Since the 1970s, the number of craft breweries operating in the U.S. has skyrocketed from less than 100 to more than 2,500. That’s promising news for the industry as a whole, but if you’re a new upstart fighting for recognition—or an older outfit trying to stay relevant—it spells fierce competition. Go to any beer store—or even the local bodega—and you’ll be inundated by choice. Which of the 60 different IPAs on offer are you going to pick?
In craft beer, as in any business, branding matters. But rather than relying on million-dollar Super Bowl commercials and sponsorships to push their product, most small breweries duke it out on the shelves simply with cool bottles and cans. If you’re as into label art as we are, it’s exciting is to see how these brands create visual identities to match the creativity of their beers.
Whether it’s a trailblazer trying to update its look while embracing its heritage, or a newer outfit looking to make a splash with a new bottle release, breweries are changing their game up everywhere you look. Here, we take a look into 10 recent craft-beer makeovers.
Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits (San Diego, CA)
Best known for its kickass IPAs (like the cult-classic Sculpin) and porters (Victory at Sea), Ballast Point recently revamped the packaging for all its bottles and six-packs. According to a press release from founder and CEO Jack White, the goal was to “more boldly showcase the three elements that represent Ballast Point: the name itself, the sextant logo, and the original illustrations by Ballast Point’s resident artist, Paul Elder.”
For the craft-beer trailblazer—founded back in 1996—it was important to modernize without losing track of its heritage. “Most folks won’t remember our original bottles, but we like that we are paying homage to our humble beginnings,” White said. “As we grow, it’s a great reminder of where we came from.”
The logo change
The evolution of Sculpin
Great Northern Brewing Co. (Whitefish, MO)
To cook up a bolder retail presence for its Wheatfish, Wild Huckleberry, and Going to the Sun IPA beers, Great Northern Brewing Co. tapped local designer to Pete Thomas with the consulting firm ZaneRay. The brewery’s Retail Marketing and Promotions Manager Jessica Lucey explains the importance of branding as more and more breweries hit the market: “How a beer looks can be just as important as how it tastes; particularly on a grocery store shelf. Unless you are already familiar with a beer or brand, you won’t know how it tastes until after you buy it and get it home.”
The old look
Uinta Brewing Company (Salt Lake City, UT)
Uinta recently underwent a full-scale makeover, keeping its “Earth, wind, and beer” tagline while changing just about everything else. Uinta Market Director Lindsay Berk says, “Uinta took on a major redesign that included our logo, a proprietary compass bottle, and all packaging. The redesign allowed Uinta to embrace and share our brand personality. We just rebranded our Detour Double IPA moving it from our Crooked Line of Beers to our Classic Line; it was a move that made sense for that brand and the design of the brand aligns with the spirit of Uinta.”
Shmaltz’s Coney Island (New York, NY)
Since its birth in 2008, Shmaltz’s Coney Island Craft Lagers has known for its vibrant illustrations of famous Coney Island sideshow performers, including the heavily pierced and tattooed Funny Face, who adorned the brewery’s flagship lager. Since being sold to Boston Beer’s subsidiary Alchemy and Science in 2013, a lot has changed at Coney: new distribution; new beer varieties (Seas the Day Indian pale lager, Tunnel of Love watermelon wheat); and yes, new packaging.
Coney Island’s new slogan says, “Take the next ride with the Coney Island Brewing Company.” The brand has toned down the freak-show aspect of its artwork, instead focusing on more universal elements of the iconic amusement park (the boardwalk, the beach, etc.). New tap handles are mini replicas of the famous Parachute Jump, and other subtle embellishments remove the fear factor while still keeping things festive.
The original “freakshow” logo
New tap handles inspired by the Parachute Jump
Old versus new: Mermaid Pilsner
Summit Brewing Company (St. Paul, MN)
At least 17 states will be able to check out Summit Brewing Company’s new logo, labels, and containers, designed by Minneapolis’ Duffy & Partners. “We redesigned our original logo in 1999 after Summit’s new brewery opened, and with the expansion of the brewery 14 years later, we felt it was again time to update our look,” Summit founder Mark Stutrud says on the brewery’s website. “Innovation is part of our DNA and we think this change signals that commitment while also honoring the community that built this company.”
The logo through the years
New bottle designs
Weyerbacher Brewing Company (Eaton, PA)
Weyerbacher has long received accolades for its exceptional beers—Imperial Pumpkin Ale, Double Simcoe, and Merry Monks’ to name a few—but its art direction has always been a bit amateurish (albeit charming in its own, DIY way). That changed when the brewery brought on Pennsylvania-based SSMCreative (Standing Stone Media) to create a fresh smiling jester logo and intricate paintings for new labels to go along with a $1.1 million brewery expansion.
As the design firm tells it, “Weyerbacher, as a brand, is a respected small brewery that makes bold and innovative beers that challenge style boundaries and create incredible experiences through beer. That’s a great brand. Except the visual portion of the brand had not kept up with the physical brand. All of this great beer was packaged in dated materials with a logo that was deeply in need of re-design.” Check out how Blasphemy, a Belgian-style Quadrupel, has evolved over the years, and see some other examples below.
The evolution of the Jester
Then and now: The Merry Monks
New Belgium (Fort Collins, CO/Asheville, NC)
In a collaboration with artist Leah Giberson and Hatch Design out of San Francisco, the 22-year-old New Belgium Brewing Company sought to bridge the gap between heritage and modernity with its new bottle and can art. The original warm, watercolor-based designs were preserved and fused them with cleaner, sharper graphics. To keep die-hard loyalists happy, the brewery still sells merchandise with the old artwork. For a look at New Belgium’s updated look on the shelves, keep an eye out for the all-new Snapshot unfiltered wheat beer hitting stores now.
The O.G. Fat Tire
A new look for Fat Tire
New artwork for Trippel
Red Brick Brewing (Atlanta, GA)
Having already undergone one rebranding effort in 2011, Georgia’s oldest craft brewery (it’s been around more than two decades) tapped hometown firm Creative Mischief to update the text-heavy graphics of yore. Gone are the labels boasting tongue-in-cheek quotes like, “If you buy New England beer, you’re just giving more money to the queen.” Now, local artists like Jeremy Townsend create custom illustrations for new releases; the brewery has already seen a significant sales boost while launching brews like the Sacred Cow Chai Tea Milk Stout.
The old, text-heavy bottles
The updated text treatment
New art for Hoplanta
More new label art
Three Taverns Brewing Company (Decatur, GA)
With older breweries revamping all around them, today’s upstarts know they have to hit the market with someone fresh to compete from day one. Atlanta’s Three Taverns has only been around since early 2013, but its first 750ml bottle, Theophan the Recluse Belgian-Style Russian Imperial Stout, was a major statement. The ornate label is completely different from the cleaner, numerically themed 12-ounce vessels used for the Belgian-inspired Single Intent, A Night In Brussels, and White Hops. “Deep, mysterious, full-bodied and indefinably exotic, Theophan the Recluse is meant to transport drinkers to a place of deep contemplation, mystical insight and inspired conversation,” says the brewery’s website. This stunning piece of art confirms how serious Three Taverns is about making a name for itself.
Lonerider Brewing Company (Raleigh, NC)
Lonerider has always had a catchy tagline (“Ale for Outlaws”) and eye-catching artwork paying homage to cowboy culture, but the four-year-old North Carolina brewery still saw room for improvement. Lonerider’s President and “Chief Drinking Officer” Sumit Vohra told us, “We rebranded because we believe in constant evolution. Lonerider in the beginning was well represented by our original story. As we grew and the craft industry gained many more SKUs [stock-keeping units], we had to evolve to keep ourselves distinguishable.”
The brewery worked with local design firm Clean Design to give Shotgun Betty Sweet Josie Brown Ale and Shotgun Betty Hefeweizen more sex appeal, while the bearded sheriff with a revolver in hand now presides over the blue-hued Peacemaker Pale Ale. Lonerider will put its new packaging to the test as it expands its award-winning beers to new states—including Virginia, Maryland, and Tennessee—in early 2014.