Part of it, I'm sure, is that the more experimental Sam Adams beers do not reach everyone, and the flagship beers like the Boston Lager or the Noble Pils are often anathema to hop heads. From a branding perspective, Sam Adams is (obviously) focused on tradition and history. Compare the punk motifs of 3Floyds or the gargoyles of Stone with the work of Boston Beer's artist Dahl Taylor (currently artist of the imperial series), whose landscapes and portraits are straight out of Winslow Homer. And then there's always the fact that it is in many craft beer drinkers' nature to look for the next small, new thing, and so a large, 25-year-old, successful, consistent brewery can strike some as unsexy.
From a design and branding standpoint, though, Sam Adams is an interesting case for us, because, like few other breweries, they have:
- Lots of beers and many product lines into which they fit
- Relatively unlimited resources when it comes to marketing
- To balance building a national brand among people who are largely new to craft beer with a portfolio of interesting and experimental beers aimed at existing market
There are seven labels here, but they really represent only three or four design styles that Boston Beer uses. As one would expect from the largest craft brewery in America, Sam Adams is an expert at designing very distinct looks for each of its lines, which makes for a kind of mini-brand within the larger beer company.
First, let's look at the basic Sam template, here displayed by a slight tweak in the seasonal label for the Revolutionary Rye:
Okay, so now that we have that. here some labels for their series of oak-aged beers; here are the label works for the New World Tripel and the 13th Hour Stout.
The Sam seasonals and one-offs tend to use a much more traditional motif, with their familiar label shape, a round window, and a banner through the middle.
I've looked at some Imperial Series labels before, but here are two more:
As you can see, Sam Adams plays with their design a great deal in an attempt to balance multiple aims. Generally, I think they do a great job of walking the fine lines between brand consistency and variety. There are certainly multiple ways to do this (see, for example, Stone, Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada, who all use different strategies), but I'd call Boston Beer Company's the most professional of the bunch.
I actually requested to do an interview with their art and design department about the challenges they face, but the request was denied. I'll admit I was bummed (and I am now even more envious of our friends at Lost in the Beer Aisle), but as I've said before, this industry is full of overextended people with not enough time, so I try not to take such things personally.