Much like a musician who feels constrained by classical training at Berklee, it took Keith Shore several years to find his creative footing at not one but three different art schools: The Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Temple University’s Tyler School of Art, and the Art Institute of Boston, where the graphic designer/illustrator finally “buckled down enough to graduate.”
“College didn’t have much to do with where I’m at now,” explains Shore, who now runs Mikkeller’s restless, world renowned art department from his tree-lined backyard in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. “I just wasn’t focused; I think that’s because I didn’t have a clear direction on where I wanted to end up afterwards.”
That began to change in Shore’s junior year, when he did some drawings for Heckler and landed a summer internship that led to a design job at the cult skateboarding magazine. The position only lasted as long as the publication itself – another year – but it gave Shore enough confidence to pursue freelancing full-time, including merch for The Shins, several gallery shows, and midstream commissions for Marc Ecko’s music and culture magazine (Complex) and tailored but trendy fashion line (Cut & Sew).
While that may sound impressive on paper, it leaves out the less glamorous aspects of being your own boss, like what one does when the work dries up for a month (panic) or a reputable indie magazine offers to pay $35 for a half-page illustration that took an entire day to finish (sigh and/or shrug).
“When you get a job for a big name company,” explains Shore, “it creates an illusion that you must be doing well as an illustrator…. But that’s not always the case – the company may never hire you again and you may have nothing lined up following it. I never had an agent or a rep, so when things got slow, I’d find myself emailing art directors and begging for jobs.”
Maybe it’s because he didn’t know much about Mikkeller’s buzz-worthy back story at the time (“there was one lonely bottle at my local shop,” he says) but Shore didn't beg Mikkel Borg Bjergsø for a gig when they met at a tasting event in Philadelphia seven years ago. Over the course of their short but inspiring conversation, the pair came off as kindred souls, determined to change just how much craft beer’s complex recipes stood in stark contrast to its staid branding campaigns.
“It was like companies followed a formula of what they thought a beer label ‘should be’,” says Shore. “When I first started, I couldn’t name one artist; I’m not sure anyone could. Now people collect the work of people like Karl Grandin (Omnipollo), Josh Cockrell (Jester King), and Colin Healey (Prairie). It’s super rad to see.”
The same goes for Shore’s own dynamic line drawings, which channel his love of everything from fine-art phenoms (David Hockney, Philip Guston) to iconic pop figures (Garbage Pail Kids, Peanuts). Over the course of his seven years with the Danish company (the last four of which have been full-time), the Philly native has turned his colorful, wildly contorted Henry and Sally characters into industry-wide icons. Not just on Mikkeller’s instantly recognizable bottles and cans, either; Bjergsø’s steady DIY-or-die direction has led to brick-and-mortar locations throughout Europe, Asia, and the U.S.
“When I started,” says Shore, “we owned only one bar. Now we have 32 around the world. I used to only work on labels, and I spent many days on just one. Now I do branding, merch, and well over 150 labels each year.”
"Keith has created a visual world for Mikkeller like no one else in the industry," adds Bjergsø. "It's not only about the label and the beer; it's also about giving customers a new experience that beer could not give before. Both with the designs of the products and our locations, merchandise, etc."
Mikkeller is also trying to recognize the artistic side of the beer renaissance via its newly opened online Editions shop of limited, hand-numbered prints and inevitable collectible items like vinyl toys and plush dolls.
But first there's the pressing issue of Shore’s most high profile project yet: Citi Field. In case you’re not much of an MLB fan, that’s the home of the New York Mets and what’ll soon be Mikkeller’s first East Coast brewpub, a 10,000-square-foot marketing opportunity that’ll benefit from year-round hours and placement in a non-ticketed corner of the stadium. (In other words, you don’t have to buy tickets to today’s game to try its latest twisted lambic, stout, or IPA.)
“The stadium is a big focus right now,” explains Shore. “We have a lot of exciting plans and projects for that space. Walking on the empty field, and finding out that I’ll be doing beer designs for the [NHL] Winter Classic game [between the Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers] was very surreal. I’m a huge hockey fan…. My job is pretty rad.”