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48 Beer Project | Meet Label Artist Heidi Geist

48 Beer Project
Kailey Partin
Avg. Reading Time: 6 min

We all know the cliché, “don’t judge a book by its cover.” In theory, that advice can be applied to beer as well but yet, we all ignore that saying. In reality, the cover (or in the beer industry, the label) is what sells the first can or bottle, while the contents sell the following case and create loyalty. It would be foolish to think the package doesn’t matter. The design wrapped around the liquid tells the story of the product and the company.

Stories are the foundation of human experience and connection and Portland, ME based artist Heidi Geist has quite the story. She is in the midst of a cross-country endeavor to explore and experience the American craft beer culture through label art. I had a great conversation with her about the 48 Beer Project, how it got started, what she is experiencing and the works she creates.

PorchDrinking: What is the 48 Beer Project?

Heidi Geist: The 48 Beer Project is a cultural exploration of the craft beer industry and its whole world. I’m doing beer labels, one for one brewery in every state of the lower 48, but this is more the means to talk to people and to highlight all the positive changes and the positive impact that craft beer has had on the community, at least here in the US.

Taprooms are becoming this living room. But, for people of all walks of life, so you can have people from different political spectrums, religious, sexual orientation, race, whatever, hanging out and drinking a beer together, and not giving each other shit. Just enjoying making new relationships, enjoying the same thing, in the same place, at the same time, and everyone’s happy. That doesn’t go on anywhere else right now that I can think of. So yeah, I get to interview people and talk to people and hear about other people’s experiences. I talk to beer drinkers, what brought them into that brewery, I meet owners and brewers. Sometimes it has nothing to do with beer, but just getting to know the whole culture. The 48 Beer Project is my way to tell that story to the world.

How did you come up with this idea?

It was a combination of things. I was in a transition in my life where I had a nice art studio in Westbrook and was living with my mom and helping her after surgery and just needed to make some decisions because the studio lease was coming up. It was like, well, I can do what I do from anywhere, so maybe I can be more mobile. I started getting the idea to buy a van or something. It just snowballed into or evolved into this. I wanted to take making beer labels and make it a little bit more meaningful and engaging with the beer culture and the clients I was working for. It is still evolving.

When did you start this adventure?

I started planning it last February, so a year and a half almost. I hit the road in September from Portland, September 8, 2018. I’ve been on the road nine and a half months I think, which is kind of crazy.

Label Artist Heidi Geist's Bus Fearless
Fearless the Bus. It has broken down, but it is still in use as Heidi’s art studio.

What was it like converting a bus to a place of residence?

Oh, man, hell. No, it was amazing, but it was hard. I did it by myself all through the summer. It was hard working in such a tiny space and having never done anything like that before and trying to envision how to make it all work. But it’s so rewarding to put that kind of effort into something that’s yours, and you know every square inch of it.

Why did you decide to name the van Fearless?

Honestly, a whole lot of things. There were so many obstacles to get through to make this happen and dealing with the bus build and the physical exhaustion, and the injuries, and weird relationship issues. Then just the idea that whenever someone goes out and does some off the wall things, other people say things like, Uh I wish I could do that. You hear it a lot, and it’s like, well you can. It’s like finally taking a concept and making it a real thing, and not letting the fear of failure or success interfere and using those things as empowerment.

How many states do you have left?

Let’s see. I just wrapped up 33, so there are 15 left.

Trillium Headlong Label Art by Heidi Geist
48 Beer Project Label #4: Headlong from Trillium Brewing Company in M.A.

When are you hoping to complete the project?

I’ll be done with the travel part of it in two and a half months. It’ll be exactly a year; I’ll be back to Maine September 8, 2019. Then, after that, I will be getting into writing a book and organizing a big exhibition, which hopefully will be a multimedia, semi-interactive, exhibition.

What have you noticed about the craft beer industry during your journey?

A lot of things. That’s a huge part of doing all this sort of exploring on a small individual scale one on one with people, and then kind of taking a step back in looking at it as a whole. But you know, a lot is state to state. How do the laws around alcohol impact the brewery, which impacts what they’re making, which impacts who their customers are, the demographics? Who’s drinking beer? How do communities welcome, or not, breweries into their space? But specifically, it’s just interesting to see how trends change across the country, what’s popular where what’s changed.

Is there anything specific you’ve noticed?

Yeah. Well, definitely coming from Maine and the East Coast, where still the New England Hazy IPA is all the rage, it’s interesting, when you’re so immersed in that, to imagine that anywhere else in this country that wouldn’t be the case. But it’s not, or it is. Traveling around, there are places where that hasn’t even landed, or people don’t really know about it, and there are places where it has come and gone already, and people are kind of moving into other styles, even though that’s still a lot of what we hear about and read about in New England.

There are other things too. Moving out of bottles into cans, taprooms, the trends in taprooms and how everyone’s kind of getting on board with making it sort of family-centric with games and food offerings for everybody with events, trivia night, comedy night, live music, food trucks. It’s interesting to see how it’s kind of taken on its own personality, the beer industry as a whole. They’ve become more of a … what’s the right word? Like a destination, every weekend. What do you do? Go hang out at the taproom with your friends and family. Now it’s the new thing to do.

As for the labels that you’re creating, do you have a preferred medium that you like to use?

For the most part, I paint, but I do have a lot of layering, so sometimes I’ll do a pen ink line drawing and paint a background and layer it in digitally in Photoshop. I am not a digital artist, definitely still hand drawn or painted art.

Death is the New Life Label Art by Heidi Geist
48 Beer Project Label #10: Death is the New Life from Adroit Theory Brewing, VA

Where do you get your inspiration from for these pieces?

I was staying on site for three or four days sometimes at each brewery, where I could just kind of hang out, observe, talk to people, drink the beer, get to know the local area. I can’t really do as much of that now, but still the same idea of rolling in to town, meet the crew, see the space, try the beer, talk to customers, answer questions about the project, and just kind of get inspired by each space, and the personality of each brewery and its owners.

Everyone has its own energy, and I just kind of try to tap into that, and just kind of getting to know their designer’s usual aesthetic and style, and sort of finding where I fit into all that.

Have you found a bit of your own artistic exploration throughout this project?

Oh yeah. Yeah, it’s really forced me, because I’m working for so many different companies with their own branding and their own style, and their own personalities. That’s a huge challenge of trying to adapt each time, so it forces me to kind of push myself and find inspiration, and research, and step out of my comfort zone sometimes. Hopefully, I’ll have come out of all this a better artist than I ever went into it. If not, then I don’t know what the hell I’ve been doing. But yeah, for sure.

48 Beer Project #1 Odyssey from Allagash Brewing Company Label Art by Heidi Geist
48 Beer Project, Label #1: Odyssey from Allagash Brewing Company in Portland, ME

Since starting this adventure, I imagine you’re getting to drink a lot of pretty great beers. Do you have a favorite since you hit the road or a favorite style?

There are so many amazing breweries. That just depends on the mood and the weather, but I’m always a wild fermentation fan but also digging a great Helles. It just depends where I am and how I’m feeling.

Where can folks find more details on the 48 Beer Project?

The 48 Beer Project on Instagram is a process route, but also my website. I try to update with schedule and events, and there is a blog at diegeistart.com.

Feature images provided to PorchDrinking.com by Heidi Geist.


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