March 30, 2011

Gender Politics in Craft Beer Marketing

So a recent freelance gig I've had, along with last week's look at the Upright Four Play label, reminded me of one of the ongoing debates we encounter in craft beer, which is whether everything is aimed too overwhelmingly at young men. Craft brewing remains a pretty overwhelmingly male field, but the market has grown so dramatically in part because of its appeal to both sexes.

One of the freelance stories I did focused on "manly labels," that is, labels designed to appeal specifically to that testosterone-fueled young man usually associated with what used to be craft beer's main market. Of course, the assignment (like any such assignment) is a little contrived, and so therefore can be seen as silly, but I have to say that I think most people would be surprised how hard it was to find decent, clearly masculine design in craft beer.

As someone weirdly obsessed with the design of this industry, I can say that it has definitely moved since I first started paying attention to it. Yes, of course there are still your standard hop bombs and rockets and devils, but generally the art associated with even the hoppiest beers has gotten far less aggressive. One area where there is still an imbalance, of course, is in the scantily-clad-woman-on-the-label, but even there the trend is more toward artistry and less toward sheer sexist ogling.

For example, the Avery Dugana:
courtesy thefullpint.com
The Dugana girl is pretty hot and close to nude, but the whole work - down to the latest redesign - is less about titillation than about an aura of lushness that the image fits well. Now, there remain an odd profusion of naked devil chicks on labels, and as far as I know there is no label showing a scantily-clad hunk of man, so I'm not claiming equality in the industry. I think what I am noticing is that, despite market growth, poor marketing and design are less and less surmountable sins in the craft beer industry. The continuous movement away from chauvinism may be less about social conscience and simply more a function of the market, with 1600 or so craft breweries, no longer letting weaksauce fly, even from an advertising perspective.

The movement of more women into brewing is fueling some art of its own. Jay Brooks linked this great image from Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing:
The Rosie the Riveter theme has been often done in such things, but this is a better-than-average adaptation.

Gender-sensitive marketing can be abused, and done badly, of course. Take, for example, the new offerings by Mexican brewer Minerva, aimed at gay beer drinkers.
both courtesy Trendhunter.com
Okay, well, first, the design is not that great. It's somewhere between unsubtle and tacky (get it? PURPLE and RAINBOWS!). But, from a larger perspective... what? So the beer is for gay people? Do all gay people like the same flavors? If so, how does this cater to those tastes, other than with colors associated with pride social movements? From the press release:

...Another unique attribute featured in the packaging is that the label on the beer bottles peel off and are meant to be worn as a symbol of gay-lesbian pride. These first “queer beers” are set to debut in Japan, Mexico and Colombia... This unique product deployment by Minerva breweries is their involvement in supporting the gay communities worldwide and hopes to make Minerva beers a choice for not just for same-sex couples, but for everyone.
Okay, so the peel-off-to-sticker label idea is one that could be used more widely, but the rest of this strikes me as between boneheaded and offensive. Does Minerva do work in the gay community of Mexico? They say nothing about it on their Web site, but if so I guess it makes sense to see if one can leverage goodwill into sales. But this feels more like a dumb marketing ploy; a "hey, we're the beer for gay people!" move that reeks more of condescension than sincere affinity.

For what it's worth, in my experience, the GLBTQ community is wildly diverse and would be pretty hard to pin down with even a brand more clever than this. Statistically, it's a consumer base that is generally more affluent, community oriented, and concerned with authenticity and craft. In short, it's actually an ideal market for craft beer, just as it has been for artisanal products. But I've seen no research indicating that any group of consumers, except young children, cares more about a label than about the product itself.

Lest we forget: All marketing generalizations and statistics are just that. Obviously, everyone makes up their own minds about what to purchase and why. But analyzing and predicting lots of those decisions is how a brewery like Sam Adams grows to millions of barrels, or a Mexican brewer decides to launch a beer dubiously targeted at people attracted to others of the same sex.

Last month I got a chance to exchange an email with a woman named Alison Grayson, who is making a movie "For the Love of Beer" that focuses on women in beer.

One of the things that has surprised me in making this documentary is that many women directly involved in the industry don't feel that male-centered marketing has been a key component in discouraging women from joining the industry.  However, women who aren't involved in the industry seem to feel that male-centered marketing is the biggest reason there aren't more female consumers.  If breweries aren't losing potential employees through marketing, they are definitely losing potential customers.
Basic marketing will tell you to gear your marketing towards your largest clientele.   However, with this marketing, you're excluding a large chunk of the population, which in this case is a relatively untapped market. The focus of For the Love of Beer is primarily to celebrate the women who are involved, but along the way we have learned a lot about why more women don't feel inclined to become part of the industry or consumers.
Her movie is already funded through Kickstarter, and I encourage you to go take a look and maybe kick a few bucks to them. You can also find her on Facebook.

March 29, 2011

Four Labels by Odell, and More Intellectual Property News

One of the breweries with design that I would most characterize as "low-key" is Fort Collins, CO's Odell Brewing Co. Let's take a look at a few designs, all via Beersage.

Take, for example, the Myrcenary, a double IPA released seasonally.
This is about as worked up as Odell labels get, and on its face it should be a work full of excitement. But the more one looks at it, the more serene it gets. The light, spring-like color palette, the adorable yellow cart, the bouncing leaves and spectacles, but mostly the fact that it all occurs on a backdrop of puffy off-white clouds all give the image more the feel of a pleasant ride than a war buggy rampage than a different brewery might have depicted with the same name.

Again, that's one of the livelier labels. Most of Odell's work is characterized more by feel and look than by concrete images. Take, for example, this label for the Mountain Standard Double Black IPA:
The dark purple-gray backdrop with the ripple of mountains up the center forms a nice backdrop to a fading black text and diamonds. Normally I'd say that makes the lettering hard to read, but it's obviously intentional and the dark lettering is intended as design, rather than to be read. The light green lettering (which is a strange and cool explorer-y serif font), on the other hand, jumps out from the background. Again, the look is serene, if dark.

The Friek, on the other hand, is a bright look:
The intentionally rough cover of  uneven (looks like watercolor) red pigment works with the darker red of the berries, which are positioned to draw the eye around the label. I like how they have the berries sit in the space around the lettering, which also looks hand-drawn and even a little childlike.

Lastly, let's look at the Double Pilsner, which has just had new packaging unveiled:
courtesy USABeerTrends
The design and writing call to mind the Bohemia folk art style found in Pennsylvania Dutch and other German folk styles. Note that the owl's "eyes of tradition" are different, and while that helps give the owl a pretty intense gaze, the image overall remains friendly and soft. Part of that is the pastel-heavy color palette, and part of it is the use of a folk art style.

All in all, nice, subdued work without being intense or aggressive.

Some news on the not-nice and rarely-subdued world of craft beer intellectual property battles:

March 28, 2011

On ABI, Goose Island, and What You Buy When You Buy a Brand

So the online multiverse is abuzz with the news that Goose Island, one of the original presences in craft beer and a stalwart name in Chicago and the Midwest, will be acquired for $38.8 million by macrobrewing, adjunct-using, superdemonicbeervillain corporation Anheuser-Busch-InBev. Goose Island already had an ABI investment as part of the Craft Brewers Alliance, but now it will be a wholly owned property.

Born Small Town...
then moved to an industrial city in Jersey.
Image courtesy adman Jeff Stevens
Of course, online melee has just begun. Cue the rending of garments, wailing and beating of kegs as craft beer fans nationwide mourn the death of a craft brewery (death, in this case, being what happens when someone gives you 40 million dollars). I'm not going to join that, as you might imagine, because I think it's far more interesting to ask some questions here before we skip to the part where we assume this is bad.

First, though, a disclaimer: I hated AB for a long time. And I hated them for a specific reason; they bought Rolling Rock, moved it to Newark, NJ, and put the town of Latrobe, PA out of business. That type of corporate sociopathy led me to not buy any AB products - including Redhook and other CBA member beers - for many years, until AB was purchased by InBev, at which point I figured they'd gotten their desserts. There may still be some anti-AB bias.

Okay, with that out of the way, the question I want to ask is why ABI did this now, and whether it will work, which means we're really talking about business.

The first issue is easier: ABI sees the landscape, the rising tide of craft beer, and sees themselves on the outside. MillerCoors has done a better job of making money in the craft market than they have, particularly with Blue Moon, but also with investments in Leinenkugel and others.

Honestly, this beer is bad.
Not that ABI hasn't tried. They launched Shock Top as an alternative to Blue Moon, the American Ale, Landshark Lager, and various seasonals (there's a pumpkin and a winter beer that are both pretty terrible with cutesy names I can't remember), all in an attempt to make some money in the craft beer crowd. All of those efforts have basically bombed. So they've decided to start with an existing relationship, an iconic brand already built around a major beer market, and to outright buy the core competency (business term) of flavor-centric "craft" beer (obviously it will not be a "craft brewery" by Association definition).

But will it work? The Beer and Whiskey Brothers seem to think so, based on the idea that casual beer drinkers won't care. I am less certain. Casual beer drinkers have had ample opportunity to go to mass-produced quasi-craft beer, and haven't yet. Is the thought that they needed to be introduced to a better product (like they did with Blue Moon)? Honestly, I am unconvinced that ABI knows how to keep a successful product the same, or market successfully to a craft audience. Their marketing instincts for this in the past have been way off, and I haven't seen any signs that they've corrected the real problem.

A clue that the thinking may not have changed can be found via Jack Curtin's excerpting of the WSJ story linked above:

In addition to buying Goose Island, the company said it plans to increase by double-digit percentages this year its advertising spending on its Shock Top wheat ale, Belgian import Stella Artois, Landshark Lager and other specialty brews.“We really needed to step up our efforts in the high end,” Dave Peacock, president of Anheuser’s U.S. unit, said in an interview Monday.

I don't think that the secret to Landshark Lager's failure was that they didn't market it enough. They did, after all, buy the naming rights to a frikkin stadium. The problem is the beer is not very good. That's a problem potentially rectified in the case of Goose Island, but only if ABI keeps the brewing in good hands.

Brewmaster Greg Hall is stepping down for Brett Porter, formerly of Deschutes (side note: Brett Porter? His real name is two beer terms? Could you ask for a better brewing name?), so there is still great beer knowledge there. But the comments again were about commitment to high end brands, not beer quality. What ABI does well is quality control, usually at the expense of flavor. If they do that here, they'll continue their record of appealing to neither craft beer drinkers or casual drinkers.

courtesy Top Fermented
Of course, it goes without saying that many craft beer drinkers will take this as a personal affront, and never touch Goose Island again. To them, the very money and touch of a major corporation goes against everything they care about in craft beer, and so is toxic. Some will try and justify this by saying the beer tastes different (whether or not it will), and some will just be honest about it. Others will wait and see if, in fact, the beer does change. If it doesn't, or if it (heaven forbid) changes for the better, they'll be stuck with a choice.

If ABI can ramp up production and keep the character of Goose Island relatively intact, how should craft beer drinkers feel? Again, I'm skeptical that they can and will, but if they do, what exactly is the moral gripe with a big business, rather than a mid-size business, making money on beer? What people normally say is that big brewers don't deliver good beer, so they deserve disdain. But what if they successfully brew good beer, distribute it widely, and market it well? How is that different from what Dogfish Head or Sierra Nevada or whoever is trying to be? If what you want is good beer, does it matter that a big brewery paid craft brewer John Hall $40 mil (plus a yearly salary as CEO) to make it? So much of our attachment to craft beers is a personal connection, whether it's where we first had the beer, or that time we met the brewer, or a taste we associate with a community or pub... do those memories survive a takeover intact, or does that brand equity get lost because the money we spend on a bottle ends up in the pockets of shareholders?

From a branding standpoint, ABI has to walk a line they've never shown they can walk. They have to show that they understand the value of real aesthetic quality over standardization and of brand culture over marketing. And if they can pull it off, they're gambling that the same people to whom they must appeal might still not forgive them, just for being them.

March 27, 2011

Different Approaches to Canned Branding

Canding? Candering? Brannery? Not seeing a great way to combine those terms.

You all know the love I have for can art. It's a whole surface to embrace, screw those limiting little labels, yada yada yada. The thing about canning breweries, though, is that relatively early on they have to make a design decision about how standard their can template is. That is, they need to decide whether to use different designs for different beers, and if so, how different those designs will be from one another. Losing variation can help keep design costs and brand confusion down over time, but it can also be boring.

First, let's look at Santa Cruz, CA's Uncommon Brewers' can for their Baltic Porter:
courtesy beernews.org

Now, what changes about the can from beer to beer is the name, flower, and some text/side panel. Otherwise, the cans look very similar. This is a great example of a brewery trying to balance variety with consistency. The fact that they use different flowers - but stay with flowers and general layout - keeps the cans consistent and establishes a common look, but also makes the cans different enough that there's no confusion. Normally, I like a 360-degree canvas, but in this design I like the right panel, with the one-color line illustration and hovering note under it, but appearing over the bottom info bar.

Let's look at Boulder, CO's Upslope Brewing Co, from the Dieline:

From agency Anthem Branding:
Our strategy for the Upslope Brewing Company cans was simple: create a compelling design that would immediately differentiate the brand from national labels as well as the glut of local craft beer. Each variety is numbered, and features a signature color against the can’s natural silver. The current varieties include a Pale Ale, IPA and Brown Ale.
First, they are not kidding about the glut of local craft beer. I was in Boulder for one day during GABF two years ago, and my JimShan and I hit 16 (!) breweries or brewpubs. Yeah. So, it's a crowded market. Upslope is maybe the most "corporate"-looking, design-wise, of the production breweries there. Their logo is sleek and defined, done in one color, and as you can see there's an emphasis on consistency (they just change colors to indicate which beer) rather than variety. Given the hippie culture in Boulder, I actually think it's a good market niche; the look is decidedly modern, restrained (compared to the bold, colorful designs of Avery or even Boulder Brewing) and no one's going to confuse it with Pabst.

The Upslope look is a little similar to the offerings from a mountain town in a different part of the country, Vermont's Moat Mountain Brewing:
courtesy beernews.org
Again, what changes are the colors and the name of the beer, but the overall look is the same. I think Upslope's is a little more successful, thanks to simplicity. I like things to read on my beer labeling, but they use a lot of space to give nothing more exciting than bullet points.

One more canning brewery using this is  a Washington, DC brewery called DC Brau:
courtesy beernews.org
As you can imagine from the names of their beers, DC Brau has a sense of humor. That comes through in the irony of using the font that looks a lot like many of the Soviet-style propaganda poster fonts, both on the capitol building outline on the can and on their site. One more time, the only things that change from beer to beer are the color, the name, and the text box. I understand the cost savings and brand value in keeping design simple and consistent early on (they are relatively new), but let's hope that sense of humor gets a little more room to play in the future. I do rather like the little diamond map of the District with the star indicating the brewery's location.

Finally, up in Maine, we have a bit of the other extreme, From Baxter Brewing:


As you can see, the only design template used is the "back panel" with the moose logo. I of course like the Pamola more, because the ridge on the bottom and the moon below the moose actually takes advantage of the entire can as design surface. While I'm sure there's some sacrifice in keeping things different, these designs are lively and simple, using large forms that can easily recognized from a decent distance away from the cooler.

March 25, 2011

Remember When I Said There Would Be More of This?

One of those newsy posts...

More Intellectual Property Fights
It's not just breweries that are dealing with intellectual property stuff; now Northern Brewer, the home brew supplier, has gotten a C&D from Bell's Brewery for a clone kit they sell. At first, NB was put off, but they came to support the move. For more, read Beersage's interview with NB, or Bell's response. As usual, Jim at the Beer and Whiskey Brothers gets it exactly right: This is about establishing a paper trail of defense of a trademark.

There are plenty of arguments against these IP disputes in the craft beer world. As Jim at B&W Bros puts it:
I think many of us see the craft beer industry as a handshake-deal kind of community, where brewers collaborate and most everyone gets along.  Fa-la-la-la-la.  In such a world, a cease and desist letter instead of a friendly phone call might seem harsh.
But most people by now realize it's a business, and such things happen. There is one argument I've heard, though, espoused by even robust craft beer fans, such as my good friend JimShan of Philly Beeraholic. That argument is that Bell's (or Troegs, or Sam Adams) should not send a letter to someone who poses no brand threat, but instead only send it when there is an infringing product. In other words, don't send a C&D to Northern Brewer, send it when a brewery opens up down the street and calls their IPA "Two Hearts IPA."

That argument would be fine, except that the law does not work like that.

Establishing a trademark requires a record of protecting it. It's just that simple. If you don't protect the brand, you lose it, and when the brewery down the street opens up and tries to steal your brand, you're SOL. So if you want everyone to be friends, or you don't believe in IP rights, those are fine veiwpoints to have (although you'll be disappointed), but the one argument that has no legal relevance is whether the brewery getting sued actually poses a threat. It's not about that, it's about establishing a record of protection.

More Beer Ticket Issues
I am one of the many people who did not get tickets to SAVOR when they had their now-famous site meltdown, after I missed pre-sale because I was in a meeting. Now, Dark Lord Day at 3Floyds has had what the B&W Bros called a "shibacle" with their own ticket sales, selling out in 23 minutes or something. In both cases, long-time fans and attendees missed out, and at least a few tickets went to brokers who are now selling them for ten times the asking price. 

I reached out to SAVOR organizers at the Brewers' Association to ask them some questions about organizing an event. I wanted to learn a little more about what goes into a ticket-ordering Website, the decisions involved with balancing exclusivity and insane demand, what if anything an event can do to keep brokers out and reward loyalty. This is stuff I know a bit about in other areas, but it seemed like it could be valuable insight, and it's certainly timely.

A Brewers' Association spokesperson, Barbara Fusco, got back to me and politely said that they didn't really think my blog was a media priority (hard to argue with that), and gave me some stats telling me just how insane the demand was for SAVOR tickets. I won't lie and say that I'm thrilled the BA didn't think a lowly blogger such as myself was worth their time, but maybe they'll carve some availability out for me another time. I think this is a cool topic that is very relevant to craft beer fans, and it warrants some closer looks.

Too Much Choice?
You can follow the debate about whether there is such a thing as too much choice in an industry, and whether craft beer is there at good places like the Beer-Stained Letter and Lew's blog. The difference seems to be that beer is so cheap and consumable that the usual rules do not apply, and that more choice remains in general a good thing.

I think that's likely true, but there is no question in my mind that, given the cash and distribution constraints in the brewing industry, we're going to sooner or later enter a period of consolidation. That may come in the form of alliances (like the ABI-backed Craft Brewers' Alliance), or straight-out acquisition. Of course, small breweries and brewpubs will be fine, but if they have larger ambitions, I don't see us continuing to gather craft breweries by the hundreds that all will be the next Dogfish or Sierra.

Links:
Your Reward Piece of Beer Art:
via Beersage, the Fantasy Brewmasters' Burdisson's Dwarven Ale
Fantasy Brewmasters is a decidedly cool/strange outfit making beers based on beer from fantasy writing. As a nerd, I love it. As a beer guy, I am intrigued. Also, the art for this is really damn cool.

They've really embraced the fantasy design elements, with the unraveling scrolls and the dramatic lighting from underneath the burly, industrial-looking dwarf. They even got the copper/black/gold color scheme common to so many fantasy epics. The one thing they could have done a little more with is the lettering, which is a standard serif and a tad too prosaic.

March 21, 2011

Sex, Four Play, and the Burdens of Being Upright

If nudity offends you, you're going to want to skip this post. This is also a craft beer art blog, though, so you also might want to ask yourself why nudity offends you.

Some of you may remember Portland, OR's Upright Brewing's excellent art by Ezra Johnson-Greenough aka Samurai Artist, particularly the NSFW Four Play label from last year:


Right, well the new label's out, and it's caused a stir. Sigh. Sex always does, doesn't it? What's weird is that would have felt no need to disclaim this year's art:

I mean, is that really so salacious? The last year's art had nipples, for Pete's sake, and this is just a woman looking like she's having a good time. Worse stuff than this is on basic cable, so it can't be a big deal that it's on beer bottles, can it?

Apparently it can.

I think it started when Jeff Alworth did a mini-brand dissection on Upright and Four Play in particular. Jeff has tons of readers, and it's Portland, where liberation and oversensitivity can go hand in hand. So the storm ensued. People are offended, other people are offended that people are offended, and we have the usual morons that come with any Internet debate. Samurai Artist followed this up with a tongue-in-cheek post where he displayed some politically correct forms of the label:
Definitely, getting a Bible involved will help tamp down the kerfuffle.

Seriously, though, I was pretty stunned people were so offended. Look, the piece is not as good as last year's, in my opinion. It lacks the creativity and vibrancy that made the old label one of my best pieces of 2010. But if you're offended by that, then... seriously, I want to know why.

Is it that the woman is scantily clad? That she's having a clearly aroused moment? Aren't we past the point where these things are news? I suppose one could say that putting an attractive female in her underwear on the label is objectifying women, but, people, this is not a Bud Light ad with supermodels in bikinis. This is a realistic looking, if attractive, woman, rendered by a talented artist in what looks to me like an homage to sleazy poster art (a la Pulp Fiction). And yes, there's the use of sex and double entendre. I suppose the argument is that the artist would not have put a scantily clad man on the label, so there is some objectification, and I guess I can see that. What if the artist was a woman? Would that make it less problematic? What if the subject weren't enjoying herself? The cabal that rates movies is famously more offended by women experiencing sexual pleasure in films than men, so one can avoid an NC-17 rating if the heroine has sex, but only if it's bad sex. I'm joking, of course, but I wonder if part of the outrage isn't still an antiquated queasiness at the idea of women as sexual beings.

Still, when you're a young male artist depicting such things, this is a foreseeable issue. That's really where Upright as a business comes in.

Some of Jeff's best points came in regard to the branding decisions for Upright, which has in Four Play a run of bottles that will sell out no matter what. So one can argue that, knowing the potential sensitivity of the audience, this is a stupid risk to take for beer that will sell anyway.


The problem, of course, is that art and commerce are both communications. To be communicative, they need a sender and a receiver, and the receiver always has veto power over the way they interpret the image. Artists claim this is a type of theft, but it's inevitable. For businesses, the point is more freighted; if the receivers--customers--apply a different meaning than the brewery intended, there can be trouble.
A fair point. Upright's success and clientele might make them a bit more conscious of how to handle these types of releases in the future. Once you get more fans, you have more customers to consider. But I don't think this is damaging to the brand long-term. I would like to see Upright do more of the artistic, colorful styles that were more successful last year, or, at the very least, if there are sleaze send-ups in the future, remember to go over the top.

And, for what it's worth, I hope 2012's label art is a hunky man in his boxers or something; then we can all agree it's okay, or at least argue about whether Upright is objectifying men.

March 20, 2011

More Intellectual Property Disputes in Craft Beer

Lots of stuff to catch up on, but I want revisit a favorite topic on this blog, which is intellectual property.

On the heels of the Troegs "Elf" actions are a couple other disputes in the craft beer world.

The first is between Boston Beer Company aka Sam Adams, and a Chandler, AZ brewery called SanTan Brewing. It's pretty straightforward. SanTan has a glass that looks quite a bit like the Sam Adams glass they've made such a big deal on, and Sam Adams says it's too similar and they need to stop. They've leveled a similar suit against an importer, Peter Sciacca, who has a similar glass product.

In this case, if Sam Adams has a design patent (which I am absolutely sure they do), they will win this suit. Sciacca has a list of what's different, but my understanding of the law on this is that he and SanTan are not on legal high ground. Fortunately for SanTan, it's just one product, and the publicity from this case will probably be more beneficial than sales of that glass would have been. Sciacca says he'll ask the patent office to revisit, but Sam Adams invested money in the engineering and design of the glass, and I can't see the protection of that investment being revoked.

from azcentral.com
Then, two weeks ago, via Beersage, came news of Marble City Brewing Company and Marble Brewery at odds over the use of the word Marble. Marble City is in Knoxville, TN, and Marble Brewery is in New Mexico. The NM chain of restaurants is moving the beer into the Knoxville area (founder is from there and went to Tennessee), and is saying MCBC needs to change their name. MCBC questions whether they're just moving into the state to sue.

Here's the thing: We do not need to like this stuff. And, as craft beer people, we probably don't like it. But this is the way the industry is going, and frankly, it's the right direction in a lot of ways.

Ironically, I did not
obtain IP rights for this image.
Starting a Brewery requires a lot of cash and risk on the part of the owners, and it's a passion and life for those who do it. So imagine you've done this, you've succeeded, and your lawyer tells you that someone has a name that potentially infringes on a valuable brand you've spent your time, blood and money building. This lawyer, who you pay to advise you, further tells you that if you don't send them a cease & desist letter now, you can't protect it later. You are a craft beer person who dislikes lawyers and wants to be nice, but this is your life and livelihood we're talking about. I think, in that situation, you, I and everyone else send the C&D.

I won't pretend to know the facts of this case, but I do know that Marble Brewery is potentially confusing with Marble City Brewing, and that if it's potentially confusing, it's worth protecting.

Now, there are ways around it, and I hope that the Marble and Marble City folks avail themselves of those. For one, Marble Brewery could license the term for $1 in the state of Tennessee to Marble City. Now, for MCBC, that might be a tough draught to swallow, but it would let them do business with the stuff they've made up, and still preserve Marble's rights. There are lots of solutions. And, with 1,500 craft breweries and counting, I'm hoping the industry gets really good at finding them.

Some news and notes

March 17, 2011

Brad Hosbach's 2011 Philly Beer Week Shirt

Hey, you all might remember Brad Hosbach, who did a pretty sweet shirt last year for Philly Beer Week's pub crawl, and has the new design out for this year. And it comes on "four different shirts to fit everyone's budget and style needs"

All of the designs play on the PBW's similarity to PBR, or Pabst Blue Ribbon, a premium beer at popular prices that is unlikely to be featured at Philly Beer Week events. Nonetheless, it's an amusing idea, Brad's design makes good use of it, and irony is always appreciated.

These are $15 offering in gray and orange, and a women's tee in pink:


Here's the high-end version, a blue American Apparel shirt for $20

There's also a $12 version. And here's a close-up of the top of the can, with a Liberty Bell tab and a beery reference to the LOVE sculpture
As with last year, when the proceeds benefitted Alex's Lemonade Stand, a portion of proceeds go to a good cause. This year, $3 of every shirt purchase goes to help the Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society. So you can help designers and animals in need with one purchase, plus you get a cool shirt.

You can get more info at Primitive Shirts or order online at the store.

March 10, 2011

Dieline Week, Part IV: USA

This post ends our week of posts devoted to beer design profiled by The Dieline.

First, Leelanau, MI's Tandem Ciders:
These hand-crafted varieties were in need of packaging that represented the laid back feel of the farmhouse tasting room, but kept the quirky character of the owners...Short run special blends (with an area for handwritten notes on the label) were designed to complement the standard label series, but add a touch of additional personality. Quick witted copy, beautiful type and a harvest color palette make these bottles a favorite for customers."
Much like we saw with the amateur label yesterday, there's a juxtaposition of wholesomeness with salty language. I like the simplicity of the labels, given the cidery's commitment to sustainability. Like so many great ciders, I wish we could get this in PA.

Next, we'll take a quick look at Walker Brown Craft Beer, a brew by Genessee in Rochester with design work by Stranger and Stranger.
I like the fairy-tale ethos, and the one-color-on-black look. I particularly like the rather large neck labels on the bottle.

The design of our next bottle art is significantly easier to find than any details about the beer. Samson Craft Beer is supposedly based in New Jersey, but is difficult to find any information on the Internet. Their bottle design, however, is awesome and by designer Sean Flanagan:
This bottle design and branding for Samson Craft Beers uses a simple yet memorable visual to compete amongst the glut of mico-brew labels on store shelves. The illustration takes the legend of Samson and the Lion most of us are familiar with and adds a beverage industry twist. These liter bottles are screen printed front and back. Also, in order to transport cases to the various distributors and restaurants, we sourced antique wooden beverage crates and re-purposed them by sanding and screen printing the logo on each side.
I mean, that is just badass. The screen printing is awesome, the image is good, I love the sourcing of antique crates, even the name works (brewer's name is Jeff Samson), and the biblical theme is both resonant and different. The design has been profiled for a reason; the figure is great and the pouring beer into the lion's mouth is a great twist. The way the design comes through the bottle when the text is front adds even an additional dimension.

And, lastly, the throwback design of the Austin Beerworks, designed by Helms Workshop:
This is a nice retro look, with extreme beveling in the text and simple bold colors forming text field backgrounds. The logo with the A in the drop seems to call to mind some of the old oil logos (or a new coffee logo), which is appropriate for Texas. Surprisingly, I like the t-shirt designs, which use a simple modern industrial look in a bit of a new way.

All right friends, back to more of the craft beer label releases and the like soon.

March 9, 2011

Dieline Week, Part III: Beer Label Design by Non-Breweries

This is the third installment of our week of looking at designs highlighted by the Dieline. I will caution readers that the last design in this post has strong language involved in the design.

First, a beer created for a the g(love) exhibit last month
Artist Stephen Antonson paired up with VSA NY to present g(love), a singular exhibition inspired by the bittersweet feeling of love lost and found. G(love): A Valentine from Stephen Antonson and VSA showcased 21 framed pairs of gloves and mittens picked up off the streets of New York and lovingly mismatched by Antonson. 
First, let's skip the debate on conceptual art and whether collecting gloves and mismatching them is really special (though, if you're interested in why it's worth money, I can't recommend highly enough Don Thompson's The $12 Million Stuffed Shark). The design for the bottle is cool and flip and a little disturbing, all appropriate for this type of contemporary art. I have no idea if the dissected horse was an intentional reference to Damien Hirst's preserved wildlife (like the shark after which the aforementioned book was named), but it's hard to imagine it's a coincidence.

Next we have a product designed by the Brooklyn design firm Freshthrills, as a collaboration "with local brew master Kelly Taylor of Kelso Of Brooklyn to bottle and package their Chocolate Lager, specially for our clients."
Anyone familiar with Freshthrills, knows that we can be a little fanatical over craft beer. In fact, it’s been our obsession of 2010... We aimed to develop naming, branding, packaging and other print collateral using Kelso Chocolate Lager....For all you history buffs, a Motorman is the title of a trolley engineer and during the early 1900’s, people commonly rode trolleys to get around downtown Brooklyn. In a lot of ways, the Motorman is a perfect symbol of resourcefulness because they not only operated and maintained the trolley but also acted as the conductor. It’s fair to say they had a tough, but respectable job. We likened the Motorman’s responsibilities to that of, Freshthrills and how we approach our work. To push the concept further, we developed the Motorman’s Decree, a set of guidelines which was imprinted on the coasters. This additional element allowed us to bring in a little humor and added a useful keep-sake to extend the life of the project.
This is simple and elegant and modern, but too much so. It just looks like so many other designs these days. Slim, outlined and shadowed all-caps font, ribbon banner underneath, straight line above. Very clean, very segmented, very bland. Even the coasters with the decree guidelines are very Nike-cliche ripoff. I get that it's not paid work, but it just seems uninspired.

A recent graduate of Parsons design school, Tess Goldon, put together a hypothetical Mexican beer she called Mictlan:
For this project, we were instructed to design a beverage of our choice. I decided to design a beer based on the beautiful graphics, colors, and history of The Day of the Dead. My beer is called Mictlan, named after the Aztec underworld where the spirits of the deceased would travel to find eternal rest. The journey to get there took four long years, and families of the departed would send them on their way with lavish celebrations of food, drinks, and flowers.
It's a cool take on a Dia de los Muertos aesthetic, with the bright colors and skulls, but it's a definitively American craft beer one. The font, the big fields of color, even the layered composition of the label is very industry standard and lacking that messy vibrancy common to much of Mexican art. The one element that stands out is the big skull at the top of the label that protrudes up.

Lastly, the foul-language-laden amateur work designed by Renee Fernandez and Ryan Rhodes:
Clever and funny, and I like the disconnect between circusy design and profanity. The use of different size fields, fonts and images really gives the work a dynamic, heightened by the neck labels.

March 8, 2011

The Dieline Week, Part II

This continues our week of package design for beers we found through The Dieline.

Here's one from Norway, Frydenlund, by Oslo design firm Frank:
Here's the evolution of the design:
The new packaging by Frank retains the beer’s traditional elements but has been simplified to give it a fresh but authentic new look. Sales of the product have increased dramatically and have introduced Frydenlund to a new generation of beer drinkers.
I think we can all agree that the evolution is progress. The newest iteration uses color well as a backdrop while retaining all of the traditional elements like the barley and crests, the horse and cart, and the six-pointed star.

Next, an Aussie beer launched by musicians, Lovells Lager, designed by Sydney firm Landor:

Lovells Lager was created by two successful, Australian music industry professionals, with a passion for great tasting beer. Frustrated by the quality of session lagers available, they decided to create their own brew. They wanted to take the creative inspiration, craftsmanship and independence, that was the driving force of their music, and channel it into the production of their new beer... The challenge was to build credibility in Lovells Lager as an authentic beer, whilst reflecting the essence and truth of a creative and thought-provoking brand... Early in the process, we established the idea of disruption, as a way of acknowledging the language and expectations of established beer brands, yet putting a new twist on it. The dragon became an icon to symbolise this concept. The bottle label design used traditional beer cues, whilst the neck label was the vehicle for creative expression, wit and humour. The packaging elements became small canvases to express new ideas and build depth into the brand. This juxtaposition forces you to think about the brand and becomes part of the beer drinkers dialogue. The Master drinkers coat of arms is a tongue in cheek reference to the owners of Lovells Lager and is based on 2 bottle openers crossing over.
That's a lot of pictures and text, but I have to admit this is damn cool. And as a proud soldier in the army of the session beer movement, I can say I share their frustration. It's sharp, classic, different, and a little off-putting. Not sure if bugs make me want to drink beer, but they get my attention. If I were a craft brewery with the budget for a firm, I'd take a hard look at Landor.

Lastly, less revolutionary but still cool is the work by Flaechenbrand for Braufactum, a contract-brewed beer in Germany:
Simple and classy, with a nice logo of brewers collaborating. I like the marketing pieces with the fruit bursting up.