Hometown Arts and Crafts

Artwork courtesy: Soulcraft Brewing

Artwork courtesy: Soulcraft Brewing

Soulcraft’s community connections help direct branding and beer styles

By Kyle Kirves

Some breweries are so intimately associated with the cities they call home that it is almost impossible for the beer lover to separate the two. The spirit of place and its people are infused right into the can, and often onto it. 

Staffers at Soulcraft Brewing in Salida share that kind of spiritual bond with their playground city on the Arkansas River. Not just for their great beer and creative labels, but also because of their sincere investment in giving back. “From ownership on down, everybody, every employee has contributed time, money, effort – something – to an event or a non-profit that improves the quality of life in Salida,” says owner and founder Mike LaCroix. “We’re a brewery that’s connected to the community and, from the start, we wanted to be Salida’s hometown brewery.” 

In many ways, that vision has been realized: The Salida Chamber of Commerce recognized Soulcraft as Business of the Year for 2018.

“That recognition is very meaningful to us. It’s something we take great pride in,” says marketing manager Eric Ramsey.


The birth of a brewery

The evolution from startup to stalwart has been steady. LaCroix arrived on the Salida scene 16 years ago after applying for “the only brewing gig in Chafee County,” he says, as head brewer for what would become Amica’s, a local favorite Italian restaurant. 

“The in-house brewing operation was a ‘Frankenbrewing’ system, something I was familiar with from my brewpub experience,” LaCroix remembers. 

When Amica’s sought to outsource its brewing operations, LaCroix and his partners decided it was the perfect time to set up their own shop. 

Enter the new enterprise in 2016: Soulcraft Brewing, a startup that traces its name back to a Bad Brains song that, by LaCroix’s interpretation, is a celebration of being true to yourself and your calling. The calling for Soulcraft is to make beers that appeal to high-country beer drinkers, a distinctly different breed of enthusiasts from their more urban cousins. 

LaCroix said he focuses on unique takes on flavorful, drinkable beers, like hoppy doppelbock and pils offerings, and seasonal sours. Amica’s classic beer recipes remain on the brewer’s menu, and Soulcraft still provides those favorites to the downtown pizza joint. 

“It remains a great partnership for us to this day,” LaCroix says. “They support us, we support them. It’s a real, small-town family feel between us.” 


The soul of a can

Similarly, all Soulcraft beers share a distinct branding “feel” – cans with images in eyepopping, neon-sign-on-a-stormy-night color against an almost chalkboard-like matte black background. Each beer has its own identifiable and distinct iconography, walking the line between illustration and graphic design, as well as some sublimated ghosted images in the background. 

The X-RAY IPA, described by Ramsey as “smooth, easy drinking,” features a hops blossom in old-school split 3-D that might send you looking for some red lens/blue lens glasses. The green chile beer shows flames behind an almost heroic, winged drawing of the titular veggie. And the Low Vis hazy pale ale, a personal favorite for LaCroix, is a foggy daydream where clouds wrap around mountains in metallic blue-green oceanic swirls. All of it, though, evokes a throwback vibe to blacklight and lava lamps — in a good way. 

A clear favorite among the brands is the All-Mountain Amber, with a Toyota FJ 60 Land Cruiser lumbering over harsh terrain. Complete with kayak and mountain bike strapped to the top, it’s what local Salidans might call a real sports car. Not only is it an iconic image to associate with a great tasting, go-to style of beer, it comes with a built-in fanbase. 

“An online group of FJ enthusiasts called IH8Mud came in and bought us out of it, every case. And then they called all the local liquor stores and bought them all out, too,” Ramsey says. 

T-shirt orders from FJ fans continue coming in from all across the country. 

“We’ve had to reorder them three times already,” he says.

The inspiration behind their vehicular artwork comes from an unlikely place. “There’s a repair manual from the ’70s that’s illustrated in line drawings. It’s called ‘How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step-by-Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot,’” LaCroix says. “I took that to Kurt and he instantly got it. Turns out his favorite thing to draw in school were cars.” 

Kurt is Kurt Snyder, a graphic artist, illustrator, luthier and native Salidan. 

“I’ve been doodling hot rods since I was in grade school. So when I started doing the Soulcraft art, it was just a natural fit to do the Type 2 VW or the FJ for the labels. It’s just stuff I love drawing,” Snyder says. 

Soulcraft works closely with Snyder through each product development, and there’s an iterative back and forth. Citing the same Volkswagen guide, Snyder said the illustrations inspired him to add subtle details that may go unnoticed at first look but that emerge from the can on second or third look. 

“It helps that they’re gear heads over there,” Snyder added.

Of the many identities Snyder has created, one stands out as a personal favorite. “Loud Uncle Old Ale was inspired by a flat-track racing motorcycle,” he says. The “uncle” is a grimacing and gripping rider in old-time goggles and racing gear, verily flying off the edge of the label.

With a presence in about 85 percent of the Colorado market, and frequent participation at state festivals and celebrations, you can find Soulcraft beers from Pueblo to Palisade, from Craig to Colorado Springs. But the soul of Soulcraft resides in Salida, where you’ll find the inviting brewery on Rainbow Boulevard, right on the threshold of historic old town.

Connections and correlation run deep between a place and a taste, and between local pride and fandom – here, there, and everywhere. Soulcraft is fast becoming as readily identifiable with Salida as the S on Tenderfoot Mountain. Rarely have a burg and a brewery been so ideally suited to one another. 

Kyle Kirves drinks beer, plays guitar, runs trails, and manages projects – all with varying degrees of success. While not a craftsman himself, he is quite content writing about the Colorado artisans who create such wonderful things and memorable experiences.