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March 18, 2023

Student wins scholarship for Roethke-inspired beer label

Oracle Brewing Co. created three beers for Theodore Roethke Poetry & Art Festival

Roethke-inspired beer label

Saginaw Valley State University graphic design major Austin Hlinka can add another accomplishment to his resume: beer label designer. Hlinka, a graphic design major from Sterling, was named winner of a contest to design labels for three beers specially created for the Theodore Roethke Poetry & Arts Festival. In recognition of his achievement, he has earned a $300 scholarship.  

More than 20 students in SVSU Professor of Art J. Blake Johnson’s Art 260 class participated in the competition. Scholarships were awarded for the top three designs. In addition to Hlinka, DeQuandre Johnson, a graphic design major from Auburn Hills, won a $200 scholarship and Karsyn Kasper, a graphic design major from Freeland, was awarded a $100 scholarship.      

Saginaw’s Oracle Brewing Company crafted the three one-time, limited-edition brews, which were inspired by Roethke poems. The beers will be introduced at the “Ted (Roethke) Talk and Brew” event at Oracle Brewing Company on Sunday, March 19 from 6-8 p.m.  

  • “The Far Field” is a wild ale aged in French oak. 
  • “The Waking” is a double IPA. 
  • “My Papa’s Waltz” is a bourbon barrel imperial stout. 

I wanted to create a design that had a modern look, but still paid homage to the age-old topic of poetry,” Hlinka said. “By creating a flat design style and selecting specific colors, I was able to find the perfect balance between old and new. This project had its ups and downs but was well worth it in the end. I'm very grateful that my design was chosen to be printed.” 

The students approached this project as they would a with a paying client, assessing the target market and taking into consideration the styles of Theodore Roethke and Oracle Brewing Co.,” Johnson said. 

Cody Smith, co-owner of Oracle Brewing, said the brewing collaboration began in 2019 when he and co-owner Chris Younk were approached about developing a few Roethke-inspired brews.  

“We paid a visit to the ‘Stone House’ and dove a little into his (Roethke’s) writing,” Smith said. “The three works picked were ‘The Far Field,’ ‘The Waking’ and ‘My Papa’s Waltz.’  There are little nuggets that influenced the choice of beer styles, like ‘The whiskey on your breath could make a small boy dizzy’ from ‘My Papa's Waltz’ led easily to something aged in a barrel previously used for bourbon. For ‘The Far Field,’ it was much more by the sense given, and what sort of aromas and flavors might also transport me here. This one became a farmhouse ale using some raw rustic grains and wild yeast, leading to an earthy base with floral notes amidst grass and hay with a bit of tartness to keep it lively. 

“We were delayed a few years (because of the COVID-19 pandemic), but we finally get to bring these projects to fruition this year.”   

Smith said the most challenging aspect of developing the beers was timing, as the process is different for each recipe. In fact, two of the special brews “spent about a year in oak after first fermenting in stainless tanks,” Smith said. 

“Beer, being a complex living thing, doesn't always perform as you intend,” Smith explained. “The reward comes all along the way as things come together and through the collaboration, but the most rewarding part is yet to come, when we experience people experiencing the fruits of our labor. 

“It may sound trite, but this is our poetry; it’s just in liquid form.”