Craft Beer Branding – The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

Just cos Craft Beer is cool, doesn’t mean all craft brewery brands are!

If you do a bit of a search in the inter-web for great craft beer brands, you will find a bunch of websites that focus on the labels of beer bottles and cans…for me, a brand is much more than just the label you slap on a product. I have mentioned them before, and at the risk of being shouted down, for me, Corona is one of the brands that transcends all. It is true that you can shine a turd! For a beer that is a pretty ordinary product, they are able to sell an emotion, a lifestyle, a desired state…and they do it so well.

What about craft beer brands, who does it well and not so well?

So I said that a brand is more than a bottle label, so what do I consider is important for craft breweries to be selling when developing their brand…

Imagery

6767056-3x2-940x627Imagery associated with a brand is really important…it can be things like landscapes of the surrounding area if you are lucky enough to have that, like Van Dieman. Or how about your people, the ingredients, the process, the equipment…tell a story, show people your character through pictures that will make them respond in ways like “ooh”, “aah”, “cool”, or “I want to drink your beer!”.

Story/Provenance

I feel like every craft beer brand needs a story of some sort, more than just “we brew good beer with all natural ingredients”. The brand doesn’t need to go to the extent of using a historical figure and build stories around it like a James Squire, but there are always stories to tell about a brewery.

What about how you interact with the community, the fact you love to collaborate with other locals, how you stumbled into brewing, or how there are ties between your brewery and the natural surroundings…entertain us!

Logo

pliny-the-younger

Comic Sans…really, Pliny?

Ever sat in a meeting where an agency craps on about how “the logo’s parallel lines give a sense of belonging, whilst the colours reflect the outward veracity of the brands inner drive”…f##king hell, give me a break and just make something that looks cool!

Agency bullshit aside, a logo is still very important to building a successful brand, and you do need to put more thought into it than just opening up Microsoft Word Art, typing your brewery name, and picking a “cool” font like Comic Sans, or Stencil, and smiling at your creation.

Spend some time actually thinking about how you want your brewery represented by your logo and put some effort into it…it’s important.

Desirability

A Mountain Goat beer and Pizza…legendary!

This is something that Corona does well by way of their big budget Mexican travel films, something that is not available to most brands. What they do is make you put those awesome images of “From Where You’d Rather Be” with the idea of drinking their beer.

For Craft Beer, it doesn’t have to be about exotic locations, it could be building around the experience at the brewery of drinking the freshest beer, or having a great pizza with it, or trying to link your beer with an occasion…think quiet Sunday afternoons without kids around!

Differentiation

If you are in the craft beer game, you cant just rely on all natural ingredients hand crafted by the brewer, cos everyone is doing that! What else sets you apart from your competitors, both local and national? Think of how Stone and Wood just seems to embody the Byron Bay area, or how Batch Brewing talk about being a “Community brewery”, or Moon Dog being f##king crazy!

Labels

Great individually, but no value as a Trademark…who do they belong to?

It seems that these days, weirder names, hop puns and mis-matching labels is all the rage…it’s a fad.

Don’t try and do it all…breweries get to the point that they lose all brand equity because nobody realises that the different beers in the range are related. Maybe pick one…crazy names OR mis-matched fonts, and then wrap that into something that is consistent across the whole range. Maybe push the logo and change the background colour of the label for each beer, or the font for the beer name/style…but not all of these!

Where is this heading?

So thinking about all this, I thought I would pick out 3 craft breweries that highlight the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to building a brand in Australia. This is solely my opinion, feel free to disagree with me, or give me your thoughts.

THE GOOD (Smashing It)

I really like what 4 Pines Brewing Company from Manly in New South Wales are doing…you might have heard of them? These guys manage to tick all of the boxes for me.

Story
They have a pretty cool story, a couple of mates and brothers who revolted against boring beer in the Manly area and started a brew pub that just brewed 4 great beers to begin with…then it exploded! The characters behind the company work pretty well too…good blokes following their dream and having a shitload of fun!

Logo
Simple and to the point, but works well. Immediately recognisable, front and centre on their beer bottles, and present in everything they do, but also able to be played with like their hand drawn image on the front of their website (pic).

Desirability
They have this one in the bag…anyone who has sat at their Manly brewpub and enjoyed one of the beers on a hot day won’t forget that experience. Manly is such an awesome part of the world, combine that with great beer and you have a memory that will last a lifetime! I also like their idea for the Truck Bar that serves 20+ beers on tap…way to showcase your entire lineup in one hit!

Labels
They look like they belong together, subtle changes in colour work well and their neck label descriptions are clear and to the point. Even their more experimental Keller Door releases, with their more outlandish labels even look like they belong, as the 4 Pines KD logo is still front and centre…cool and colourful, but part of the team.

Honourable mentions
Pirate Life for their strong brand identity, differentiating away from kegs to cans, and their trailblazing spirit. Temple brewing have also found a nice way to give each of their beers a bit of character, while also looking like a family.

THE BAD (Close But No Cigar)

CaptureFor this choice, its not the fact that I think this brewery has the worst branding going around, but I (in my humble opinion) believe that it might need some help…Burleigh Brewing Company. Their mantra is Balance, Character, Soul…but I think they dialled up the character a little too much in bringing their brand to life.

These guys have a nice story, a husband and wife duo who had a dream and left Hawaii for the slower paced life of the Goldy! I see the awesome looking images on their website and just don’t feel like that same feeling translates into their product offering. I will say that I have never been to their tasting room, it looks awesome, its just their branding on the bottled products, as well as some of their beer styles that I think misses the mark for me.

Capture2I love their idea of the Duke beers, but their labels look like something I would pick up from Coles. I question a craft brewery wanting to play in the No Carb space, and feel the award winning Hassle Hop beer deserves a less kitschy name and label.

My opinion, for what its worth…some really nice elements, which I would build on, but some maybe impulsive, or cool at the time, ideas that maybe should be looked at a again.

Dishonourable Mention
Gage Roads…fuck their labels are boring as batshit! For a brewery with such a proud heritage and that has contributed so much to our industry, you wouldn’t know it by looking at their products!

THE UGLY (Give It Up)

Dead and buried these ones…for good reason!

Head into your local Coles or Woolies stores and you will see hundreds of their own “Control” brands that they produce to compete with the market leading varieties. Often the branding is a dead copy of the leading brand, or is even less imaginative and is a “two colour” effort…think Red & White Home Brand, or Blue & White for the old Coles variety, perhaps even Black & Gold from the old IGA. The supermarkets do the same thing with their beer brands in their own bottleshops…you know the ones.

A WordArt logo and a name that means nothing...you better be brewing some AMAZING beer.

A WordArt logo and a name that means nothing…you better be brewing some AMAZING beer.

Now, with that in mind, its exactly how I think of the brand that the Australian Brewery has developed. Renowned Beer Blogger, The Bear, wrote about them recently after they updated their can range from slim line to proper man cans, and I mentioned that I felt they looked like a Supermarket brand. No disrespect to the people behind the brand, but it kind of sux. I mean by all accounts these guys brew a good beer, they have won plenty of awards, but their logo looks like Word Art, their back story is about 2 lines long on their website and the produced their beer in a slimline can that is usually reserved for low carb, tasteless, very un-craft beer. And, other than the fact that they all are served in the same vessel that is a sad excuse for a can, it is very hard to tell that they all come from the same brewery…even the yellow rings that describe the brew around the bottom of the can are all at different heights…messy!

Skinny cans, no. Word art log, no.

Skinny cans, no. Word art log, no.

If I was in charge of marketing for this brand, I would put them into a regular can, or even a pint sized can and I would change the logo. Hell, I’d even look at changing the name of the brewery…what the hell does Australian Brewery stand for, and what images does it give the drinker…certainly not hand crafted, or boutique in any way…Australia s friggen huge! These guys have done one thing right recently, they ditched the slim cans, but they still can’t seem to line things up and I question the horrible black logo and whether it makes them look like they belong together.

You can have a range of beers that all have their own individual character, while still retaining some sense of uniformity that tells the drinker they are from the same brewery… as I said before, Temple brewing do this well.

Time for a re-boot: Yak Ales…I have no words.

So that’s my take for this week, it’s only my opinion, so feel free to swing back at me and tell me I am wrong or tell me about something I have missed. I think I will have a look at the Good The Bad & The Ugly in other countries in future posts.

Thanks for checking out the post this week, I would love to hear your thoughts…shoot me an email, or leave a comment here. Check out my latest 60 Second Beer Reviews below, and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to my YoutTube channel or Instagram feed for more fun.

Cheers to Quality Beers!

5 comments
Corin - August 15, 2016

I think there’s some extremely rad graphic design happening in craft beer branding of late, particular in Australia where we’re less inclined to wrap panel-van airbrush art around a bottle. Feral’s rebrand from a few years back is excellent and stakes out a personality like few others, Kaiju has such rad illustrations that I always try to find something of theirs to take home (even though they never seem to make the stomping stout their name suggests). I like Four Pines but it’s a little conservative for my taste (design wise not beer wise), I think Wolf of The Willows do a similar thing with a bit more style. I also dig Brewcult heaps. A nice clear mark, with a crazed, but expertly drawn, character that suits the taste of their beers perfectly.

Moving abroad I think the brewery that have done the best job of branding themselves is Mikkeller. Those labels are insane. There is no way you could confuse their stuff for any other brewery even though they are all completely different in layout, colour, placement of the logo all that stuff. They’ve stamped everything they do with a style that is totally theirs.

Reply
    chrisluki - August 15, 2016

    Absolutely loving your interest in my article, and you make some great points! I forot about WOTW, they do a great job also. I like 4Pines cos it is clean and simple…not an airbrush wrap, as you describe it! I like that!
    If you do a search of great branding, Mikkeller does come up a bit…I agree, they are very clever! I also love the other twins branding…Evil Twin Brewing!
    Thanks for reading Corin!

    Reply
Corin - August 15, 2016

Oh shit, and Balter too, they’ve done a great job squeezing so much personality out of such simple and minimal graphics.

Reply
Alex - August 16, 2016

Awesome article, thoroughly enjoyed it and have to agree with every word. When it comes to “Craft beer” I always look for a few things when it comes to a beer that I haven’t tried. A) the label: does it stand out? Is it interesting? Is it neat and presentable? B) The story of the brewery/beer: is it interesting? Is it Local or boutique? Is it family owned? etc… And lastly, the description of the beer! I want to know what’s in it, and a bit about the brewing process.

The James Squire range got me years back with their interesting “stories” on the back of bottles, until you try it and find out that it’s very average beer (putting it kindly.)

Have to agree with 4 pines, and Feral have stepped up their game with the new labels. Would love to read your thoughts in International beers. I will keep my eye out for it.

Reply
    chrisluki - August 19, 2016

    Thanks for your thoughts Alex!!

    I used to work for JSQ and we prided ourselves on the stories!

    Reply
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