Thirsty Planet Beer Partners with Annie Arnold on Austin Studio Tour’s Official Beer
The visual artist designed the beer’s label, featuring images of embroidered patches that offer a critique on rampant social media use
By Liz Harroun
Photos by Weston Carls
The Austin Studio Tour runs the first three weekends of November and offers people various new ways to experience art around Austin. Now in its 20th iteration, this year will feature over 500 Austin-based artists and collaboratives. This is the first year in which the former East and West Austin Studio Tours will be combined into a cohesive citywide event.
Big Medium, a nonprofit organization committed to supporting the artistic community, is the producer behind this huge annual event. To make the Austin Studio Tour possible, they partner with local artists and companies — sometimes forming unique collaborations. One example is a collaboration between Thirsty Planet Brewing Co. and a selected local artist to create a limited-edition beer to be served throughout the tour. Now in its fifth year, the Thirsty Planet Artist Series chose Annie Arnold to do the artwork this year.
“Annie’s work reminds us of all the things we love about this city. It’s playful, colorful and honest,” says Brian Smittle, founder of Thirsty Planet. “Her embroidered scenes paired with garments feels like a modern take on years of collected patches, pins and t-shirts from live shows. Annie’s work is the perfect mixture of rock ’n roll and fun — a combination we could all use this year.”
Annie is fascinated by the growing cultural phenomena of narcissism, heightened by constant social media usage. Favoring craft techniques like needlepoint and crochet, her work explores our attempts at avoiding the shame of being ordinary as well as our general self-obsession.
Annie is working directly with Thirsty Planet’s head brewer Gabe Kuchar to create the beer, which is an “exercise beer,” something that’s meant to be light and refreshing enough to drink during or after strenuous activity. A big inspiration was Michelob Ultra, which often touts ads featuring athletes and fitness fanatics.
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“One of the main reasons I’m interested in the Michelob Ultra concept for the beer is that it is based on the concept that ‘you can have it all,’” says Annie. “I think that’s a really popular and sexy, yet problematic, message. So with the exercise beer, we can take two seemingly contradictory ideas — beer and health/wellness — and offer them both in one beautiful package.”
They named the beer “Werk Ethic” as a nod to the shortcuts and virtue signaling available through social media. The misspelling of “work” is meant to convey its slang definition — to put in the necessary effort to impress and inspire.
“To borrow a description I heard on a podcast,” says Annie, “the internet values the idea of the thing over the thing itself. So it was very interesting to me to do that here with the beer name. ‘Werk Ethic’ is an idle representation of actual work ethic. Yet it reinforces the idea you can have it all — you can show that you support working hard without having to actually break a sweat yourself.”
As far as the beer flavor profile goes, Gabe, who has been Thirsty Planet’s head brewer for over six years, was aiming for a light profile that’s easy to drink post-workout. He wanted to add something unique to the beer with the addition of green tea — lending an interesting flavor profile along with some extra energy from the caffeine. After testing a variety of green teas, he landed on the Young Hyson variety, which is light and delicately sweet.
The final product comes together wrapped in Annie’s custom artwork made specifically for this beer. The label showcases imagery of embroidered patches showing people being active while drinking the beer. She got the ideas for the different types of activities from common selfies and photos found on social media, poking fun at the entitled but increasingly validated self-portrayals we put on the Internet. While each of the patches shown is seemingly different from the others, they highlight how social media is really breeding less originality than ever.
“I’m interested in how our feeds begin to feed themselves. I’m critiquing the idea of sameness and how the more you click on something, the more you get of that thing. And so our worlds become very narrow and very particularized. It’s scary that we don’t encounter differences in a digital space as much as we do in a physical world, and that we’re not forced to consider opinions we’re not interested in or deal with people who are not like us. The algorithm just feeds us more of what we already know and like.”
Annie likes incorporating crochet and embroidery in her work, including that on the beer label, because she feels they evoke feelings that can help people consider their relationship with social media — forcing us to consider the connection between time invested and meaningful outlet.
“I’m interested in where the digital space and the physical space rub up against each other,” says Annie. “And so I use embroidery because I feel like it can be representative of how much time we’re spending on social media — making the invisible scrolling more visible.”
The Werk Ethic beer will be served up for free across the Austin Studio Tour all through November. So not only will patrons get to enjoy a light and energizing beer, they’ll also get a taste of Annie’s humorous critique of the over-consumption of vapid social media content.
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