Dan Endicott, along with his partner, Gerard Olson, have been serving up brilliant renditions of traditional-style beers for the past two years at Forest & Main in Ambler. Dan is responsible for the British-style offerings, while Gerard handles the Belgians. The beer is beautiful, but I’ve recently become more intrigued with the traditional and artistic, yet mysterious label art on their limited-release bottles. Dan and I met at Alla Spina to put back some tasty beers and chat about the stories behind the labels, the parallels between art and beer, and the magical moments of alone time.
Brasserie de la Senne Taras Boulba Belgian Pale Ale- 4.5%
Dan: The first time I had this beer was at Monk’s. Its label caught my eye from behind the bar. I didn’t know anything about it, but the label struck me, so I inquired further. The bartender described it to me as a hoppy saison, and I was sold. It’s an awesome beer from top to bottom. This is my first time having it on tap. It’s got a nice chalky hoppiness to it that I love, and isn’t over-the-top in alcohol content.
Jon: You make traditional-style ales with deep-rooted history. The artwork on your bottles is untouched by anything digital (other than scanning). The brewpub sits in a hardly refurbished, historic Victorian house. I’m sensing a common theme of traditionalism here.
Totally! It’s all very intentional. So much of that is who I am and where I’ve come from. I went to school at Tyler and took up glass blowing and painting—two very traditional techniques. I’ve always been into history and learning about how things are produced. Brewing beer goes right along with that in many respects. And then we lucked out in finding the perfect building that fit the vision that we had. We are very genuine folks who, therefore, wanted to create something genuine.
In late 2009, you attended England’s University of Sunderland to study brewing. Aside from all of the beer knowledge that you brought back with you, what there influenced you from an artistic standpoint?
I got a sense aesthetically for what a bar/tavern could be. The culture was just so different from that of American bars, which I was never a huge fan of. It totally revolutionized my thoughts—they didn’t just have to be places to get drunk. It all really influenced the design of our pub.
The “oldness” of Europe really inspired me. I just have a huge love of anything old-looking. I’m drawn to traditional methods of typography and lettering. A lot of people used fountain pens there, which gives words more life—it follows the natural flow and movement of a hand. You’ll see a lot of this consistently in our bottle label art.
Tell me a bit about the environment that you like to set for yourself when creating the artwork for the bottles. What gets you in the zone?
Well, extra space at the brewpub is at a premium. Our office is probably about 12’x12’ including a huge exhaust cap coming through from the hoods of the kitchen. Recently, I turned one of our closets into what I call “the art department.” It’s literally a chair and a 2’ long table. It’s a closet. a beer and art juxtaposition.
I can totally envision this room as a scene on one of your bottle labels.
Ha! It probably will end up on one someday. I decorated it with a bunch of random old shit that we’ve found and I also painted the walls. Even though it’s the tiniest area in the world, it’s become a very zen place for me. I know it sounds ridiculous, but it really provides me with a place to get away from the restaurant for a little bit and be able to focus on what I’m creating. Yet, I’m still in the pub, which helps me channel the vibe that I’m trying to capture. You would think that it’s the most incorrect atmosphere to be doing any artwork, but the combination of all the elements, for me, just kinda makes everything happen.
Amiata Contessa Sour cask conditioned pale ale w/American hops – 7.5%
I’ve heard of this one, but never had it. You can definitely smell the American hops. It’s got a nice level of funkiness, which merges well. Sour beers are slowly growing on me, mainly due to Gerard making such awesome ones at our pub. So, this is balanced really well to my taste. There’s a lot more to this beer than just a sour kick.
The label imagery on your bottles seem to mimic the unique physical space of your brewpub—creaky and spare, yet magical and otherworldly. The characters
all seem very at home. Explain.
Well, first off, most of the depicted environments are actually set in or around the pub. However, there is some mythology behind the F&M building. Shortly after we acquired it, we decided to hire a Reiki Master to assess the space for non-living beings and cleanse it of any bad vibes. We found that there are still some “characters” living in the building, and, well… some of them have found their way onto our labels! But before anyone gets freaked out, let me assure you that it was confirmed that they are all happy and OK with us being here! I don’t want this revelation to be bad for business (laughs). So even though the spirits were “cleared,” I like to imagine them as still residing here, although blissfully serene and enjoying the convenient brewpub that they have access to after-hours.
All of the characters seem to be cutting loose in their own way. I get a feeling of a sense of relief after a day of struggle. How important is it to be able to allow a good beer to relax the mind and free the body?
The solo character has been a common vein in my artwork for as long as I can remember. That definitely comes from me being the quiet and slightly introverted-type that I am. However, as social as beer is, there is something very special in being able to enjoy a great beer by yourself. It’s hugely important to be able to relish those types of moments, with whatever sort of release it may be. Especially if you’re fresh off of a stressful day, a bad date or a draining work shift. It’s that amazing sense of relief—your leveler. Like a child and its blanket. Everything just gets better once it hits their hands. Same for these characters and their bottle of beer.
The characters on all of your labels own a whimsy that is very reminiscent of a family in a Wes Anderson film. I can picture any of his characters pouring a bottle of St. Mary’s Reserve in a very deadpan fashion. With that being said, what are some of the stories behind these characters?
First off, that’s a huge compliment. I’m a big fan of Wes Anderson’s films. I can watch The Royal Tenenbaums any day of the year. And now that I think about it, wow—so many of the characters in those movies have their “special place,” just like ours do! Those are their levelers.
The Lunaire label art has a good story. When the Reiki Masters checked the basement, they told us that there was a troll living down there. He’d been there forever and bothering people for years. When we acquired the building, it had been vacant for quite awhile. In the basement, there was this thin ray of light that came in through a tiny ground-level window. It would shine on a corner of the basement for maybe an hour or two a day. And in that spot…there were these weeds growing. I found them beautiful…in an odd way. So I envisioned them as the troll’s. The bottle label depicts him watering and caring for them.
Then there’s the lady on the Solaire label—she lives up in the attic and she’s gone a little crazy from Mercury poisoning. But she still loves her good beer. The Palomino horse is the asshole partyanimal sibling of the family. And that’s partially why he spends most of his time on the moon.
I’ve noticed some recurring elements in many of the labels— a creaky old chair, a chalice, and red book. What book is it?
It’s less of a precise thing and more of a general symbolic feeling. It’s not so much a specific book, but more so the idea of a book— an object that you only ever enjoy by yourself. Same with the chair —it’s a chair for one person. A book for one person. It goes back to those special individual moments. But if you ask Gerard about the book, he’d probably give you a completely different explanation. And that’s the beauty of art—at the end of the day, the book is whatever anyone wants it to be.
Brewfist/Beer Here Caterpillar Rye Pale Ale w/New Zealand Hops – 7.5%
Not at all what I expected, but…it’s not bad. Similar characteristics to the first beer, but not as hoppy. The rye creeps in towards the end. I don’t really pick out the New Zealand hops at all. Pretty middle-of-the-road.
You implement various techniques in the brewing process to make the special beer that you do. Artists use many techniques to create their artwork such as color mixing, brush strokes, etc. The producer has his vision in mind. But when the product is released to the public, the consumer now has the freedom to make their own interpretation. How do you prepare for this when creating a beer?
I think ideally that every good beer is a moment. Because if it’s not a moment, then it’s not a good beer. But we’re not purposely brewing beers so we can instill reactions in someone.
There’s a certain vocabulary that you use to speak about the two. But I think the best beer and the best art defies vocabulary. You can say, “Oh wow, I like that painting.” Or, “Oh, this beer is great.” But those words still fall way short of that beautiful personal moment that only you are feeling. Words just can’t do it any justice. Everyone gets to create his or her own special moment.
Our goal isn’t to paint a perfect picture—“This is exactly how you’ll feel when you drink this beer.” We just want to create something that allows you to have a beautiful moment with the beer, and interpret it how you like based off of that. And that’s what is cool about this all. As we always said in art school—any reaction is better than no reaction.
Many of your English-style ales are best served at cellar temperature because it brings out subtle fla vors in the way they were meant to be experienced. Your average beer drinker may be offended or taken aback if they were expecting their first sip to be ice cold. They may love the taste of it, but care less about the process that went into making and serving it. The same can be said for many types of art, especially of the abstract variety. What’s your take on liking something just because you like it, versus it being necessary to understand what it is that you are liking?
People may not understand abstract art, but they love it because it looks cool. On the other hand, certain people might not understand a barrel-aged beer that has Brettanomyces in it, but they love it. I really enjoy this parallel between the two where you don’t necessarily need to understand either one—you’re human and you love it. It gets a great reaction out of you. It triggers your sense of pleasure. It’s a beautiful thing.