Worth a thousand words: Alec Doherty

Richard Croasdale meets the man behind more than 450 instantly recognizable Partizan beer labels

Richard Croasdale meets the man behind more than 450 instantly recognizable Partizan beer labels

For a brewery that eschews glossy self-promotion in all its forms, Partizan has one of the most recognizable visual styles in the craft beer world. This is thanks in no small part to the striking illustrations of Alec Doherty, who has been a part of the Partizan story since before the brewery was founded in 2012.

With a studio in London’s fashionable Dalston area, Alec is very much a member of the extended Partizan team. Having been interested in drawing his whole life, Alec took a degree in graphic design at Leeds, but was encouraged by one of his tutors, Mick Marsden, to focus on illustration. Finding a job as an illustrator once he had graduated was far from easy though, so Alec worked for three years as a graphic designer. “I didn’t enjoy it, and probably wasn’t very good at it,” he admits.

His fortunes changed after a conversation with one of his old Leeds uni friends, Andy Smith, who was at the time planning to open his own brewery and needed some basic branding. “Andy needed someone to do the labels, and I suspect he probably thought ‘who do I know who’s arty and probably failing?’ That’s how it started,” he jokes. “It started off really quite differently; I was going to do something quite plain and simple, basically a logo, and then leave it at that. It wasn’t going to be an ongoing thing. And then Andy said ‘can you try just putting some drawings on there instead?’

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As well as being great fun, the formula of a constantly changing set of visually striking illustrations suited the way Partizan was brewing at the time, as Alec explains

“They were brewing a few times a week and changing it every brew. You’re never going to get consistency at that scale, so they were really asking ‘what’s good and fresh right now? We’ll get some raspberries and hops and yeast we’ve borrowed from The Kernel’ and brew it like that. We wanted to show that in the labels, so every one is different; at one point I was doing three of them every week! So there’s probably about 450 labels, something like that.”

Alec says it’s great working closely with Andy and his team, but also to have so much creative freedom to interpret the beers in any way he chooses. Although they’ve never set parameters within which Alec has to work, there are certain themes he chooses to return to. For example, the illustrations for Partizan’s pale ales are

I’m still learning and exploring, and my style changes with that.

always themed around New Orleans and in particular Mardi Gras; a shared fascination of both Alec and Andy.

“I like to think that people who are regular patrons of Partizan might have little things they can pick up on in the labels. Sometimes it’ll be stuff that’s in the news, or issues that we think are important. Like when Rik Mayall died we did a label for him. Or when thebrewery got a new cat, we did a label for that.

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The great thing for me is that it’s not consistent, so I’m always changing the way I think about how I work. When you develop these house styles, you’ve got to apply that every time, but I’m still learning and exploring, and my style changes with that. So it’s really good to feel like I’m progressing, and really good that Partizan have allowed me to do that. It’s a great relationship.”

Although he’d always enjoyed beer and interesting label art, Alec says his first love (and ambition) was record sleeve design; proper 12-inch vinyl sleeves, that he would sit and dissect with his friends as a teenager.

“I was really interested in how the artwork has an influence on how you perceive the music and vice versa. That had really quite a big influence on a few of us growing up who were interested in graphic design or illustration. So when I first started thinking I might want to do something like this I thought I might want to do record sleeves.

“But now I think there’s a parallel between sleeves and beer labels; the format is similar because it’s print, and you’re also doing something that’s functional, but also for people’s pleasure. That’s a great thing isn’t it? I see people with lots of different beer labels, including my own sometimes, drinking a beer, looking at it, reading something into it. Now it’s my favourite kind of work to do.”

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