You can’t judge a beer by its label. Or can you? When you are drinking Bitter Old Fecker, you will not only get a beautifully drawn label featuring a farm animal, but a delicious, authentic, artisan beer.
Nestled in a shopping center in western Chelsea, Nathan Hukill brews handmade beers taking no shortcuts and doing it all by hand. Hukill describes the beers as rustic ales. “That’s the overall style, but all of the beers have something extra in them.”
Jet (the label with the dog) contains vanilla beans, and peppercorns that are smoked by hand. Kaplan (the horse label) has Morrell mushrooms, some of which were foraged by Hukill. Darlin’ (the pig label) features charred lemons. “When you grill lemons,” Hukill says. “You get this really sweet lemon smell, and the taste is like lemon candy.” The ultimate aim is for a subtle beer that drinkers can sip as they relax after a long day.
Old Bitter Fecker (Fecker is a family name) was licensed in May, 2013. Prior to that, Hukill spent years honing his craft as a homebrewer, and then as an assistant brewer at Grizzly Peak. The first beer made under the Fecker label was Strutter (the rooster referenced in the title of this article). Only 816 bottles were made and sold in stores. “I started on a one-barrel system,” Hukill explains. “So it was a big jump to the (10-barrel system) that I have now.”
Many more bottles of beer are now produced, but the homespun nature of the brewery has not changed. Each of the four beers offered by Bitter Old Fecker is a work of art. Equally important to Hukill is the branding and labeling of his beer. Hukill works with Kentucky based artist, Keith Neltner, who he discovered when he saw Neltner’s artwork on the albums of Hank Williams III. Neltner was just starting his own studio, and jumped at the chance to work with this unique brewery.
Along with the artwork, each label features a story that usually dates back to Grandpa Fecker. While the stories might be a bit apocryphal, the beer is legit. You can find Bitter Old Fecker in various stores and pubs along the western lakeshore and in southeast lower Michigan. Local establishments that carry the beer include the Beer Grotto in Dexter and Arbor Farms. Huskill expects to appear at various summer events in Chelsea and around the state.
Grab a Bitter Old Fecker beer, read the story, admire the collaboration between an artist and a brewer. And know that just this once, you can judge a great brew by its label.
Photography: Steph Harding