Pop open a cold one! It’s time to celebrate the long and storied love affair between skateboarding and beer. Yes, brewskies. Skateboarders have enjoyed their suds ever since the early days of riding, and skateboard brands and pro riders have professed their affection for barley juice throughout the years.
There’s been a constant flow of beer-inspired board graphics, with prominent examples including the Titus Marc Lorenz model, Schmitt Stix Steve Douglas beer label model, Cliché Beer Cruiser, Girl Skateboards beer tap series, Stereo ‘Wish You Were Beer’ Kyle Leeper model, Santa Cruz x Pabst Blue Ribbon series, Happy Hour Beer Cruiser, DGK Marquise Henry model, and many, many more. Let’s not forget entire brands devoted to oat soda pride, like Beer City Skateboards or special projects like the 2018 HUF x Budweiser capsule collection of socks, hoodies, and cool ‘Hufweiser’ accessories.
But here’s a new twist: Instead of putting beer graphics on skateboards and apparel, how about putting skateboard graphics on beer bottles?
For the ultimate combination of skateboard graphics and beer – in a product you can actually drink(!) – look no further than the Instagram account of home brewing label Big Brauther. Under the motto ‘Home brewing is not a crime’, it showcases small batch ales dedicated to iconic pro model board graphics from the glorious 1980s and 1990s.
Jeremy Klein’s IPA featuring the infamous ‘Dream Girl’ graphic? Gonz and Frankie Hill IPAs? A Psycho Stix pale ale? And a Session IPA in Rodney Mullen’s timeless ‘King of Rock’ motif? You don’t have to be wearing your beer goggles to be smitten with the wit and originality of these libations.
SKATEBOARD DIY MEETS HOME BREWING
The brewmaster behind Big Brauther is Axel Bourg, skateboarder, graphic design wizard and boardsports industry insider. These days, Axel applies his design chops as a full-time graphic designer for Salomon Snowboards in Annecy, France, but he’s actually been part of the boardsports circus since the naughty nineties.
His ongoing journey started by learning the fundamentals of graphic design from the art director at original European skate brand Cliché Skateboards while helping on his friends’ skate clothing label 7TB4 in the late 1990s. This was followed by branding and design work as part of the core team of European skateboard shoes label LINK Footwear in Lyon with long-time friends and pro skaters Al Boglio and Jeremy Daclin.
Fast-forward to 2015, when Axel decided to learn the art of home brewing – and instantly became hooked. The rest is history in the making: Applying a healthy dose of skateboard DIY spirit, he set up his own home brewing workshop at his house and has been dreaming up skate-approved suds ever since.
With that said, settle down with a cold beverage of your choice as we explore the story behind the world’s most shredding beer label.
Please give a short overview of your background in skateboarding?
My name is Axel Bourg, but my nickname is Baouimb, and I started skating 32 years ago. At the time I was living in Annemasse, France, a city close to Geneva in Switzerland. There was a cool scene there at the time. I started with a supermarket skateboard, the brand was Holy Sport. And then I quickly bought my first real board from a friend, second hand.
Everyone remembers their first ‘real’ deck, what was yours?
It was a Sims Eric Nash, with the Mexican graphic. The guy who sold me that board left me only 5 or 6 centimeters of tail, but I was psyched. And I was always attracted by all the graphics and can still tell you which boards my friends were riding back then. I was definitely in love with skateboarding.
Where did you skate during the early Nineties, which are obviously a big inspiration for your brewing operation?
I grew up skateboarding in Geneva, Switzerland. That city is a crazy playground full of spots. The local shop during the early Nineties was called Wind Service and they had the coolest stuff. I saw my first video premieres there and they had a cool team doing demos in front of the shop.
Were you down with tech skating and the whole baggy clothing trend at the time?
Swiss skaters were on point with their style, so I always followed all the trends during the Nineties. There was a distributor called BRAZIL, who was dealing with all the coolest brands. We were really into Blind, World [Industries], 101, Plan B, Real, New Deal and all that. Plus, we had the chance to meet lots of pros who were stopping by Geneva for street demos. This is the era of skating that was the coolest for me and all my beer labels are from those good old days.
Speaking of beer labels, what came first – your love for skateboarding or beer?
I started to skate when I was ten, so way before I discovered beers (laughs).
I know you have been working in the industry for some time, including graphics for Link Footwear. What is your professional background and experience?
After school I started working and hated what I was doing. So I quit and followed some friends who were starting a skate wear brand. It was called 7TB4. Jeremy Daclin, who started Cliché one or two years before, gave them some space in his building in Lyon. I was playing with Illustrator and Photoshop, sitting with the graphic designer at Cliché to learn some stuff. I knew that would be my new passion.
I then got a job developing a skateboard brand at Salomon/adidas, but instead of developing their own technical products they ended up acquiring Cliché. At the time, skate shoe companies were big, and Salomon knew how to make shoes, so they decided to create a skate shoe company with the help of Adidas and Cliché. They asked me if I wanted to be part of this project as the brand’s graphic designer. Of course I accepted.
What were your responsibilities?
I brought on my friend Jacques Bertholon, a Parisian skateboard legend who was just finishing design school. We found the name of the brand together. We called it LINK Footwear and moved the operation to Lyon, into the new place that Cliché just bought. I was working with Jeremy Daclin, Al Boglio (marketing), Jacques (design), and Brett Margaritis (team manager).
One thing I still remember is the ad campaign announcing the brand without revealing the shoes.
Yes, we had more than a year before the launch of the brand, so we put some ads in the magazines as a sort of teaser with our team riders without shoes. I had this idea to make a blue neon logo and to shoot riders in the dark. The ads came out cool.
The team was also stacked with heavy hitters, do you still recall who was on LINK at the time?
The OG team was JB Gillet, Marcus McBride and Cale Nuske in the beginning. They were all in the ads wearing blue standing with socks holding the neon sign. After that Lucas Puig, Andrew Brophy and Alex Moul joined the team.
I was always attracted by all the graphics and can still tell you which boards my friends were riding back then. I was definitely in love with skateboarding.
HOME BREWING IS NOT A CRIME
Let’s talk about beer, Axel. Growing up in Europe, what got you into all the hop-heavy kind of ales like IPAs and pale ales?
I discovered hoppy beers at Cliché, thanks to Al Boglio who was importing Coopers Pale Ale from Australia for the Friday after work drinking sessions. After that, I was always trying to find good beers everywhere. I was fed up with all the shitty beers you can find in the bars in France, which is still the case 15 years later. So I just started buying beer bottles in the specialty beer shops.
The whole specialty beer thing is definitely a scene of its own. When did you decide to get into brewing and create skate-themed labels for your brews?
For Christmas my girlfriend offered me a to do a brew training for a day, with a passionate Belgian lady who runs a brewery called Artmalté in Annecy. Every Saturday, she teaches people how to brew beers. That’s how I ended up there with two friends. We made an IPA together and called it ‘Primo’. We were all skateboarders, so the label was the ‘Big 1’ from the Spitfire wheels logo with a tie-dyed background. So the very first brew was immediately linked to skateboarding.
Did that first taste make you thirsty for more?
For sure. Three weeks afterwards, I celebrated my birthday at the same brewery and my friends organized a money pot for me to buy brewing equipment. I was like, ‘F@#k, if I’d known about this, I would have listened more during the training session.’ Because we were chilling pretty hard during that day (laughs). But I still went ahead and bought everything and started to brew my own beers.
How did you come up with the name Big Brauther?
During the fermentation process, I was thinking about a name and I decided to call it Big Brauther. ‘Brau’ means brew in German and the name was a tribute to the coolest skateboard magazine of the 1990s, Big Brother. The first label was a collage of skate stickers all over the label. The names of the first beers were ‘Neil Blender IPA’ and ‘Hosoi’s Pale Ale’.
I was fed up with all the shitty beers you can find in the bars in France, which is still the case 15 years later. So I just started buying beer bottles in the specialty beer shops.
CHEERS TO THE 1990s
It seems like a lot of your beer names and labels are inspired by the glorious 1980s and 1990s. What’s the connection?
There is no real connection. It’s just that for me these were the best years in terms of graphics and in terms of skateboarding. I can’t explain it. I was really young and i was dreaming about all these graphics. When I release a new label with a legendary graphic, it’s like I finally have the board. I’m super excited to open a Psycho Stix beer or a Jeremy Klein Dream Girl.
When you create a batch of new brews, how many bottles do you usually make?
It’s really small, I don’t sell my beers. It’s just to share with friends, so I make only 70 bottles every time, which is enough for me and my friends. Actually, no it’s never enough (laughs).
So does every new beer taste differently?
Every label is a different recipe. Since I don’t sell the beers, I don’t need to be consistent. And I don’t want to be consistent. I try to do something different every time and it’s always a surprise when I open a new beer. I’m always super stressed because if it’s not good, I have to drink 60 bad beers alone (laughs).
Are the finished bottles strictly for the homies or commercially available?
For the homies only but every old-school passionate skateboarder these days is welcome at the brewery.
How do you come up with recipes and what styles of beers do you prefer?
I mainly make IPAs and pale ales. It’s the style I like the most, but all my beers are different, from a classic pale ale to a New England IPA. In the beginning I was looking on the web for recipes of beers that I like the most. I remember trying to clone Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Mikkeller IPA beers.
But then you figured out your own steeze?
Now I know how it works so all my recipes are mine. I know the hops that I like the most and the malt combos that work well. Sometimes it comes out good, sometimes not so good. But in general, everybody likes it.
I try to do something different every time and it’s always a surprise when I open a new beer. I’m always super stressed because if it’s not good, I have to drink 60 bad beers alone.
POPPING OFF ON INSTAGRAM
Regardless of the contents, your beer bottles sure look amazing on Insta. What was the inspiration for your social account?
In the beginning, I was posting my beer pictures on my personal Instagram. Then my friend Baptiste told me to create an Instagram account just for Big Brauther. So I created this account where I post only beer and skate-related pics.
What has the response been like since you started your Instagram?
It’s funny, sometimes my posts resonate with beer addict guys and they comment about the beer and the recipe. And sometimes it’s old skateboarders who speak about the graphic. They’ll say they had this or that board back in the day. In general, old skateboarders like beers, so it’s the perfect combo… Good beers with old graphics on the labels.
Do people ever hit you up on direct message?
I think the most messages I receive on my Instagram are from people who want to find my beers. I’m always sad to say that this is not a real brand and that you can’t find it anywhere else, other than my place.
Have you been approached by some of the pro skaters whose graphics are featured on your bottles?
I think the first pro who reacted to my pictures was Rudy Johnson. I was psyched. My main logo, I mean the graphic I use the most, is Sylvester the Cat, which was on Rudy’s pro model for Blind Skateboards. He said that it was cool and he wanted some bottles. Then Cab (Steve Caballero), Frankie Hill, Jeremy Klein, Shiloh Greathouse, Daewon [Song] and Dune (Chris Pastras) all started to like some posts and make comments with positive vibes. That’s Instagram’s magic (laughs)!
And did you manage to hook them up with actual brews?
I’ve always wanted to send bottles to the pros when I use one of their graphics. But it’s complicated to send it from France to the U.S. Last month, I took a trip to the U.S. and brought some bottles in my luggage and sent them from to Chris Pastras, Shiloh and Jeremy Klein.
Chris received it and posted a photo on his Instagram. I was like a kid. It’s like a full circle. But I wasn’t surprised because Chris seems to be a really cool guy. I’m still waiting for Shiloh and Jeremy’s posts (laughs). Just kiddin’!
In general, old skateboarders like beers, so it’s the perfect combo… Good beers with old graphics on the labels.
THE OFFICIAL BIG BRAUTHER TOP 5
Please list your top 5 beer creations so far and explain what the beer is like and why you chose the graphic and name?
Sure, but one thing I want to say first is: When I taste a beer for the first time and the taste is not what I expected – and I planned to use a killer graphic – I change the graphic to something else. A graphic I like less. Okay, so here we go with the Top 5:
#1 Jason Lee ‘Cat in the Hat’
This beer was a brewing collab with four friends and the result was really, really good. It was a really hoppy double IPA, and I love this graphic.
#2 Jeremy Klein ‘Dream Girl’
The beer is a cool hoppy IPA but this is the label I like the most. It’s one of my favorite graphics for sure.
#3 ‘F@#ked Up Blind Kids Series
I love that board series and still have the stickers, plus I have the hand boards. High Guy’s board is signed by Mariano himself. When I had the idea to use this series for a beer label, I wanted to make four different recipes. But I wanted to release them at the same time. So I brewed two batches of beers in one day and split the beers to put some different hops in to end up with four different tastes.
#4 Dan Peterka ‘Charlie Brown’
I never had that board and I remember I really wanted it, at least the Charlie Brown tee. This graphic reminds me of a cool period in terms of skateboarding with pressure flips and so on.
#5 Steve Caballero ‘Dragon’
After using tons of Marc McKee graphics – McKee is the boss, by the way – I used this classic Powell graphic. It reminded me of when I started to skate and the dragon fit really well on a label. And guess what… the beer was delicious!
That’s a tight list. Finally, which graphics elicit the most engagement on social media?
The graphics I got the most comments from are the classic graphics like Frankie Hill, Cab, Psycho Stix. I think that touches more people than the Blind/World Industries days.
It’s especially touching after a few brewskies. Thanks for the interview and all the amazing memories, Axel.
Thank you. I had to make beers to have an interview! I never had one when i was a skateboarder (laughs).