grill locations in center city Philadelphia, Sklar is no stranger to long work weeks. Finding himself with eight weeks off was a strange concept.
Within a few days of being homebound, Sklar heard about the All Together IPA. The hazy IPA was a collaboration beer spearheaded by Other Half Brewing in Brooklyn with a goal of donating a portion of proceeds to out of work hospitality industry employees. Around 850 breweries in 53 countries brewed a version of the beer.
It was an ‘ah-ha!’ moment for Sklar. It would be how he’d spend his time. Not drinking them—though he did try about 80—but collecting the labels.
“It had a bit more meaning to me as someone who works in the restaurant industry,” he said. “It felt right.”
The original label was contributed by Stout Collective in Chicago, with blank space for other breweries to place their own art. Photography, illustrations, patterns, and text; it was all fair game.
While many breweries kept it simple, plugging their company logo or mascot into the free space, others used the canvas more creatively. Some used the allotted area to share their brands' story or share images of their staff. Stoneface Brewing Co. in New Hampshire depicted a portion of the mural in its taproom, which the brewery said showed “a little bit of our history and a lot of our shenanigans throughout the years.”
Others paired with local artists to design labels that met the moment. One of Sklar’s favorites came from Dixie Beer in New Orleans, which worked with a local design group to create can art depicting a gathering of colorful people.
“Some of them were really unique and it was fun seeking them out,” Sklar said.
This is not Sklar’s first foray into beer tchotchke collecting. His home is a trove of brewing bric-a-brac, with boxes full of growlers (he stopped at about 900) and stickers (of which he has thousands). When not cooking, he serves as the Craft Beer Sticker Coordinator for the National Brewery Museum in Potosi, Wisconsin. In that volunteer role he liaises with breweries and collectors around the country to build up the museum's prolific memorabilia collection. Finding the labels for the All Together IPA, he thought, was a natural extension of that.
He was able to pick up labels from Philadelphia area breweries himself. For the rest, he needed help. While working on the museum's sticker collection, he amassed a widespread network of contacts, so he knew who to call to get the goods in various states.
In the instances where he wasn’t able to get a hold of the brewery or didn’t know a local hop head that could pick up a can, he turned to geographically specific beer groups on Facebook.
“I posted in the Alaska one, the Chicago area one, the North Carolina one,” Sklar said. “For the Rhode Island group, I put up a post explaining what I was doing and within three hours had all six that I needed.”
Beer geeks across the country have been wildly supportive of his endeavours, he said, often going out of their way to snag a couple labels to send to him.
“It’s a really supportive community,” Sklar said. “People were excited to help. I was getting so many responses that it felt like I was running an NFL Draft with all the spreadsheets I had going to keep it all straight.”
Right now Sklar has about 400, but more come in every day. As of publishing, the only state he’s missing is Mississippi (Southern Prohibition Brewing Company was the only brewery in the state to make the collaboration beer), but he has people working on getting him that one, too. While he’d be thrilled to get labels from breweries abroad, he’s primarily focusing on U.S. based breweries. Eventually, Sklar’s labels collection will join the exhibit at the National Brewery Museum where other enthusiasts can share in this piece of brewing history.