Early on Grains of Wrath Brewing established a punk rock/metal aesthetic evident in the stark black and white logo and modern medieval brewpub. But until recently the Camas, Washington-based brewery had not found a consistent voice in their intermittent releases of 12oz and 16oz cans. Enter Herb Apon, a beer buyer for Loyal Legion beer hall that few knew has a background as a cartoonist. Under Apon’s new designs, Grains of Wrath is expanding their lineup to feature more evocative characters, creatures and fantastical elements.
Herb Apon has been working in the beer industry for some time now, formerly at Uptown Market before he helped open Loyal Legion, directing their beer program as well as Mikkeller Brewing’s PDX spot. Few people know of Apon’s artistic background that includes 30 years of illustration work including Rose Festival parade floats and comic book covers. But Apon’s beer work has really only been on display through his SNACKDOWN poster illustrations until now.
In 2015 Mike Hunsaker had just moved to Portland as the head brewer for Fat Head’s Brewing. Around the same time Herb Apon was opening the new Loyal Legion beer hall where he purchased some of Hunsaker’s beer. The two met over exchanged pints and kegs before Hunsaker would break out to open Grains of Wrath Brewing and years before he would learn Apon was an illustrator.
“I really don’t do as much as I’d like anymore,” says Apon about his illustration work. “Loyal Legion takes up a lot of my time, but I do miss it when I haven’t been artistic for a while. That’s why working with GOW on their labels has been such a win/win, it’s a great meeting of my two worlds, I get to work with a great local business in the beer industry, and be creative, and I’m proud of both.”
Unless you followed Apon on his personal instagram page @herbaponatime you might not have any idea of his drawing skills. Apon’s thick bold and energetic line work has a quality reminiscent of Mike Mignola, Apon’s regular subjects range from Batman villains and Marvel heroes to darker fantasy creatures like Cthulu. Apon helped start Drink & Draw sessions at Mikkeller Portland and was sharing his character sketches on social media when they caught the eye of Grains of Wrath.
“I started seeing some of the art he had displayed on his IG page,” says Mike Hunsaker. “It immediately struck a chord with me and how I wanted the feel of our artwork to go. So I figured, what the hell, and reached out to see if he had any interest in working with us.”
Grains of Wrath was a hit with craft beer fans from the beginning, but they struggled to get on the same page with label artists and designers. That resulted in an inconsistency in their canned beer release designs and Hunsaker was looking for a more cohesive lineup.
“GOW had some nice labels, but the style was kind of all over the place, moving forward, Mike really wanted to create an overall style and look for the brand,” says Apon. “I’d call it a Lo-Fi style, Mike didn’t want them to be slick, of over-processed. I’m not inking or turning the images into vectors, just gritty pencils and colors.”
The three labels that Apon has illustrated so far for Grains of Wrath have elements of Manga fantasy comic art and post-apocalyptic imagery.
EGA IPA is the first beer label that Apon designed for Grains of Wrath and it’s depiction of a badass bulldog as a marine immediately stood out from the others. EGA had previously been released in cans, but the new artwork came out along with a freshened up recipe for the beer that Hunsaker was excited about. The following two can designs showcase a division of GOW series of beer into white background labels for lagers and black for ales.
Today, Thursday June 25th, Grains of Wrath drops cans of Frost Hammer Helles Lager and Pandemic Hazy IPA, both with new labels by Apon.
Frost Hammer has been an award-winning draft-only beer for Grains of Wrath, picking up a Gold Medal at the 2019 Best of Craft Beer Awards for it’s traditional low abv 4.5% and spicy floral noble hops. With it’s first canning run, Apon has went for a middle earth meets Ice king battle hammer to depict the badass lager beer.
Pandemic Hazy IPA is a beer with a name that is well suited for our times. It’s also been released before in cans but with a zombie nurse illustration, now it’s been updated with a gas masked zombified soldier you’d expect to see in the Walking Dead. Pandemic IPA also has the distinction of being one of GOW’s only hazy IPA’s, showcasing Vic’s Secret, Waimea, El Dorado, and Nelson Sauvin hops. Not to mention that dark animated style that Apon brings to the table.
“I like that our branding has a little more edge than most in this market and we wanted to have the artwork match,” says Hunsaker.
The collaboration of creative energy will continue into new cans and merchandise with the adult comic book tone that Apon and Grains of Wrath are establishing.
Founder of The New School and most frequent contributor Ezra Johnson-Greenough has worked in the craft beer industry for almost 10 years, doing everything from illustrating beer labels to bartending at renowned beer bars and breweries like Belmont Station, Apex, Laurelwood and Upright Brewing. He has also had a hand in creating events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, Portland Beer Week, and the Brewing up Cocktails series. He is available for freelance consultation in marketing, events, graphic design and branding.