The first beer label to ever catch my attention was that of a nasty little lager called Stroh’s. Aesthetically, the label was nothing special, navy blue featuring a lion inside of a red circle, but it stood out from the other brands. This might have to do with the fact that we had to have it at every family party. Every. Single. One. But only Uncle Frank drank the stuff. I remember, year after year, waiting in line with my dad at one specific liquor store on the southwest side of Chicago on Christmas Eve for (what felt like) hours, just so there would be this fancy brew for my uncle. I thought he was a beer snob. Years later I tried Stroh’s and realized that Uncle Frank must be a madman, more beer masochist than beer snob. Stroh’s was, and still is, terrible. I have many theories as to why my uncle prefers these second-rate suds, some far-fetched, some not. Perhaps at one time, the label had caught his eye, as it had caught mine. 

Today, beer sales rely on labels more than ever before. Take a walk down any beer aisle, and you’ll be greeted by a multitude of bright colors and packaging. It’s like a cereal aisle for adults. It makes me wonder if someone might start putting prizes in beer cans. People would go bonkers for a Three Floyd’s decoder ring. 

The labels aren’t just bright colors, though. Many of these cans and bottles feature supremely talented artists. Ralph Steadman (known for his collaborations with Hunter S. Thompson) is featured on all Flying Dog Brewing’s labels, cans, and bottles. Other brands, like Pipeworks and Collective Arts, feature unknown and up-and-coming artists from around the world. Check out Pipeworks’ Ninja vs. Unicorn. The beer, although much better than Stroh’s, is hardly spectacular. But the can art is superb. Visual artist Jason Burke’s work is so detailed you can see the red of the unicorn’s eyes as it strains to use its horn to combat the swords of its Ninja counterpart.  

Visual art is currently carrying the torch for fun and interesting labels used in beer manufacturing. But here at 86 Logic, we think there is a market to feature other things on these cans and bottles—things like words. Imagine a 6-pack of sestets. Or a tall boy with short prose. How about a case of beer featuring 24 different cans that guide you through a choose-your-own-adventure story? Maybe too much for the liver. A 12-pack might be better. Shockingly, we were not the first ones to consider using words to adorn beer labels. Josué Caceres and BX Writers were able to feature the words of 200 different artists on beer cans at Bronx Brewery. So, with my heart set on giant beers (how else do you get 200 artists on a label?), I traveled to Bronx Brewery to chat with Josué and see how he managed to accomplish this feat.

From the start, it was clear he and I would get along. Josué sat down at my curbside picnic table with two drinks—power moves on a Tuesday. We began by reminiscing about our first meeting and the beguiling effects of guava mimosas. We traded stories, we joked about meaningless titles, and we compared horrible signatures. We raised our glasses to a Year Gone Hazy. 

Josué Caceres was born in The Bronx. He lives in The Bronx. He writes in The Bronx. He writes about The Bronx. Josué helps run a store in the Bronx neighborhood of Mott Haven called Bronx Native. The store sells poetry and fiction from artists from The Bronx as well as Bronx-themed apparel and accessories. Josué is to The Bronx what 86 Logic wants to be to the hospitality industry.

Josué started doing his thing back in high school. He is a poet by trade, but his talents go beyond rhyme and meter. While I was meandering my way through the service industry, Josué was hustling. He wrote and made music. He worked freelance doing photography and videography gigs. He started working for Bronx Native in 2016, the same year his first book (Out of Place) came out. In 2018, Josué released his second book of poetry (Bronx Stories and Heartbreak). 

“By that time,” He told me, between sips. “[Bronx Native] had a large audience. A lot of people received the second book well, but I always felt like something was missing, you know? This is bigger than just me. I needed to do something more for the community. I didn’t feel satisfied just putting out my art. We started BX Writers with the intention to showcase writers, poets...any creatives in The Bronx. We started with social media. We would have people submit, and we would highlight their work.” 

I mentioned our similar origin stories. Josué was polite—he laughed. 

BX Writers eventually moved to live events. He told me about open-mic nights, poetry readings, writing workshops, plus a wild collaboration with Citi Bike. BX Writers was a hit. When word got out they were trying to put together an anthology, Josué found himself sifting through five-hundred submissions—that’s a lot. For comparison, 86 Logic issue 1 had thirty-six submissions. Zach and I argued about them for weeks. BX Writers Anthology: Vol 1 was released in 2019. Seventy artists made the cut. The book itself is beautiful.

In the fall of 2020, Bronx Brewery contacted Josué to arrange a different sort of collaboration. They wanted to do a sendoff of sorts to the shitstorm that was 2020. Bronx Native was to make merch, Bx Writers was to find content for a book and beer labels, and Bronx Brewery was to make beer (duh). The beer was to be named ‘Year Gone Hazy,’ a play on the brewery’s popular flagship hazy IPA, ‘World Gone Hazy.’ Again, Josué found himself going through submissions. “We decided to have everybody submit a one-liner or sendoff to 2020, whatever they wanted to say. There were a lot of crazy ones, but we included everything. Everyone who submitted made it onto one of two different labels.” 

Over two hundred creatives came up with goodbyes to 2020. Some were reflective, and some had silver linings. Some were just a ‘fuck you’ to the year itself. Josué found room for them all. Each artist got a bit of space on the limited-release beer labels for Year Gone Hazy. Full versions of sendoffs could be seen in a book by the same name. 

All I could think about was whether or not the beer was good.

“It was good,” he told me, laughing. “It was strong, got you pretty lit.” The beer and labels debuted last December. Year Gone Hazy was a double IPA with a stool-tumbling ABV of 8.5—enough to turn any day, year, or world hazy.  Unfortunately, like any limited release from a good brewery, Year Gone Hazy is no longer available for consumption. But not to worry, future collaborations are being discussed. 

“I was just talking to my contact at Bronx Brewery about doing another collaboration. We work well together—Bronx Brewery, Bronx Native, BX Writers—it makes sense. The first collaboration was really fun, too. It meant a lot to a lot of people, especially after 2020, even for me.”

A year ago, almost to the day of our afternoon brewery hangout, Josué was released from the hospital. He was in a coma for 11 days after contracting the coronavirus. Hearing him describe the experience so casually as we sat opposite each other on our sun-soaked side street was literally sobering. 

As the city continues to reopen, Bronx Native and BX Writers are looking to get back to the grind. There are whispers of book signings and more live events. There are more collaborations to come.  Most importantly, there will be more hustling to showcase the work of the unheard artist—something Josué is quite passionate about. 

“I started BX Writers because I had a teacher that encouraged me to submit to competitions and to put my work out there. It worked. People embraced my work. I embraced my work. I want to be that [encouragement] for others.”

BX Writers is encouraging art. 86 Logic is encouraging art. We might have to do our own collaboration real soon.

Keep an eye out for the release of BX Writers Anthology: Vol 2. Follow Josué and BX Writers on any (and every) social media. This is an incredible dude, doing incredible stuff.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Head on up to Bronx Native and you might catch Josué. Grab a book and he might sign it for you. His signature, like mine, though, is terrible. 

Bronx Native is located at 127 Lincoln Ave in Mott Haven. It’s a kick-ass neighborhood with some awesome locally-owned shops and restaurants, including a bookstore that doubles as a wine bar and a place that claims to be a hip-hop bistro. I have no idea what that means, but I have brunch reservations—86 Logic vibes for sure. 

 

 
BX Writers
INSTAGRAM: @BXWRITERS
Bronx Native
WEBSITE: BRONXNATIVE.COM
INSTAGRAM: @thebronxnative
TWITTER: @THEBXNATIVE 
 
 
 
Mike Ferrin

MIKE FERRIN is a co-founder and co-editor of 86 Logic. Born just outside of Chicago, he now lives and works in Astoria, Queens. Mike has spent time at just about every job possible in the service industry and though it’s been years since he hung up his chef coat, his heart has never strayed far from his back-of-house roots. His enthusiasm for sausage is unmatched. He has no doubts, that if God exists, his fingers must surely be made of bratwursts. His thumbs would dispense mustard—God’s thumbs not Mike’s.

Featured in  86 Logic 'Zine Issue 4