From the buxom blondes on blonde ales to scantily clad “beer girls” passing out samples at sporting events, for decades women have been used to sell beer. There would be no billion-dollar beer industry if it wasn’t for the women slinging countless cases and kegs—both directly and indirectly. However, despite all those women gracing labels, the “fairer sex” is rarely the target audience for beer sales.
At least, that’s how it used to be.
This year on International Women’s Day, Collective Arts Brewing decided to flip the script by putting a depiction of a topless woman on the label for its Loud and Clear tart cherry stout. The art by Natalie Very B. was designed with female empowerment in mind and proceeds from the sale of the beer went to YWCA Hamilton and the Native Women’s Center. “Everyone was in awe of Collective Arts being brave enough to show breasts as part of the design,” Very B. says. “I think they are making a statement saying this is OK and you’re an empowered person who can show your true self.”
This year has seen a lot of breweries dedicating labels and limited releases to causes they care about, from the All Together initiative that supported brewery employees affected by the pandemic to Black is Beautiful. While these sorts of initiatives can raise substantial funds for those in need—Sierra Nevada’s Resilience IPA donated millions to Camp Fire relief programs—and raise awareness about inequalities in the beer industries—over 1,100 breweries around the world made Black is Beautiful—they sometimes struggle to bring about lasting change.
“We both love to challenge the status quo and love all things creative, and recognize that this crazy world of ours needs more creativity,” Collective Arts’ co-founder Matt Johnston says about the brewery's commitment to the arts and artists, which began before its first beer rolled off the canning line. “Artists—visual art and music—can be that instigator, but so many artists have a hard time being seen or heard. Often they’re stuck in closed loops where they are sharing with their peers. So for us, if you’re going to create a craft beverage company, you have a canvas and that is your packaging.”
Collective Arts Brewing weaves its commitment to uplifting these marginalized voices into its brand identity, regularly facilitating programs that showcase artists from these communities that have historically been marginalized by the beer industry. By tapping artist such as Very B. for its Women's Day can; Lisa Rose, Patricia Shim, and Tim Singleton for its Pride series; as well as a group of soon-to-be-selected artists its new Amplified Voices initiative, the brewery shows that supporting underrepresented voices in beer is about more than the occasional donation to a cause or limited-release beer.
“I want to bring art to spaces where women are not seen,” Very B. says about her work with the brewery, which not only includes the art for Loud and Clear, but also on several other cans as well as a limited-release bottle, Origin of Darkness, which featured the image of a snake inside of a woman’s head. Making it into the local beer aisle isn’t the only way Very B. is reaching the masses. The Polish-Canadian artist’s work can be found throughout Toronto, from garage doors to skate park ramps—all putting women front-and-center. According to Very B., “The woman on the beer can represents the idea of empowerment and being proud of one’s self.”
Following the success of the Loud and Clear—which also included a body positivity workshop that was replicated at the recent Beers With(out) Beards festival, an event celebrating women in craft beer—Collective Arts’ next label takeover is its most ambitious. Amplified Voices will take over every beer that is produced by the brewery for three months. The project, entirely curated by BIPOC artists and members of the beer industry, will showcase the work of dozens of different artists from the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities on 60 different cans. These cans will roll out early next year, but have already caused some hiccups.
“Even just with some of our messaging, we know we’ve lost some drinkers along the way who don’t like us having opinions, but we don’t see any other option,” Johnston says. “We are naive to think that one beer can is going to change a person’s point of view, but for us this is a continuum of telling the story.”
Despite this, Collective Arts is steadfast in its mission of creating a welcoming beer space that is signaled by every can. So far, that mission has proven successful, with the brewery rapidly expanding across Canada and the US. As of this week, the team is opening its new brewery and taproom in Toronto, complete with a painted facade by illustrator Ola Volo. “If your company is founded on creativity, inherent in that is social justice, diversity, inclusiveness,” Johnston says. “It’s really hard to drive creativity if you are lacking in any of those.”