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Meet the Man Who Brings Rogue's Wild Beer Labels to Life

August 24, 2018

By Nilina Mason-Campbell, August 24, 2018

Exotic animals are difficult to spot in the wild, but when it comes to Rogue Ales & Spirits, you don’t need binoculars—just a penchant for beer. The brewery’s exuberant labels feature a variety of illustrations, many of which include an assortment of quirky animals drawn by graphic designer Evan Bartholomew. Thanks to him, a wave of blue fish adorns the Oregon Coast Aquarium 25th Anniversary Ale; a revolutionary, beret-wearing gorilla decorates bottles of Voodoo Doughnut Grape Guerrilla; and a blissed-out sloth offers drinkers pint on bottles of Kulture Klash, an imperial blonde ale blended with kombucha.

A cluster of bottles rests atop a filing cabinet next to Bartholomew’s standing desk, where he brings them to life with the help of Adobe Illustrator and a Wacom tablet. Over the span of nearly three years, he’s made up one half of Rogue’s two-person graphic design team.

“We do everything internally and externally that you see, basically,” he says of the in-house team. Beyond bottle labels, the designers create menus for Rogue’s assorted pubs, signage, sales presentation assets, additional packaging and merchandise. An avid soccer fan, Bartholomew designed a special jersey that debuted at Rogue pubs and for sale online during the World Cup earlier this year.

Bartholomew admits he wasn’t much of a beer connoisseur before starting at Rogue, which presented a major learning curve in his current position. “I’ve always liked beer, but I wasn’t very knowledgeable about it or anything like styles, even just terminology and vocabulary,” he says. Incorporating the ingredients, tasting notes and descriptions of each ale into his designs helped him to expand his understanding of beer.

“[For] people that know me from growing up, it’s no surprise that I’m doing what I’m doing,” Bartholomew says. Nevertheless, his career trajectory was anything but a straight line to Rogue. He designed shirts and illustrated a children’s book while he attended University of Oregon, pursuing a degree in Romance Languages with a minor in business. A friend convinced him to enroll in a digital arts course, but he graduated without completing the program. Yet drawing remained a constant. After college, he worked at a bilingual school while pulling double-duty doing design work for yearbooks. It wasn’t until a friend clued him into an open position at Rogue that he made the switch to full-time designer.

When Bartholomew began at Rogue, his work was more focused on military labels and charity tie-ins, such as a label design for Redd's Ale in support of the nonprofit Project Pooch. “I started with those and sort of worked my way up to stuff that was really going to be on the shelf.” His first design for retail was part of the brewery’s collaboration with Voodoo Doughnut and its now-iconic Pepto-pink bottles.

At some point, it just has to go out. You can’t tweak it forever.”

“I still remember going to Fred Meyer and seeing it there,” he says, recalling his first sighting of Grape Guerrilla in the wilds of the grocery store aisle. “Not going there to find it, but turning and just seeing it and going, ‘That’s mine’!” The novelty of that experience has yet to fade, and it’s only encouraged him to push the limits of his designs. “It makes me even more determined to get it right or get it to a point where I’m happy with [it], because there is that pressure that this is going to be out in the world.”

Like any designer, Bartholomew is a bit of a perfectionist, but he’s had to adjust to the demands of quick turnarounds. “At some point, it just has to go out. You can’t tweak it forever.” At the same time, a label’s timeline from sketch to shelf can last as long as a year, but Bartholomew is often working on a half a dozen at once.

Even with the breathing room of several months for a label, the job is fast-paced. “You really have to get going, you can’t wait around for the creative idea to hit you, you have to instigate it yourself,” he says, likening the process to overcoming writer’s block. “Sometimes you just have to force yourself to start and go with your first idea and then you at least have something to work off of and change.” At times, that change can involve just scrapping it altogether, while at other times the first direction remains the right direction.

Bartholomew concedes that adapting his style to suit the established branding of Rogue was a big consideration for him, especially when he first started. “Definitely in the beginning, that was very much on my mind and trying to fit how Rogue already looked. It’s been over two-and-a-half years now. I’ve been able to kind of make my own mark. With the small team, I have a lot of creative freedom, so I can do my thing, pitch it and if people like it, then it’s sort of great.”

Before arriving at Rogue, Bartholomew would often choose a bottle based on how it looked. Consumers now frequently tell the brewery the same thing about the labels Bartholomew creates—most recently, his electric rendering of a feisty wombat for the seasonal Combat Wombat blood orange and grapefruit IPA. He regards that full-circle feedback as an accomplishment, and it continues to push him forward to hone his craft and evolve his technique.

“I’m kind of still developing my illustration style,” he reflects. “I think all artists are constantly changing and honing in on what their style is, or their look. I’m definitely still in that process, but I’m pretty happy with what I’m able to do."

Rogue Ales & Spirits is one of 90+ breweries pouring beer at OctFest, an international beer and music festival in New York City on September 8 and 9. Tickets are on sale now.

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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