By Dustin Gouker
For the Oregon Beer Growler
For fans of Deschutes Brewery, the release of its holiday beer — Jubelale — is one of the highlights of the craft brewing calendar.
That’s not just because the winter ale is one of the seasonal favorites of beer lovers in Oregon and beyond. Each year also brings a new piece of original artwork from a local artist, which adorns Jubelale’s label and packaging, a tradition that dates back to 1995. Anyone who has taken a tour of the Bend brewery has seen the Jubelale art commissioned by Deschutes on display in its main offices.
That artwork usually depicts a winter or holiday scene in a fairly traditional manner. But this year, Deschutes went in a totally different direction with an abstract take on “winter” from Bend artist Karen Ruane. She specializes in a fine art technique called marbling, first developed in East Asia more than a millennium ago. Marbling consists of paints being floated upon a viscous surface; the artist then spreads and manipulates the paint to create intricate designs before a contact print is taken.
“The process of marbling is mesmerizing,” Ruane said, recounting how she took up the art form about five years ago after observing an artist at a street fair in California. “For me, it is about taking this art form and pushing it to a place that I don’t see anyone else pushing it to.”
Ruane got the call for the Jubelale artwork by virtue of a happy accident. Last winter, a representative from Deschutes came to a co-working space in Bend co-founded by Ruane called The Wilds, which was home to a number of fine artists at the time. Ruane showed the rep, who was looking for art for a “special project,” around the various studios.
Ruane said she didn’t even intend to show her work, but they passed it on the way out the door. Deschutes fell in love with the idea of putting Ruane’s marbling artwork on the label, and the rest is history.
Ruane said she was mostly left to her own devices in creating her vision of winter, with one exception.
“They threw in the superstition that the amount of snow that you put on the Jubelale label is directly related to how much snow we’re going to get that season. And I didn’t want to let the entire city of Bend down,” Ruane said with a laugh.
The result is a piece that evokes the feeling of winter and snow, along with the warmth associated with the holiday season and drinking a winter ale.
You won’t see the entire piece in any of the Jubelale packaging, which just uses portions of the overarching artwork. The original piece is on display in the tasting room at Deschutes’ brewery.
Ruane said the reaction to her Jubelale artwork has been positive since the reveal and launch party at the Bend pub in October.
“I am still sort of processing it, the initial excitement when they picked me was amazing,” said Ruane, noting it was her first major commercial commission. “Then the elation turned into being curled up in a little ball on my couch for a couple weeks, like I got in over my head, how is this not going to be that label that everyone asks ‘What happened that year?’”
Despite Ruane’s worries, the result of her efforts was a beautiful and wholly different take on the Jubelale theme that will appear on shelves around Oregon and the country throughout the holiday season.
This Year’s Jubelale, at a Glance:
Brewer’s Description: Cocoa, dried fruit and toffee notes. A robust ale with a warming spice.
By Branden Andersen
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The winter warmer holds a special place in the beer industry’s heart. While old-world breweries celebrated the passing of seasons with spring beers like saison and Maibock, the American beer industry instantly grabbed onto the winter seasonal as its golden child for rotational styles.
It all started with Anchor Brewing, which released its first Christmas Ale in 1975. Label artist Jim Stitt has been designing the labels since that year, drawing a different tree for each edition ranging from a California palm to a Douglas fir.
“We’ve always believed handmade beer deserves a handmade label,” an Anchor representative said in a promotional video. “So rather than running to the computer, we run to our friend Jim Stitt, a wonderful illustrator and wonderful watercolorist.”
The idea, according to an Anchor press release, is to keep the labels changing just like the beer inside the bottle. Each year, the brewers work off of a caramel and toast malt base while adding a different combination of hops and spices that they refuse to disclose to the public.
Anchor set the pace for the hundreds of breweries that popped up in the years that followed. Local breweries now hold on to their winter seasonals and build releases around them. 10 Barrel hosts Pray for Snow parties across the state to celebrate the release of their beer. Hopworks Urban Brewery’s Abominable Winter Ale’s bright blue monster cans and tap handles are seen around bars as a celebration of the season.
Possibly the most recognized and revered winter release in Oregon comes from Deschutes Brewing. They’ve brewed and bottled their winter seasonal Jubelale since opening their doors in 1988, with different labels wrapping each bottle. From 1988 to 1995, Bend local Ed Carson designed wreaths for the labels, updating them once every two years.
“Deschutes Brewery owner and founder, Gary Fish, and our graphic designer at the time, Ed Carson, came up with the idea to celebrate the beer and the holiday season,” explained Deschutes digital marketing manager Jason Randles, “and I guess you could say the rest is history.”
While Carson oversaw the Jubelale art project until 2003, he handed off the art reins to local artists.
“As Gary Fish likes to say, ‘Jubelale packaging is all about the art,’” recounted Randles. “It’s a fun project that celebrates the craft of brewing and art and brings them together in a real unique and festive way.”
This year, Central Oregon transplant Taylor Rose found her way into the discussion for Jubelale’s 2015 label, and quickly made her way to the top of the list.
“I figured there was a huge wait list,” Rose said. “I was just reaching out to see what I had to do to be included. They brought me in and started talking about the project, and it turned out I got the job.”
Randles said that Deschutes prioritizes Central Oregon artists, tasking them to create winter-themed art.
“It was very hands-off,” Rose said. “I sketched up my idea and they told me to go for it.”
Rose said her inspiration came from her newfound love of fly-fishing. Since moving to Bend from New Hampshire, she has been inspired by all of the outdoor recreation that the area has to offer and she incorporated that into her work.
“A friend took me out to the Crooked River to go fishing,” Rose said. “We didn’t get anything that time, but just being in the environment, I loved it.”
The Jubelale label, titled “First Tracks First Cast,” is a tribute to that memory and how inspired she has been by the Central Oregon outdoors. She used her fantasy-like style to portray an outdoor scene of a couple with their dog preparing to cast into a fish-filled river.
“We like the detail, vibrancy and playfulness of her work,” Randles said about Rose. “We’re always looking for something different from the previous year, whether that be style, medium or subject matter.”
The original art, which is hanging in Deschutes Brewery’s tasting room, took roughly 80 hours from start to finish. Rose said it’s the biggest project she’s ever done, and admires Deschutes for giving artists the opportunity.
“How awesome is it that Deschutes does this,” Rose said. “They gave me total creative freedom and make it all about the artist.”
Rose got the whole royal treatment, including her picture on Deschutes press releases and a poster-signing party at the pub as the art was revealed. Suddenly, Rose said she was recognized by locals. Besides that, her art was placed all around town, on six-pack carriers and boxes in the beer aisle.
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