Back in late February, a handful of soggy souls congregated in a tiny building on Vancouver’s Powell Street, parading in from the rain over the course of an after-dinner hour. Their mission: to discuss the story behind a brewery housed there. Present that night: three brothers, a business partner, a couple of team members, a writer, a photographer and an unexpected, poorly-timed busload of valued customers.
You never know what’s liable to happen when you set out to pry into people’s personal lives while simultaneously capturing the potentially-awkward occasion on camera. Given the charisma of the young men that were to be profiled, we had high hopes, and we weren’t disappointed. Now I’m going to uncover the story behind the story, as well as reveal how a pair of very special photos were improvised. At What’s Brewing, we don’t normally write about what we do behind the scenes, but like the brewery origin itself, this a story worth telling.
Telling the story of Doan’s Brewing
A couple of weeks before the aforementioned interview and photo shoot, Evan Doan picked up the phone and found me on the other end. I was calling to pop a fun kind of question: “How would you like to be on the cover of the next What’s Brewing?” I already knew the answer, since Doan’s has been an enthusiastic supporter of WB from the beginning—a point in time which wasn’t far off from their own beginning: the launch of WB in its current format came only 4 months after their brewery opened. (By the way: Evan Doan is pretty much enthusiastic about everything, and a supporter of everyone.) Anyway, I also already knew what I wanted for the story angle, and the cover: a profile of the three Doan brothers.
The Doans are well known in BC craft brewing circles, but not as a trio: only Michael and Evan Doan are owners in the brewery. Somehow I was aware that there was a third brother, and knew it would be unique to involve him in the story. I had a mental image of the three siblings on the cover of the magazine. (Turns out I was eventually only 60% correct on that point.) It soon became clear that there was a business partner that was important to include, one that people hadn’t met. Arrangements were made, and both Jon Doan and Kevin Sharpe joined us on the eventually-chosen evening. But before they arrived, the interview began with Mike and Evan talking about their childhood connection, while ace photographer Brian K. Smith set up and snapped away.
Once the gang was all there, Brian warmed up with a few different shots then lined the guys up against the amazing Ola Volo mural that dominates their tasting room. My shaky video below captures them posing like the Abbey Road album (to those not familar: my audible comment about “not wearing shoes” is a Beatles reference).
After some goofing around, Brian called for the boys to come closer to the camera. The moment when he got them into a decent pose, it reminded me a classic rock band’s record jacket shot. On the video, you can hear me call it: “The album cover”.
In advance, Evan and I had discussed the idea of the three brothers posing in front of their mural caricatures. As I would later touch on in the article, I was floored to find out that I’d misidentified the drawing of Mike, who generally wears glasses. It turned out that the bespectacled Doan in the mural is actually Jon, who wasn’t wearing glasses. The brothers got into position, then we used a Happy Pack beer box in place of the accordion that Evan’s wall avatar is holding.
It had been very quiet during the whole shoot, with no guests at all in the tasting room, which was fortuitous. There is a long table in the Doan’s tasting room right next to the mural, and with nobody around we could move to get our shot. I was looking forward to sitting down with Kevin and Jon for the remainder of our interview in peace and quiet. But as soon as we put the table back in place, a crowd of 25 people—basically the room’s fire code limit—filed in one by one and surrounded the table, generating a mass of noise that made my audio recording close to useless. If I hadn’t been taking notes manually I’d have been screwed. I was glad to see Doan’s get the sudden business but man was their timing lousy for the interview.
Making the album cover
After Brian delivered the photos, it was time to weed through them and try to figure something out for the cover. It wasn’t hard to find a great shot of the three brothers, but as it turned out it was a horizontal shot, and magazine covers are vertical. It was too good not to feature though, so I earmarked it for the magazine’s center spread. Because the wall mural is black and white, it was a natural fit for our magazine interior, which is printed in B/W.
I crossed my fingers that Brian’s tight shot would work in my cover layout. Of course, in a photo session like this, Brian will easily take a hundred snaps or more in rapid fire. As I flipped through the stack he had shared, I came across the moment when the guys were staying still for a serious-looking shot. It didn’t quite fit the space at first, but then I realized that showing exactly half of Jon’s face worked really well.
Team member Liam was working behind the bar that night. Although not technically scheduled to be in these shots, it was fortunate for us that his camera-friendly poses were included. Having that extra man really gave our shoot a boost. What became the cover photo has the feel of a five-man rock group promo, like some early Rolling Stones shot. Liam looks downright mean while Jon smirks on the other side.
It occurred to me that the cover photo could be in B/W to keep with the theme of the background mural, and it looked great when treated with some heavy effects. But the final touch was to “mask off” the table they were leaning on. It provides subtle evidence to the viewer that the original photo was in colour, and acts as a bottom anchor balancing our yellow masthead.
How it all worked out
It’s a privilege to be able to craft stories about the people of BC beer, and the Doan’s experience has certainly underscored that. There’s sacrifice involved, of course—dozens of hours went into just this part of the magazine—but there’s reward when the article turns out well, and the subject likes it. And most do. People especially enjoy the profiles that go in depth and really dig in to their story, to the point of getting personal.
Evan confirmed that the story worked for him at an emotional level when he told me the it was “truly touching and I’ve read it a half dozen times”. I’ve heard that kind of genuinely grateful feedback in the past, but it doesn’t get old. Brian and I really enjoy this creative outlet, and soon we’ll be talking about our next profile.
It takes a while to read a long magazine article, but if you’re ready to dig in to the story of Doan’s, here’s where to find it: