Toronto artist Dave Murray and Grolsch’s 400th anniversary

If you’ve been reading my beer-writing for a while, or following me on social media, you’ll know that I’m kind of nerdy about cool beer label art. Yes, it’s really just an extension of a brewery’s marketing and has little bearing on what’s in the container, but when it’s done right or when an effort is made to collaborate with local artists or produce a label that is unique, I really dig it.

A couple years back I wrote an “article” for blogTO featuring the art on Toronto’s breweries’ labels. That “article” may or may not have been an excuse to bring a whole bunch of beer up to my inlaws’ cottage, but it did allow me to learn a little more about the process some of our local brewers use to develop label art. Some, like Mill Street, were predictably not so exciting (a design team develops the labels. Effective, but not exactly riveting stuff). Others, like Bellwoods, Great Lakes, and Indie Alehouse, employ local artists to develop art that is an extension of their companies’ general philosophies. 
The “article” was also my first introduction to local artist Dave Murray

Murray lives in the Junction and his art adorns a few of Indie Alehouse’s labels (most recently he developed the killer label for Indie’s Couch Surfer IPA)–and, as it turns out, I actually owned two pieces of Murray’s art before I even met him (these neighbourhood posters). Since then I’ve seen Murray at virtually all of Indie Alehouse’s great monthly beer dinners.
And so when I recently received a press release from the PR company that represents Grolsch, talking about local artist Dave Murray and his art being used to help celebrate the company’s 400th birthday, I thought, “Hey, I know that guy!” so I reached out to ask him about what seemed like a pretty cool experience.
Murray was actually one of 400 people selected to come to Amsterdam to create art to pay tribute to Grolsch’s iconic swingtop bottle (which the folks at Grolsch actually invented) on canvas. The 400 artists spent four days together in a Dutch shipyard and, as is Dutch tradition, the last one alive was chosen the winner of the bloodbath/art competition known as Der Kuntsgreeper. 
OK, not really. Most of the participants lived. But Murray’s artwork was chosen as one of only nine works of art that are now featured on Gorlsch’s limited edition anniversary bottles and cans and a whole whack of advertising you’ve probably seen along the TTC.
I chatted with Murray about the experience via email.  
Ben’s Beer Blog: Was it a little weird creating art amongst 399 other artists? 
Dave Murray: Not at all. The over all breakdown of artists was something like 13 well-known Dutch artists, a group of 28 “International” artists from Grolsch’s major markets (among whom I was the only North American), and then groups of around 50 artists who were participating in the “contest” side of the program – they would paint for a 4 or 5 hour shift, and then switch with the next group.
The setting itself was amazing – Grolsch rented a HUGE abandoned ship-building hangar, and built a pretty cool workspace inside. It’s most likely the single biggest room I’ve ever been in – imagine a gutted NHL arena…just massive. The atmosphere of working amongst so many people is something I’m actually used to – my last year at Sheridan was similar: all of the illustration students were in one room. I actually quite like it – you’re able to kind of draw on the creative energy all around you, talk to people, walk around and see some amazing work in progress…pretty good stuff.

BBB: Did you have a lot of time to check out Amsterdam with the other artists when you weren’t painting? 
DM: I actually didn’t do a lot of sightseeing – mostly painting. I did, however, go out with one of the other artists and the film/interview crew from Vice UK the one night, which was fun. Afterwards, I realized I was really jet-lagged (having never been to Europe before, it was a new experience for me). I ended up at reggae party until about 4:30 am. I did manage a bit of time for myself on the Sunday. I rented a bike and rode around Amsterdam, and visited the Anne Frank House. The city itself is beautiful. I’d go back in a heartbeat.

BBB: Were you provided with unlimited beer while you worked for “inspiration?”
DM: I…drank a lot of Grolsch while I was there. We also tried a few different varieties of Grolsch, which I had no idea even existed – I think there were five different types – all pretty tasty.

BBB: There seems to be a trend toward less traditional art on beer labels (at least in craft beer where you’ve obviously had experience as well). Why do you think that is?
DM: I think it’s a good way for craft brewers to differentiate themselves from other beers – really put something eyecatching and different out there. With smaller beers, you don’t have to worry so much about creating something with the aim to please everyone, you’re much more free to push into more abstract/design heavy/weird/tasteful/tasteless/tasty areas. 
It seems like a pretty obvious move for the larger companies to start being a bit wilder in regards to artwork, for better or worse. You’d have to imagine they’ve seen the rise of craft beers and want to cash in a bit on the “cool” factor (which sometimes turns out a lot like “Poochie” from The Simpsons, or something stupid like an orange slice with a mohawk). 
That being said, the Grolsch program was actually done with some excellent intentions (according to me): there wasn’t any focus on corporate themes, or any weird posturing or pandering. We (the artists) showed up, they said “there’s your paints, canvases, and beer – go have fun”.
BBB: Sounds like a good time to me. How did this experience compare to the work you’ve done creating label art for the much much smaller Indie Alehouse?
DM: It was pretty similar, actually. We had total creative freedom, the only direction being the idea of the “hero” bottle. This was totally fine with me. I guess with the work I do fo Indie I can be a bit more abstract, but stylistically it’s all pretty similar.
BBB: Do you get free Grolsch for life now?
DM: Ha ha, I’ve definitely drank my fair share of Grolsch over the past year. They gave me a bunch of beer for my wedding last August, and on Thanksgiving I found one of those massive novelty-sized bottles at my door, which was awesome and funny. With the work I’ve been doing, and hopefully continue to do, I don’t think I’ll be getting thirsty any time soon.
For more information on the Grolsch anniversary project, visit For more information about Dave Murray’s work, check out

Join the conversation

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s