Our 2014 ColumBest cover was illustrated by Mirabilis Lee, co-owner of Actual Brewing and the artist responsible for the unique labels seen on their bottles. Lee, who owns the East-side brewery with her husband, Fred (coincidentally featured on another (614) cover back in July, 2012), has been receiving widespread acclaim for her dour-yet-whimsical labels, garnering a favorable mention in Beer Advocate Magazine, despite having no formal training in graphic design.

Lee, who was hyper-present throughout the process (we like to ask other people to work with us on our annual ColumBest issue, typically our largest offering of the year) and she was amazing to work with: funny, cooperative, and well-beered. In between drafts of the cover, we tried to get the skinny on her inspiration.

Non-humans have consistently been a feature of your label illustrations. Do animal-flavored beers tend to pair well with dishes made of that animal?  Definitely, much better than the animal-scented beers did. That’s why R&D is so important.

The bear you made for our cover has a rather vague smile on his face…granted, he’s clearly victorious, a triumphant bear, and he’s eating sushi, which one would assume a bear would enjoy, but there’s a mysterious something else in play, too.  What more can you tell us about that bear? He’s damn proud to represent the best stuff in the best city in Ohio. His lady friend is an aspiring actress. His favorite beer is Fat Julian Imperial Stout. He’s not wearing any pants.

You didn’t go to art school, but I like your art. Do too many artists go to art school? It’s none of my beeswax what artists do. Beer doesn’t really have to be art, it just has to be awesome. I do think it’s useful to learn the rules before you start breaking them, but it’s also useful to not be crushed to death by student loans. I don’t know that naïveté is an advantage, but a trained artist might look at a product label as a side project to make some cash while they wait for a big break. For me, the brewery is my big break, so the labels have to bear the brunt of my full attention.

In the novel Life of Pi, the titular character is trapped on a lifeboat with a starving tiger. In the sequel Life of Mira, what are you trapped with, and on what manner of vessel? I’m seriously trapped in a 1994 Dodge Van, Cobra edition, with a bunch of dudes who are endlessly talking about beer science and board games and global domination schemes.

It’s currently illegal to get drunk with most endangered species but, if you could get fall-down pooped-up with a wild beast (assuming it was too incapacitated to harm you), with which beast would you get all pooped up? David Byrne, obviously. And I’m susceptible to bears, wolves, lions, all the adorably ferocious animals, which is probably why I get along with brewers. I’d really like to get pooped up with Calvin Coolidge’s pet raccoon, Rebecca, and with Martha, the last passenger pigeon, but they’re too dead to be any fun. Same problem with every single dinosaur. This is why I don’t throw parties – everybody I want to drink with is extinct.