Island x Subtu

Island x Subtu

By Nixie Strazza

On a quest to bring better beer to his Cuban friends, Scott created Havana Craft Imports LLC. It was all part of his master plan to push clean, crisp and crushable lager into the country through the Russian Embassy in time for The Rolling Stones: Havana Moon concert in 2016. 

These plans, however, were quickly thwarted by a strongly-worded letter from the US Department of State and the subsequent freezing of Scott’s PayPal account — which he had been using to make all payments pertaining to Operation Cuba.

Even with these setbacks, Havana Craft Imports grew past the short term project it was supposed to be, later becoming Island Brands USA as it is today. Much of the early design for the company was inspired by street art Scott saw while on vacation in Old Havana. 

Before the sea blue lettering now featured on classic cans of Island Coastal Lager, came Yoko: a Japanese snow monkey painted by Brazilian graffiti artist SUBTU. Known for his vibrant public art installations across Latin America, SUBTU created Yoko as an homage to the Cuban people (much like Scott’s reasoning behind his own creative venture into the beer industry) and the fight against government oppression. 

A symbol of resistance and the power of the people, Yoko is what Scott calls, “an eff you” to the communist regime. The snow monkey prominently painted on the back wall of the Island Brands headquarters in Charleston, SC is a celebration of the human capacity to find joy and strength even in the face of struggle. 

Resilience can rest in unexpected places. In a country where supplies are limited and government restrictions lay heavy on everyday life, the Cuban people found an avenue of self expression and were able to uplift their entire community. Scott wanted to bottle up a bit of the beauty he saw on every corner in Havana and create something as vibrant and full of life as those intricately painted walls. 


SUBTU’s influence on Island Brands lives on in our merchandise and mission statement. T-shirts and hats adorned with our rendition of Yoko taking a sip of Coastal lager are available for purchase on our website. As for the message behind the monkey, the celebration of the human spirit and the ability to embrace the good times will forever be the driving force behind every can we craft.