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Beyond a Garage Project: Jos Ruffell on the art of reinvention (part two)

Garage Project is a craft beer brewery born out of Te Aro, Wellington that has come a long way from its humble beginnings of founders Peter Gillespie, Ian Gillespie and Jos Ruffell experimenting with a ‘glorified home brew kit’ in 2011. The brewery has released countless unique flavours of beer since then and become a fixture in New Zealand’s craft brew scene for the creativity it brings to both its flavours and its branding. Each beer showcases a unique artwork on the can or bottle created by a New Zealand graphic designer, painter, game designer or tattoo artist and over 100 of these designs have been collected and showcased in a new book, The Art of Beer. The book features both original sketches and the finished art of some of the brewery’s iconic drops over the years, from Bliss to Aro Noir to Fugazi, and gives an insight into the creative process and the talented people behind the artworks and the beers people know and love. In part two, we talk with co-founder Jos Ruffell about the process Garage Project goes on to select new flavours and the art of differentiating yourself in a crowded market. 

Read part one of this Q&A here.

What about for new flavours you come up with? Do you have a formula for where your best ideas are created or come from?

The ideas can come from anywhere and both Pete and myself take inspiration from a wide range of places. Flavour specific combinations are Pete’s domain and he’s phenomenal at balancing special ingredients and creating new tastes. 

Where does the inspiration come from for the look and feel?

Again, it’s a wide range of places for inspiration. The name and story behind the beer can often provide the spark and direction to explore, but equally we’ve had beers come through that have had the art suddenly work to inform the name. It’s always the same in that it’s a process and usually one without a straight line or path to follow. We sweat the details and will obsess about even the smallest details on a new label or piece of art, even events or festivals. 

This breaks the marketing and branding rules a company typically follows, so how do you ensure Garage Project is recognisable and familiar if it’s constantly changing?

When you line up a selection of Garage Project beers, they shouldn’t fit together but often they do. Sometimes we joke about strength in numbers. There is a unifying thread in having our logo (usually) on the front, though it was purposefully designed to be small, unobtrusive and sit among a wide range of art and styles. We think it’s okay to ask the consumer to work a little to discover that it is Garage Project and now we are in a position where it creates curiosity and invites someone to pick up the can or bottle to learn more about it.

Who was the first designer to grace your labels, and have their creations stuck around on any products to this day?

Our original ‘24/24’ and Garage Project branding was created by Anton Hart and Bill Carden-Horton. We moved on from that look fairly quickly although the Day of the Dead hopskull that Anton created for us in 2011 is still in use and makes an annual appearance every November for Dia de los Muertos. In fact, the cans were just filled last week and it should be out and stores around the time you’re reading this.

What did you most want to showcase about Garage Project’s story with The Art Of Beer book?

The book is a celebration of the artists we’ve been fortunate to collaborate with, almost all of which are New Zealanders. We are incredibly lucky to have such a deep pool of creative talent in New Zealand and it felt like a great moment to reflect back on that work and to showcase a selection of the artwork and designs that have gone into Garage Project over the last eight years. Garage Project is ongoing and evolving and the book showcases just a quarter of the beers and artwork that has been developed to date. 

Finally, Garage Project has been around for almost 10 years – a solid stint by most standards. How do you keep reinventing yourselves and ensure you’re still a favourite in the eyes of the consumer?

We’ll hit the 10 year mark in August 2021, so a few years ahead of us yet! We set up Garage Project to be ongoing and if anything, we have more areas that we want to develop and create than when we started. That ongoing development and momentum helps nurture new ideas and collaborations. A sense of curiosity, playfulness and most importantly having fun in the development and creation of new beers and ideas is all we can focus on. Hopefully that will resonate with our audience and continue to spread interest in what we’re doing in the Garage.

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