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Spiteful Brewing Shows Its Artsy Side on Its Bottles

 Spiteful Brewing promotes local artists on its beer labels.
Spiteful Brewing's beers and artwork
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NORTH CENTER — A brewer and a butcher walked into a bar...

There's no punch line. This is just how the label on one of Spiteful Brewing's new beers came to be. Two guys, talking over beers at a Roscoe Village tavern.

To appreciate the work of some of the Chicago's undiscovered artists, such as that butcher Dave Gathy, or Web designer Chris Murphy, or bike messenger Taylor Garbin, grab a bottle of Spiteful beer. There's no better time to do so, with Chicago Craft Beer Week in full swing.

In a city bubbling over with breweries, Spiteful Brewing is one of the smallest and nimblest. In its five-month existence, the so-called nanobrewery has put out 10 distinct beers from a windowless, 400-square-foot room, tucked in a warehouse on a quiet street in North Center.

Spiteful doesn't have a website. Owners Jason Klein and Brad Shaffer brew and bottle by hand. Shaffer, a former bike messenger, makes some deliveries by bike. And the artists whose work adorns the beers? They're friends drawing for free — or, rather, free beer.

What's in the bottle, of course, matters most to Klein and Shaffer, who've known each other since childhood. But what's wrapped around each bottle "defines who we are," said Shaffer.

The label is "hugely important," said Klein. "You shop with your eyes. We want people to look at our bottles, study our labels."

And with so many breweries coming onto the scene, the label or logo better be memorable.

Even before Shaffer started Spiteful, he had a habit of collecting brewery labels and stickers. They're now plastered all over the coolers in Spiteful's tiny headquarters.

The 22-ounce bombers in particular — the only size bottle Spiteful brews currently come in — "are every brewery's blank canvas," said Klein. Craft beer devotees know well the colorful twistedness of Three Floyds bottles, the elegant, pastoral Two Brothers labels, the iconic fist on Revolution brews.

Spiteful's labels are irreverent, to say the least. The label of their first beer, G.F.Y. Stout, done by Shaffer's bike messenger friend Taylor Garbin, shows a bear making a not-so-nice arm gesture.

"If you don't know what GFY means, then... GFY!," the label reads.

For their God Damn Pigeon Porter, Joelle Tafoya, another bike messenger, drew menacing pigeons against a scraggly, black-and-white skyline.

Dave Gathy, the butcher, has done two labels — a zombie for Malevolence, a Russian imperial stout, and a grinning devil for the Instigator IPA. They're in the style of the "creepy caricatures" Gathy draws when he's not cutting meat at Paulina Meat Market in Lakeview, where he and Shaffer first met.

Gathy is working on a third label that he said will involve a fat badger and a bong.

The Spiteful logo — a red face looking, well, spiteful — is the work of Chris Murphy, a Web designer who studied painting at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Murphy met Klein and Shaffer three years ago through Murphy's sister, who is friends with Shaffer's sister. They bonded over the guys' home brews and their talk of starting a brewery.

Murphy's inspiration for the grimacing face came from a generic sign he saw at a CTA Blue Line station of an adult and child figure holding hands.

"Someone had scratched a nasty little face on the kid's face," he said. "That was it."

The logo is on every Spiteful bottle, but it doesn't take over the entire label like other breweries, which allows the label to "be a completely different experience for each beer," said Murphy's wife, Jessica, a human resources specialist who writes the blog girlslikebeertoo.net in her down time.

"I really admire that. It's different and it supports local artists," she said.

Look closely at the other labels Chris Murphy has drawn, such as Burning Bridges and Mrs. O'Leary's Chocolate Milk Stout, and you can make out another angry face in the shape of a flame. It's a wink to Spiteful's "do-it-yourself" philosophy, he said.

"These are just guys who are saying f-it and doing what they want to do," Murphy said.

As Spiteful grows, Klein and Shaffer plan to move to a bigger space inside the North Center warehouse and get their beer into standard 12-ounce bottles.

For now, there's no need to change their hands-off approach to their friends' artwork. They tell them the beer's name and flavor profile, and that's about it.

"We find when we don't give direction, we're much happier with the labels," Klein said.

What's been most rewarding, said Murphy and Gathy, is to see their names on the bottles and know that other people are, too.

Besides that, they can drink their paycheck, and it tastes good.

As part of Chicago Craft Beer Week, Spiteful's Klein and Shaffer will do a tap takeover May 17 at Four Moon Tavern, 1847 W. Roscoe Ave. They'll be at the New Wave Brewer Showcase, 7-10 p.m. May 22 at Hamburger Mary's, 5400 N. Clark St., and at Sweet Home Chicago, 8 p.m. May 25 at the Green Lady, 3328 N. Lincoln Ave.

Chicago Craft Beer Week runs through May 26; the full schedule is here.