The business plan is mapped out, the building is leased, and the bar supplies are all set to stock your brewery …but something is missing. The beer has no identity, no defining feature. The brewery doesn’t have a brand!
There are so many benefits to establishing a strong brand for a brewery. Having a label and vibe that’s easily recognizable encourages customer loyalty and creates a sense of local pride. Taking the time to develop a unique brand can also reflect the care that’s put into the end product, which communicates high quality with few to no words.
In this era where craft beer reigns across the United States, it’s important for every brewery to set themselves apart in some way and clearly express what makes them unique. And that’s done through branding.
What Are the Elements of a Brand?
With SO many breweries, it’s important for each individual business to find their unique look, mood, and tone. Plus, because beer aids in fun and relaxation, there’s a lot more opportunity to get creative with a beer brand than there would be with, say, a healthcare facility. But what are all the pieces that make up the bigger brand?
- Logo – The logo is the heart of any brand. This is a single image that sums up what the company is all about and sets the tone for all the supporting materials.
- Design – From website to merch, all the design elements of a strong brand should be cohesive and reflect the aesthetic of the logo.
- Copy – It’s important for breweries to choose the right words for their labels, menus, and even social media posts because all of these elements should combine to represent one seamless brand.
- Taproom Décor – If a brewery has a taproom, the overall vibe of that physical space should fall in line with the other elements of the brand. So if farm-to-table is a key theme in the brand, it should be alluded to somewhere in the décor.
- Music or Events – If a brand has a rustic, woodland feel, hosting acoustic music is appropriate. If the brand is a little rough around the edges, heavy metal might be nice.
Where Does Brewery Branding Begin?
Once all the elements of the brand are identified, the real fun can begin. Deciding on a direction for a brand is no easy feat. It requires a lot of creativity and experimentation (not unlike making beer). But a good place to start is to trace the company back to its roots. And that usually leads to location inspiration! Meaning: the town where the brewery is located is often a great source for imagery that can be used in a beer brand. Local folklore or urban legends are great for this. It’s pretty common for travelers to seek the most authentic flavors of wherever they’re visiting, so a brand that focuses on local lore has more potential to draw tourists.
One craft beer that has a really strong local-inspired brand is Spring House, from Lancaster, PA. The strength of their brand is evident in their storytelling.
- Logo – Simple lettering with spooky branches that immediately plant thoughts of a haunted forest at night.
- Design – They use graphics of skulls, dead trees, and other spooky things. There is even imagery of Martians and mad scientists, like something straight out of a classic horror film.
- Copy – Nearly all of their beer names sound like horror movie titles. But probably their most appropriate and unique beer name is the “Seven Gates Pale Ale.” This beer takes its name from the legend of the seven gates, which is a popular urban myth in South Central PA. Legend has it that somewhere in the woods, there’s a series of gates that lead to the mouth of Hell. According to the story, no one has ever been brave enough to go past the fifth gate. This nod to local lore is amusing to anyone who is familiar with the story and intriguing to anyone new to it. A fantastic beer name, indeed.
- Taproom Décor – The bright orange walls make every day feel like Halloween.
- Events or Music – Most nights, you’ll find a healthy mix of alternative rock and grunge. They also periodically host DJ nights or live music at their tap room or brew pub locations to support the local music scene that pairs so nicely with locally-made beer.
A lot can be done with a horror movie and urban legend theme, and Spring House does a great job. They use that imagery to their advantage by creating a cohesive brand that is both spooky and fun.
Another great example of a well-defined craft brewery brand is Troegs, from Hershey, PA. While their aesthetic is more defined by local sourcing than local lore, they still have a strong look and feel that makes them easy to distinguish from every other brewery. Let’s break down their brand by each element:
- Logo – What more appropriate shape for a beer logo than a hop flower?! The shape of the Troegs logo hands-down represents their commitment to locally sourced hops.
- Design – Clean lines are easy to decipher from a distance, which is ideal for both online and print. The font they chose is a handwritten block letter that’s casual, contemporary, and legible. And of course the colors are bold, fun, and vibrant. Each beer label includes only one or two colors to accentuate the clean look. In fact, many of their label designs incorporate a modern shade of green against an ivory backdrop for a look that’s natural, sleek, and (most importantly) fun. All of these design elements support their handcrafted product and creative spirit.
- Copy – Their tagline of “Independent Brewing” provides a tone of determination… and maybe even a little bit of rebellion. Most importantly, the tagline clearly communicates what they do, and that they do it with pride. Many of their beer names have either elements of nature or whimsy (or both!). The names “Perpetual IPA” and “Dream Weaver Wheat Beer,” for example, each provide a feeling of imagination.
- Taproom Décor – What they call their “tasting room” is an enormous space that feels like an extension of their brew space… because it is. High ceilings with visible duct work hang over industrial-sized vats. Guests sit on stools at long, communal tables, and the daily selections are written in chalk on large blackboards. The place has a feeling of innovation.
- Events – Troegs goes on the road to showcase their beer at art galleries and even small-scale dance parties, which falls in line with their local, artsy aesthetic.
One of the reasons their brand may have such a strong and cohesive feel is because they recently underwent a brand refresh. While it’s not recommended to refresh brands too frequently (because changing identities too often can harm brand recognition), this is an instance where the imagery and tone was appropriately updated in order to reflect the direction the company was heading and to enhance the uniqueness of the design by making it sleeker and easier to digest than the original look.
Clearly, there’s a lot to consider when it comes to rolling out a cohesive beer brand. But every beer drinker has their favorite brands, and while everyone may claim that they’re judging it by taste alone, the overall appeal of the beverage is influenced by the strength of the brand aesthetic. Similar to that old rule of not judging a book by its cover, the truth is that, out of all the bottles in the merchandising fridge, shoppers will feel most drawn towards beer labels that appeal most to them visually. And that same sensation that’s delivered through label imagery should extend to all the other elements of the brand in order to seal the deal and lock in loyal customers.