New Province puts really good beer in a kick ass can
Honestly, when I first met New Province Brewing Co. owner Derek McEnroe a couple of years ago, I wasn't sure what to make of him or his brewery startup. At that point he had only been homebrewing for a few years. And on top of that, he had most recently worked for the evil empire, MillerCoors, as a sales analyst. That wasn't necessarily the pedigree I thought would lead to success.
Boy, was I wrong.
McEnroe proved to be an astute businessman. He hired Kort Castleberry--who won the hearts and palates of Fayetteville beer drinkers while he was at Fossil Cove--and turned the keys over to the 15bbl brewhouse in order to focus on growing the business.
That was a good move, in my opinion. Castleberry was a proven brewer who had been through one brewery startup already. He knew ingredients and flavor profiles, and what did and did not work on a commercial brewing system. So instead of a hobbyist trying to scale up homebrew recipes, a real professional was able to make good-to-really good beers from the jump. And that's not a knock on McEnroe's brewing skills, just a statement on how hard it is to make the transition quickly and effectively.
Fast forward to today and good-to-really good beer has turned into really good-to-often great beer. I wouldn't say it's the best in Northwest Arkansas (who could say that about any beer, really; it's subjective), but it's increasingly thought that New Province resides in the upper tier of breweries operating today. Not just in NWA, but across the entire state. The partnership between McEnroe and Castleberry is really paying off as they each play to their strengths (one in the brewhouse and the other running the business).
Now, take what I'm about to say with a grain of salt. I'm no designer. I worked in advertising for a couple of years, but I was the HR director, not an art director. With that in mind, one of the most exciting things to me about New Province is the brewery's keen eye for package design. I was bowled over when I saw the new can for Fallen Queen. I was so impressed, in fact, that I wrote about it for the Fayetteville Flyer shortly after it leaked on social media.
The design aesthetic employed by BLKBOXLabs reminds me of the kind of illustrations you would find accompanying late 19th or early 20th century literature. Fine lines, simple colors, and a royal mystique could very well have been lifted from C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, for example. Every time I look at a can of Fallen Queen I feel like I've been transported to a mythical place far from home. That's the type of feeling you don't typically get from a beer can.
Jeremy Teff of BLKBOXLabs is the brains behind the design [EDIT: the lead designer on the New Province cans was actually BLKBOXLabs' Tyler Orsak]. I talked to him nearly three years ago to get a better understanding of his agency's work for Ozark Beer Co. and Fossil Cove. I hope to catch up to him again soon to discuss the increasing amount of beer-related work he's doing. BLKBOXLabs seems to have the corner on beer packaging design in the area.
New Province is doing some exciting stuff right now. The brewery has a respectable year-round lineup that includes a pale ale, an IPA, a Belgian witbier, a Belgian tripel, and a porter (which is an underrepresented style in the market). And it's putting out some interesting one-offs like a lavender IPA (Lavish), a couple of big stouts (Greed & Gluttony and Treachery & Deceit), and a sour (Spirit Animal), just to name a few. Every Tuesday a small-batch beer is released in the brewery's taproom--something New Province calls "Unchartered Territory." You never know what you're going to get if you visit the brewery on a Tuesday.
New Province recently released cans of Philosopher King IPA, with design work again provided by BLKBOXLabs. The same aesthetic we saw in the Fallen Queen design is incorporated into this one. Fine lines and bold, simple colors make it an eye-catching can on the retail shelf. The beer, which was originally known as Philosopher IPA, takes on a new name as it goes to package. According to Wikipedia, a philosopher king is "a ruler who possesses both a love of knowledge, as well as intelligence, reliability, and a willingness to live a simple life." I'm not sure if these are the attributes McEnroe and Castleberry were trying to point to inside the can, but my palate says it's a good match. Philosopher King is a straightforward IPA with clean, bright notes of pineapple and other fruits. It's light-colored, moderately-carbonated, and weighs in at 6% ABV and 70 IBUs. In a crowded lineup of local IPAs, I really think New Province's stands out. While others are good, this one toes the line between simple and bold quite well. It's an unmuddled toast to tropical fruit layered on top of a simple malt base. A lot of breweries have good intentions with their IPAs, but end up with a hot mess because there's too much going on. New Province's lives up to it's name, in the sense that it's an intelligent take on IPA, it's simple, and thus far, it's reliable batch-to-batch and can-to-can. And hallelujah (!), the brewery even puts a packaging date on there to inform drinkers of its freshness.
This is a really good (and maybe even great) beer. Plus it's in a kick ass can. Kudos to the brewer, the businessman, and the designer. They made Philosopher King IPA one of the best representations of Arkansas beer available today.