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Bent Paddle unveils new cans featuring Lake Superior beach views

Sharp-eyed beer drinkers will recognize shorelines as seen near downtown Duluth, Brighton Beach, Split Rock and elsewhere.

Bent Paddle's new look.
Laura Mullen, right, places an empty 12-pack beer box on fellow Bent Paddle Brewing Co. co-founder Karen Tonnis’ shoulder during an unveiling of the company’s new designs for its products Thursday.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — For the first time in eight years, drinkers who crack a can of one of Bent Paddle Brewing's flagship beer brands will have a new view in hand. The Lincoln Park brewery has redesigned the cans and boxes containing each of their five core beers: Venture Pils, 14° Degree Amber, Black Ale, Cold Press Black and Bent Paddle's best-selling beer, Bent Hop IPA.

On Thursday morning, the new Bent Hop cans were being literally rolled out, in their first run, at Bent Paddle's production brewery at 1912 W. Michigan St. To celebrate the occasion, five Bent Paddle staffers donned outsize boxes reflecting the new branding. Among them were Laura Mullen and Karen Tonnis, two of the brewery's four co-founders.

Bent Paddle's new look.
Bent Paddle Brewing Co. co-founder Laura Mullen in the company’s Lincoln Park brewery Thursday.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

"We just were thinking that it needs a refresh," said Mullen, though she noted they "loved" the former art. "It was classic for our brand, and that's why we kept many of the colors." Lucas Kackman, Bent Paddle's in-house graphic designer, created the new look.

The new cans reward sharp-eyed customers who are familiar with Duluth and the North Shore. Though the art doesn't feature any human-built local landmarks like bridges or lighthouses, each beer variety will come clad in a can depicting an actual point on the Lake Superior shoreline.
"We experimented with several artistic styles before landing on the clean and sophisticated appearance of the mid-century postmodern landscape art style," said Kackman in a news release. "The solid color flowing shapes allow us to easily change locations for each individual brand while maintaining a grouped brand family appearance for all five styles."

"Each box, on the bottom, has the geo coordinates of a beach that kind of represents the beer," explained Mullen. By way of example, she cited the 14° Degree Amber design: It depicts Iona's Beach, known to tourists as "the pink beach," north of Two Harbors. That beer was formerly known as 14° ESB. "It's still the same beer, but it's got a new name," said Mullen.

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Bent Paddle's new look.
Stacks of cans bearing the old design, left, for Bent Paddle’s India Pale Ale sit next to cans with the new design Thursday.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

There have been some other subtle naming tweaks: the beer formerly known as Bent Hop Golden IPA now has a can reading "Bent Hop India Pale Ale." That can's green-on-white artwork reflects the hills of Duluth as seen from Park Point, albeit scrubbed of buildings in Kackman's stylized design. "The Venture Pils is Brighton Beach," said Mullen. "The Black Ale is Black Beach, and the Cold Press Black is the Split Rock area."

Many of us in the brewing industry are so grateful for the massive support that came our way during the pandemic. So many deaths and sickness is very heart-wrenching.

Some of the new designs have already arrived in liquor stores, said Mullen, albeit only on boxes. Since the company is committed to using all of its existing packaging stock rather than discard it, there will be some overlap between old and new. "We have all new boxes, so those will be in liquor stores straight away," she said, "but some of them might have old cans in them. That'll just be for a couple of months."

Bent Paddle will showcase the new can designs, which will also be reflected in redesigned tap handles later this year, at the Craft Brewers Conference in May. The national conference will be convening in Minnesota for the first time, and Bent Paddle will be supplying the official commemorative beer distributed to all attendees at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

Bent Paddle's new look.
Bent Paddle employee Isaiah Jorgensen reaches for a six pack of IPA bearing the company’s new design Thursday.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

"We pitched it because of the water of Lake Superior," said Mullen. "Many of these brewers have never had beer with it. It's a dark Czech lager called Land of 10,000 Lagers — and because we brewed it, it will be available in the taproom starting in May."

Later in May, Bent Paddle will hold their first Festiversary celebration since 2019, after a pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Tonnis said she and her colleagues have been excited to watch the progress of the Lincoln Park neighborhood where they opened in 2013 .

A House committee approved a set of compromise changes to the state's liquor laws on Friday, March 25.

"We took a leap of faith when we moved into this building," said Tonnis, "and we just had dreams of the main street emerging into a lovely downtown, a second place for tourists and locals to hang out in addition to downtown or Canal Park. It has been amazing to watch it blossom."

Liz Olson, the neighborhood's state representative, is one of the sponsors of a bill advancing through the legislature that would revise the state's liquor laws to, among other things, lift the "growler cap" currently forcing breweries to stop selling growlers from their taprooms when their production reaches 20,000 barrels.

"Before the pandemic, we were hitting about 17,000 barrels," said Mullen. "Now we're closer to (15,000), just through the pandemic. So we were kind of on that trajectory to hit 20,000 at some point in the next few years, and we would love to not have to stop selling growlers and crowlers to the public from our taproom."

Arts and entertainment reporter Jay Gabler joined the Duluth News Tribune in February 2022. His previous experience includes eight years as a digital producer at The Current (Minnesota Public Radio), four years as theater critic at Minneapolis alt-weekly City Pages, and six years as arts editor at the Twin Cities Daily Planet. He's a co-founder of pop culture and creative writing blog The Tangential; and a member of the National Book Critics Circle. You can reach him at jgabler@duluthnews.com or 218-279-5536.
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