In honor of the release of Wild Hunt, we sat down with recipe artist Nate Palm and label artist Autumn Dufresne for a quick interview about the inspiration for the brew, the process of making the brew, and so much more.
(Above, Nate and Autumn celebrate with Wild Hunt 2020!)
Tell us how you came up with your half of the Wild Hunt creation. What inspired you? Tell us about the individual elements: the name, the flavors, the design of the label, etc.
NATE: The recipe for Wild Hunt was one of the first recipes that I designed when I was homebrewing. It started as a hard cider that was based on the English recipe for wassail. The name Wild Hunt was chosen for two reasons. One was timing: The Wild Hunt takes place leading up to the winter solstice. Since my hope for this brew was to lead us through autumn into winter, I found it fitting. My second reason is honestly just my love for the mythos of The Hunt.
AUTUMN: For the label, I started off with just the concept of the mythos, these otherworldly beings on a spectral hunt, and that led to pondering what game are they after? No mundane prey seemed fitting, and I didn't want to get too dark or gruesome with it, either.
(Above: one of Autumn's inspiration pics, captured by photographer Chaitanya Deshpande.)
I was inspired by a wildlife photographer's work who had captured a red deer stag during the rut season, with his antlers draped in greenery, bellowing a challenge at an adversary, having just finished thrashing his antlers around in the brush as an aggression display for a rival buck.
So that visual prompt evolved into the spectral stag with tree-antlers, to give it a mystical flair, which then occurred to me was a great opportunity to highlight some of the ingredients in the mead, not just illustrate the name and theme, but tie in the physical recipe, too.
The stag's antlers thus became not just trees, but orange trees, specifically, and as hunting and bloodletting go together, and the oranges used in the mead are blood oranges, that fit together nicely to have an arrow piercing one of the oranges and drops of blood trailing from that, to relay the concept of blood and wounding, the deadly seriousness of the hunt, but without visually crossing the line into actual gore or illustrating a literal death or injury, (which might be unappetizing as far as wider public appeal).
So the arrow shows a piercing shot that bleeds, metaphorically, but it's not a debilitating wound and not a kill. The dynamic between hunters and prey is still in a balanced point of infinite possibility, the outcome is yet to be determined, the stag may fall to the Wild Hunt, or it may escape, but we don't know where that fate will land for this run, we only catch a glimpse of the action as it surges past.
That then led to the stag splashing through a cranberry bog in his flight to evade his pursuers, as a way to highlight the cranberry flavor along with the blood orange. One can even go so far as to imagine the juice from the pierced orange mixing with the cranberries mashed and churned by fleeing hooves, and some weary traveler pausing to fill their waterskin from a clear brook filtered out downstream of the bog and discovering an additional sweet and tart flavor in their refreshment.
I had saved a series of many varied photos of stags leaping and running, citrus trees, cranberry bushes and bogs, packs of hounds, etc... to use as visual references for my sketches, and did several different preliminary sketches, each time tweaking or adjusting certain elements and sharing them with Nate between iterations.
Let’s talk about the Green Man connection that you and Nate had for this. I understand that Nate asked to include him?
NATE: My reasoning for asking Autumn to add that to the label was, as the Hunt is run through the forest one of the parts of the mythos is if someone by mistake came in contact with the Hunt, they would be swept away by the Fey. The Green Man being (depending what you read) a part of the Fey or the Pagan god of the forest, I feel he embodies so much of what I feel for this mead.
AUTUMN: Yeah, the Green Man in the background was by his request, and I then kind of had the Hunt flowing around and past him, after I added him to the scene, running along and between the tendrils and vines stretching from the Green Man, almost as though the riders of the Wild Hunt could be thoughts swirling from his mind before being conjured into our realm.
I chose to draw the final art on a grayscale, and use predominantly white to outline the figures, to give that spectral, otherworldly feel of ghostly figures emerging and fading through the darkness, half here, and half elsewhere, perhaps highlit by the glow of the moon as they sweep through.
I also had a lot of fun with the riders, as I am personally involved in the sport of mounted archery, so it was an excuse to get to incorporate my favorite sport into my art with the horses and bow-wielding riders, and I have always loved wolves, so any excuse to draw them is a win. I used a mixed media of colored pencils, acrylic paint pens, and alcohol ink markers to hand-draw the images onto a sheet of greyscale pre-printed with the Groennfell logo and border, so I could be sure the dimensions worked and leaving less detail at the edges, so it would be easy to have space for the label text to get added in, after the image was scanned.
Is there anything new for the brew or the labels this year?
AUTUMN: For any brew-specific questions, that's not my wheelhouse, I drink it but I don't make it! It's as delicious as I remember, though! The label art is the same as the original run, so I haven't made any changes there. The stickers simply highlight a small snapshot of the bigger image. Last year, the snapshot was focused on the stag; this year, it's zoomed in on one of the wolves, but the image is lifted directly from the original label. Perhaps next year will be one of the riders, who knows? That's the bosses' call.
NATE: In terms of the brew: this year we decided to try a new infusion process for the spices, making a concentrate of spice using a blend of spice tea and Valkyrie and fresh spices.
Autumn, I know you're very into mythology and the heathen lifestyle yourself -- is there a part of the Wild Hunt that speaks to you most?
AUTUMN: Mostly the nod to a more primitive and less technological way of life, horses and hounds, the balance of life and death and leading back into new life, and each having an equal share in the cycle. The notion of the hunt as a sacred pursuit.
I support subsistence hunting but not hunting purely for sport or trophies, much of what I know about ecology and sustainability and environmentalism actually stems from time spent with ethical hunters, the kind who revere the animals they encounter and the landscapes they hunt in, and see themselves as part of the natural world, not superior to it or in opposition to it.
I tend to be mildly semi-feral, myself, and I appreciate that idea of existing at the boundary of the tangible and the otherworldly, one foot in either realm, simultaneously.
Anything else you think we should know?
AUTUMN: Wild Hunt has been one of my favorites since its original creation, and getting to actually be called in to do the artwork, (and become so personally connected to this brew in particular, then that experience evolving into being part of the Groennfell team, full time, from there) has just been a tremendously exciting gift.
I never anticipated how much the stag would evolve into a full being unto himself, from a whimsical visual design element, he has unexpectedly taken on an entire existence and life all his own, and I have been loving how he has coalesced into a sort of demigod figure of his own accord. Over the past year, bits and snippets of details keep filling into his backstory, trickling into my mind's eye in regular increments. More recently I have begun loosely sketching out his origin story on paper, and I'm excited to eventually present the tale of the stag, and how he came to be the quarry of the Wild Hunt, and what happens beyond that.
Thank you both so much for giving us some insight into your artistic process! We can’t wait to see more. Cheers!