Photo of Mike Van Hall by Darrow Montgomery
Photo of Mike Van Hall by Darrow Montgomery

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Mike Van Hall is a self-described artist, but don’t go looking for his work inside a museum or gallery. Instead, head to the beer fridge located all the way in the back of Schneider’s of Capitol Hill. That’s one place where you can admire his pièce de résistance, called On Fleek.

It’s an imperial stout made by Stillwater Artisanal. The beer is dark and boozy, but also deceivingly drinkable. You’ll get to admire Van Hall’s handiwork before you even take a sip—he didn’t make the beer, he designed the label.

On Fleek looks like it’s from the ’90s, and its playful design makes the beer can a signature Van Hall piece. The packaging has florescent yellow, green, and pink leopard spots, plus blue and black tiger stripes lining the can. Think of a Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper.

“When I design beer labels, I want to draw in the customer who might otherwise overlook the beer shelf,” Van Hall says. “My goal is to open people’s eyes to the wide spectrum and range of beers that I love.”

While you might debate the merits of beer can art, there’s little debate that breweries are looking to labels as something more than just a place to stamp their logos. Regional breweries like Stillwater, DC Brau, Vanish Farmwoods Brewery, and Aslin Beer Co. use Van Hall’s designs. It’s work that he didn’t necessarily anticipate four years ago as a recovering lawyer who had never received any formal art or design instruction.

Recently, Van Hall worked with DC Brau to design a 5th anniversary beer—a collaboration beer with Perennial Artisan Ales, called Pink Pallet Jack.

“With this can, I did something that I love to do,” Van Hall says. “I deconstructed the subject matter—a pallet jack—and rearranged the pieces to see if I could get a pattern out of it. What you get is a can that has the components of a pallet jack, but it’s abstractly represented.”

It’s the kind of beer that Picasso might pour. Just like any artist, Van Hall’s creative process takes time. From start to finish, a can’s design can take several weeks or months. The canvas is not always cooperative either. Aluminum reflects light differently, therefore it may take several tries to get the colors just right, according to Van Hall.

“I’ve really found the beer can to be an awesome spot for creativity,” he says. “And I like to think of labels kind of like album covers. Everyone remembers their favorite band and album cover. In many ways, I’m trying to do the same thing. I’m trying to capture a moment, something that the drinker will remember for years to come.”

Click here for more stories from the 2016 Beer Issue.