2023 Beer Branding Trends Review

Exploring beer branding & portfolio strategy, Beyond Beer, Brand Architecture and visual trends

Hello there, and welcome to CODO Design’s 2023 beer branding trends review. 

The beer industry has been on its heels since early 2020, and this year is shaping up to be another challenging one. 

Between inflation, astronomical COGS increases, supply chain shortages, labor shortages and an economy that has either been in (or flirting with) a recession for the last year, you have to wonder if there’s a single brewery in America that is not for sale?

And if that overview isn’t rose tinted enough, we’re also watching as some of the industry’s most ardent founders and luminaries sell out and walk away and/or publicly state that craft beer will never again see growth. 

So 2023 may prove to be an inflection point. 

And if it is, what are you going to do? Fold it up and sell? Go do whatever it is one does after dedicating years of their life to something they’re passionate about? 

Or will you keep rolling with the punches and building your brewery business?

In this review, we will outline the most compelling, interesting and alarming trends we’re seeing right now in the beer industry and beyond.

These insights represent the biggest opportunities we see for any brewery  or beverage alcohol (Bev Alc) company who doesn’t just want to weather the next few uncertain years, but come out of them in a stronger position and ready to grow over the next decade.

Let’s get into it. 

A few notes before we dive in.



We’ve pulled 4 important sections from this review and are sending them exclusively to our Beer Branding Trends Newsletter subscribers.

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If audio is more your speed, then we also released a companion podcast on this year’s review. Give this a listen for more background context on what we see shaping beer and Bev Alc right now.



Click on any of the following links to skip ahead to a particular section:


Beer Branding & Portfolio Strategy
Brand Architecture
Beyond Beer
Recession & Inflation
Visual Trends



Section 1. Beer Branding & Portfolio Strategy


There’s no easy business model right now. With rising input costs, inflation and constantly changing consumer preferences and habits, breweries have to stay sharp and more abreast of what’s going on outside of their walls than ever before. 

This section focuses on the recurring brand strategy conversations we’ve had in our work over the last year. The conversation here spans different approaches for rebranding, staying attuned to changing consumer preferences and demographics, what role multipacks can play in your portfolio and the various paths to market that we’re seeing that are working right now with our startup brewery clients.


Rebrands vs. Refreshes
Evolution vs. Revolution

We’ve included some version of rebranding as a trend (e.g. rebrands, brand refreshes, package refreshes) in these annual reviews for the last several years. And indeed, at this point, calling the fact that breweries across the country are rebranding en masse a “trend” isn’t really the right word. If a trend is a general direction in which things are headed, the sheer number of breweries that are revamping their branding is well beyond that point. 

In today’s business environment, a brewery rebranding is now the norm.

There’s just so. much. competition. And from all angles. You’ve (likely) got breweries within blocks of your taproom, not to mention hundreds of other breweries within your broader city, state and region. Add in Big Beer (including Big Craft) as well as the burgeoning beyond beer market, and what you’re left with is an environment wherein breweries have to rebrand not just to freshen things up, but to remain relevant and viable.

1. Lagunitas Brewing, 2. Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers, 3. Monday Night Brewing, 4. Fat Tire, 5. Great Divide Brewing, 6. Good George Brewing, 7. Warped Wing Brewing, 8. Brooklyn Brewery, 9. Wild Basin Hard Seltzer, 10. Two Roads Brewing

Here are a handful of recurring themes we’ve seen come up in our brewery rebranding work over the last year: 


The pandemic as a hard stop and chance to reset
Take stock & regroup  

I’m not sure any brewery’s business model made it through the pandemic completely unchanged. And for many, the game-time pivots and longer lasting fallout from 2020 have irrevocably altered the course of their business. 

We’ve seen everything from breweries closing beloved tap rooms, retiring fan favorite brands, shifting to new formats and/or production methods, adjusting their focus and positioning itself, adjusting their Brand Architecture and rethinking how they want to build the business moving forward.

Whenever we sit down to discuss a rebrand with a brewery, we start by asking them, Why the change? What’s leading you to want to rebrand? 

And more often than not, the pain points and issues (and opportunities) we’re hearing from breweries are either created by, or exacerbated by the pandemic and its follow-on effects. 

From a Brand Strategy and positioning perspective, we’re hearing a lot of brewery teams wanting to treat the last few years as a hard reset. 

Let’s reflect on how we’ve changed over time, including the last few years in particular, and reimagine how our brand can evolve from here. And this rebrand is how we make this shift official. 


Rebranding in conjunction with major portfolio changes (Building Sub Brands & Beyond Beer beverages, specifically)
What should we be selling tomorrow?

Breweries are using rebrands as a way to hone their offerings and create platforms for long-term brand building within their portfolio. 

We’ve dedicated a few sections later in this report to Sub Brands and contemporary portfolio building strategies. But for now, we are seeing this idea creep into most of our rebranding work.

These conversations tend to look like this: “We want to undergo a brand refresh, but completely revamp our packaging. And we want to develop a Sub Brand family around our best selling beer so that we can explore line extensions and more seasonal variants moving forward.” 

A (tactical) subset of this idea revolves around filling holes in your portfolio. This commonly manifests in a discussion around weighing the merits of promoting your parent brand at every turn (e.g. Prost Brewing Pils, Prost Brewing Dunkel) vs. creating individual beer brands that can serve as platforms for future growth (e.g. KettleHouse Cold Smoke, KettleHouse Double Haul). 

There’s no universally right answer to this question. But right now, we are seeing more breweries leaning towards creating new beers with uniquely fanciful names in lieu of a more traditional monolithic approach both for their beer portfolio and beyond beer lineup.


Rebranding as part of a succession plan
Where do we go from here?

We’ve fielded a few projects (and discussed several more) over the last year that centered around succession planning. 

We’ve seen a variety of approaches on this front, including handing the business down to another family member or selling to a few key employees. We’ve also seen some outfits consider moving to an Employee Stock Ownership Plan model (ESOP). And we’ve seen breweries decide to sell outright to another brewery or just publicly list the entire concern for sale to see who comes knocking. 

In the past, we would typically come in after the sale and help the new ownership team shore up the branding to better align with their vision. But now, we’re seeing more breweries rebrand as a move to make the business more attractive to potential buyers before the sale. 


Allow me to reintroduce myself
Remember me?

Another common theme we’re seeing in our project work this year, particularly amongst our regional brewery clients, centers around the idea of reintroducing their brand to their home market (and in some cases, even their own neighborhood). 

In the heady days of the 2010’s, growing breweries would often scale by expanding their distribution footprint. Do this for several years and it’s easy to find yourself a mile wide, but only an inch deep. 

As these breweries continued expanding and launching new markets, there were many (in some markets, hundreds) of new entrants that weren’t distributed widely and who weren’t overlooking (some might say taking for granted) their neighbors. In many cases, these older breweries became strangers in their own hometown. 

We’ve handled a few rebrands for breweries in this situation, helping them answer three key questions:

– How can we take back our backyard?

– How can we find new relevance in our home town? 

– How can we reintroduce ourselves? 

Moving forward, finding scale via continued expansion will only work for a select number of brands. For everyone else, you’ll need to shake hands, kiss babies, and put in the hard work it takes to go deeper in your home market and recapture business in your own backyard.

Read more about our rebrand for the San Diego icon, Mission Brewing here. And listen to a great podcast conversation with Mission’s CEO, Dan Partelow, on his experience through the process here.

Brand vs. Style
Focusing on long term brand building

One of the most interesting takeaways from Bart Watson’s (Chief Economist at the Brewers Association) 2022 mid-year Harris Poll Consumer Survey report was that brand loyalty is gaining major headway vs. shopping by style itself. 

In 2016, only 24% of survey respondents said that they shop brand first vs. 76% who shop for style first. What this means is that someone would go to the store to buy an IPA (the brand may change week to week), vs. shopping for a specific brand of IPA, say, Voodoo Ranger or Little Thing. 

In 2022, these numbers shifted up to 38% reporting that they shop for brand first vs. just 62% who look for style. This is a major shift and will have long term ramifications. 

To start, I’m not sure that IPA will never not be synonymous with Craft Beer. So style will always be an important consideration when building your portfolio. 

But what this means for breweries moving forward is that they need to double down on long term brand building.

Why this is happening isn’t a big mystery. We now have more than 9,000 breweries in the United States today—an embarrassment of riches. Today’s legal drinking age (LDA) consumer has essentially unlimited choice in what she can drink. And perhaps alarmingly, Watson reported that 43% of consumers said there was “just enough” choice on shelf. So no one is clamoring for more variety.

In fact, just the opposite seems to be occurring. In the face of too many options, we quickly develop decision fatigue. And rather than waste another second on being overwhelmed when looking at 500 (seemingly identical) Hazy IPA options in the cold box, we will revert to what we know and trust (which is looking more and more like reliable brands vs. that overwhelming style category).


So what does it mean to build a brand in the long term?


– You have to have a genuine point of view and meaningful differentiation (including a distinct brand voice and story).

– You have to have beautiful brand identity and compelling packaging. (FYI, this is now table stakes.)

– You have to tailor your portfolio to specific consumers, styles, lifestyles and occasion opportunities (including beyond beer offerings).

– You have to create a welcoming hospitality experience at the taproom that’s completely dialed-in (if that fits your model).

– You have to have a well-oiled sales program.

– And increasingly, it’s looking like this will entail brand building at the individual beer level more than focusing on the brewery’s parent brand.

So the takeaway: What are you doing to build customer loyalty right now

This needs to be top of mind moving forward.


Changing Legal Drinking Age Demographics 
Sorting out conflicting narratives

Below are a smattering of headlines I’ve found purporting the coming collapse of the entire Bev Alc industry as we know it. I’m sure you’ve seen these yourself over the last few years:

Why Gen Z is growing up sober curious

Cheers Boomer: How Alcohol is becoming has-been for Gen Z 

Gen Z: A Generation without Alcohol? 

Teetotalism: Why Gen Z is choosing good, clean fun 

The harbinger of this demise? An entire generation—Gen Z—that is choosing a life of temperance and sobriety over drinking alcohol. 

But what if this isn’t true?

We’ve been tracking this theme for a few years now and here’s the (frustrating) thing. We’ve found equally credible sources on both sides of this prediction—that is, equally credible sources saying that Gen Z is in fact drinking less than Millennials, Gen X, and certainly the Boomers who came before them. And we’ve found credible sources saying that Gen Z is drinking just as much as any other generation. Great.

A few examples from resources we trust:

The team at Rabobank published a report on the changing demographics of today’s LDA consumer. And one of those points was that Gen Z was drinking substantially less than Millennials. 

But then we’ve also seen reliable sources saying that Gen Z is drinking just as much as Millennials did when they were in their 20’s. (Bryan Roth over at Sightlines+ shared a fun pice of historical context on this topic as well—a newspaper headline from 1883 that sounds almost identical to today’s headlines.)

Back to those headlines for a moment: Interestingly, articles that claim that Gen Z is drinking less more often than not have an overtly negative angle. They don’t paint a picture of a health conscious cohort who is focused on self development. Instead, it seems like three out of every five articles in this vein are thinly veiled excuses to throw pot shots at Zoomers (e.g., they’re not drinking because they’re addicted to their phones! Can you believe it?). 

We don’t have any deeper analysis here other than to say that maybe these headlines keep appearing simply because they drive clicks. Or, is it just the time-honored tradition of older folks complaining about how the current crop of young adults is ruining this, that or the other? Blaming Boomers for the current state of the world, or for how Millennials ruined XYZ industry is all the rage. And I wonder if the narrative of Gen Z drinking less than previous generations is just more of the same? 

Either way, we couldn’t find any concrete data that proves this assertion. 


Clear as mud? Yep. Here’s what we do know about Gen Z:


Gen Z Has more options for what they drink than any generation before them
Optionality rules everything around me

Whether or not Gen Z is drinking more or less isn’t immediately pressing for today’s craft brewery. But what should be on your radar is that this cohort now has more options for what they can drink than any group before them. 

They have full access to not only a mature craft beer market, but wine and spirits and the emergent (and as a whole, much more marketing-savvy) Fourth Category.

Gen Z has loads of options for what to drink and what not to when it comes to alcohol. And you would be wise to listen to them and respond to their preferences as they become known, because those preferences represent new opportunities.


For the first time in history, women now drink more than men
A tremendous opportunity

You read that right, women are drinking more alcohol than men. This is another interesting finding from that Rabobank paper, and there are a few theories as to why this is happening: More women than men are graduating from college today (and education is a strong predictor of casual alcohol use, i.e. “let’s grab a drink after work” and networking occasions). 

This data cuts across race as well. The number of Asian, Black and Latina women who regularly drink alcohol has increased by 84% since 2004. This figure continues to trend up, so the beer and beverage industry needs to quickly realize that it’s not just targeting the traditional craft beer drinker (white Millennial men). There’s a whole other world of drinkers out there, and they’re more diverse than ever before.



If we can look beyond the beverage category for a moment and to the broader CPG world (snacks, beauty, health), there is an ongoing trend towards gender neutral design. We’ll explore this idea in more detail in our visual trends section later in this piece, but for now, think of this as an opportunity to stay true to your brewery’s personality, aesthetics and brand voice while also being open to a broader audience over the coming years.



Variety Packs in ascendency
Go big or go home

We’ve designed more multipacks (12-packs and variety packs) over the last 18 months than anytime in our career. And interestingly, a lot of these 12-packs were coming from startups and smaller (non-regional) brewers. 

But let’s set this anecdotal context aside and look at some hard figures from Bump Williams Consulting (BWC). The BWC team reports that 12-pack sales, as a whole, are Craft Beer’s second largest growth format, increasing YoY for the last four years. Indeed, long the bane of your production team, variety packs occupied eight of the top 25 new craft 12-packs in 2022.

Back in our 2022 Beer Branding Trends review, Bart Watson hypothesized that the rise of variety packs could be because they provide a way for breweries to offer new brands and drive trial in the face of distributor and retailer pressure to reduce SKUs. (Here’s another great perspective on variety packs from Revolution Brewing’s Doug Veliky.)

While we don’t have hard data on this front, we do have a lot of anecdotal evidence to support this theory: We’ve had several clients introduce variety packs because (1) their customers want them, and (2) they want to test new brands without gambling that a new brand will catch on in a major launch via traditional formats (i.e. 4-packs or 6-packs).

No matter the reason, and assuming you can get the COGS to pencil out, 12-packs can be a great format for your customers and might need to be on your radar over the coming years.


There are two sub trends we’re seeing here:


Well-branded variety packs that seek to own an occasion
Variety packs as a brand building opportunity

It’s always a bummer when I see a variety pack out in retail simply called a “Variety Pack” or a “Mixed Pack.” “Party Pack,” while boring, is still better because it at least hints at an occasion and use case. 

These naming conventions are a missed opportunity. A variety pack should be viewed as its own unique brand with its own unique value proposition. And it should be positioned and named as such.

Give it a more compelling theme. Suggest a particular occasion so people will understand why (and when) they need to buy it, and actually build your variety pack as a brand itself.

1/2. Terrapin Brewing, 3. KettleHouse Brewing, 4. Grain Belt Beer, 5. Bauhaus Brew Labs, 6. Shiner Beer, 7. Mighty Swell Hard Seltzer, 8. Surly Brewing Co.

Sub Trend

“Potpourri Packs”
Something for everybody

IPA (and Hazy IPA) multipacks still rule the day. But we’re seeing a fun (currently small) trend that goes beyond a single style and instead offers different beverage categories (e.g. beer & seltzer, beer & RTDs) as well as differing levels of ABV (e.g. 0–8% ABV).

This will be challenging, if not impossible, for most breweries to pull off. And further, we have no data that shows whether or not these are even moving that well. But we are seeing more of them. And I think they could catch on as a de facto party pack if for no other reason than how convenient they are. You can grab one or two Potpourri Packs vs. a 6-pack of NA beer and a couple suitcases of beer and some RTDs and some hard seltzer and some…

1. Prim3r Hard Seltzer, 2. Curation Bev Co., 3. Bootstrap Brewing Co., 4. Bud Light, 5. Fulton Brewing Co.

Paths to market for startup breweries
How are new breweries opening in 2023?

Craft Beer isn’t dead! But we are operating in a vastly different market than the 2010–2019 era. 

There are now ~9,500 breweries in the United States, debt has become more expensive, and consumers are embracing new categories and beverages with open arms. Success is no longer a guarantee and new breweries today have far less margin for error as they come out of the gate.

We’ve worked with several breweries in planning over the last 12 months (and are slated to kickoff with several more this summer). Beyond these projects, we’ve talked with another 30+ other groups that we ended up not working with. I say that because it gives us a broad context for what models and concepts folks are using all over the country to launch new breweries today.

Here are a few recurring themes from our fieldwork and these new business conversations.

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Section 2. Brand Architecture


We’ve spent almost every day since 2019 engaged in some sort of Brand Architecture work, and this is continuing to ramp up as we head deeper in 2023. This work started as a trickle in 2019 where we helped a few clients launch hard seltzer.s That trickle quickly became a torrent which gave way to entire hard seltzer brand families, RTD cocktails, canned coffee and kombucha, teas, NA beer, and hop waters.

There are a lot of interesting points we can hit on here, but to keep this section manageable, we’ll focus on a few broad themes: A new era of breweries building brands within their portfolio and Brand Architecture as a tool for guiding new product development. 

From there, we’ll explore some tactical ways of releasing new beers and beyond beer extensions, how we’re seeing our brewery clients organize their portfolios. And finally, we’ll explore an uncomfortable topic that we’ve ignored for far too long—alcohol and minors and our responsibility here as brand builders.

Part book, part quiz, and part choose-your-own-adventure-style novel, The Beyond Beer Handbook is a purpose-built tool for helping you expand your brewery’s portfolio and build a more resilient business.

Welcome to the Era of Brand Families
Building Sub / Endorsed Brands & hunting for incremental growth within your portfolio

The most pervasive Brand Architecture trend we’re seeing right now centers around building brands within a brewery’s portfolio and parent brand itself. 

The most compelling examples of this—and the most cited examples we hear that other breweries want to emulate—are New Belgium’s Voodoo Ranger family and Sierra Nevada’s Little Thing family. (Here’s a great panel conversation on this topic from last year’s BrewBound Live Conference.) 

In Brand Architecture terms, this strategy generally manifests as a Sub Brand or an Endorsed Brand. The specific approach isn’t as important here as is the long term bet that we’re seeing more breweries make. The future will be more centered around specific brands, and brand families, more so than around a brewery’s parent brand. Revisit the earlier section on Brand vs. Style if you’re still not convinced of this prediction.

The early days of the Craft Beer Boom saw an outsized focus on building flagships. This model waned throughout the 2010’s as breweries leaned into more of a “Rotation Nation” mindset. Yeah, we might have three or four mainstays, but people really come here for our monthly (sometimes weekly) new releases more than anything. 

This pendulum is now swinging back towards flagships, but the idea of a flagship itself is changing. Instead of building the brewery’s parent brand directly, now we’re seeing more breweries focus on positioning and branding individual beer brands within the portfolio specifically as platforms for future growth, be they Line Extensions, Brand Extensions, collaborations and beyond.

1. Voodoo Ranger (New Belgium Brewing), 2. Dead Guy (Rogue), 3. Little Thing (Sierra Nevada Brewing), 4. Truth (Rhinegeist Brewing), 5. Shipwrecked (Mission Brewing), 6. Hearted (Bell’s Brewery), 7. Wicked (Samuel Adams), 8.Tropical Beer Hug (Goose Island), 9. Monkeys (Victory Brewing)

Brand Architecture to Guide New Product Development
Future proofing your innovation pipeline

Another subject that has come up repeatedly in our work—generally with our larger regional brewery clients (or those who are headed that way)—is organizing your Brand Architecture explicitly to guide new product development (NPD) and innovation pipeline over the coming years. 

This isn’t revelatory—this is how Brand Architecture has been used for years in other CPG categories. But CODO is seeing more dedicated engagements where we’re helping breweries get a lay of the land as far as their current portfolio sits as a means of mapping out other segments and categories a brewery can explore. 

This cuts down on the time it takes to go from initial idea to product launch because you’ve already done the leg work on what categories make sense to explore and how your brewery might release (name, brand and position) a new product in that segment, should you decide to do so. 

This is all anecdotal, but it’s one more piece of data that tells me that the brewery of tomorrow will offer a more diverse range of beyond beer products as a default; that a brewery that only brews beer may be in the minority.

Brand Architecture Map we created as part of Good George Brewing’s rebrand. Read more about this project here.

Brand Extensions vs. Sub Brands
New products as platforms 

*This section was previously published on our Beer Branding Trends Newsletter. Subscribe here if you’d like to receive timely insights like this throughout the year.

One of the more common problems we help breweries work through when launching a Beyond Beer product is determining how to position it within their portfolio itself. 

And perhaps counterintuitively, deciding that you want some sort of connection (a pinch? a skosh?? a dash???) with your brewery’s parent brand can actually make this all more complicated.

(You’d think that would make this easier, right?)

Let’s take a look at the fine line between Brand Extensions and Sub Brands, and discuss when each strategy can make sense.

We’re talking about the subtle shift between a Brand Extension and a Sub Brand, highlighted in green above. This can be confusing because the parent brand plays a prominent role in each case. Read more about the Beverage Brand Architecture Continuum here.

The key difference between a Brand Extension and a Sub Brand lies in how much effort, attention and detail is brought to that secondary product in relation to the parent brand. 

With a Brand Extension, there is little to no effort put into developing a unique name, artwork or other branding elements related to the product itself. The entire focus is on the parent brand, and this product exists as a mere extension of your portfolio. You are simply using your brewery’s brand on a non-beer category product.

By contrast, a Sub Brand will feature a fully developed name, logo or other branding cues in addition to those of the parent brand. The parent is still the main purchasing driver here, but other elements to bring more personality or clarity to the product are introduced.

If you’ve determined you want some connection with the parent brand but are stuck on just how much connection there should be (e.g. a Brand Extension or a Sub Brand), a quick way to determine which is the right path is to consider the product’s future growth opportunities post-launch.

A common path for innovation we’ve seen with our clients goes like this:

Brewery launches a…

Seltzer (or canned cocktail) >

Lemonade Seltzer Line Extension >

Margarita Seltzer Line Extension >

Mimosa Seltzer Line Extension >

Variety Packs with all of the above

Each one of these follow-on line extensions is a step further away from your core brand and all that it stands for (here’s a podcast on positioning in case you want a refresher on this).

So if you launch that hard seltzer as a Brand Extension—e.g. XYZ Brewing Hard Seltzer—each subsequent Line Extension will also be leveraging your Parent Brand’s equity (thus diluting what that parent brand stands for in your customers’ minds).

Your brand strategy, competitive set and project context will determine whether or not this is an issue (though we’d contend that in most cases it is a big ask of your Parent Brand and can do more long term harm than good). 

This is where a Sub Brand can shine. 

Assuming this product makes sense within your broader positioning and messaging, creating a Sub Brand can give you just enough buffer to extend and scale this new product without further diluting your Parent Brand’s positioning through subsequent releases.

Client example

While branching out to seltzer isn’t too big of a stretch for a brewery these days, Left Field Brewery still wanted some separation between their Parent Brand and this new product. 

Ultimately, they felt their new seltzer could (and should) still tie to the Left Field brand and occasion (a refreshing break during a baseball game). 

We’re highlighting this brand because of the leeway it gives Left Field. It would’ve been easier, faster and cheaper to bring this seltzer to market as a Brand Extension (e.g. Left Field Hard Seltzer). 

But with the follow-on flavor ideas and line extensions their team is already kicking around, that would’ve put much more pressure on the Left Field brand itself. 

Over time, this continual march of extensions and new flavors (the innovation treadmill that one jumps on when committing to creating RTDs and FMBs) would undercut Left Field’s core positioning as Toronto’s baseball brewery. 

Is Left Field the baseball brewery brand or a Pink Lemonade Hard Seltzer brand?

Creating this Sub Brand (technically, a Sub/Endorsed Brand) gives Left Field just enough leeway to extend and grow the 7th Inning brand while still getting all the leverage and benefit from their parent brand. 

Win. Win.


Monolithic Portfolio vs. Fanciful Naming Strategies
Which approach works better in 2023?

I had an interesting conversation recently with a brewery in planning that we’re working with. It centered around the merits of creating fanciful beer names and individualized beer brands vs. a more monolithic, style-forward approach (e.g. XYZ Brewing Pils, XYZ Brewing Hazy IPA).

After the call, I realized that we actually discuss this, more or less, on every single packaging project we work on because you always have to figure out the broader portfolio architecture. But we’ve never broken this out and examined it on its own. 

This particular conversation was with a new brewery, but there are interesting considerations for an established brewery that is preparing for a rebrand as well. 

So let’s explore this topic from both of those angles.

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Alcohol & Minors: What is our responsibility as designers?
Wherein we tackle a looming issue head-on 

What constitutes “adult” design vs. something a child might find enticing? 

What is our responsibility as brand builders and Bev Alc producers? 

And how can we prevent children from getting hold of alcohol, or at least how can we avoid directly marketing to them? 

These questions were first posed to me by Matt Kirkegaard on the Australian Brews News podcast more than a year and a half ago. 

My gut response at the time was that this falls on the parent to keep dangerous items out of reach of children, no different than kitchen knives, medicine, household cleaning products, etc. This is still my stance, but if I’m being honest, I felt like this was an unsatisfactory answer—that it might too be too conveniently avoiding the question of a designer’s responsibility in all of this.

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Section 3. Beyond Beer

Is hard kombucha a Beyond Beer offering? How about a startup ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktail brand? Or hard cider? Or a hop water? Is it product-specific, anything that isn’t beer? Or, is it anything a beer drinker might drink that isn’t beer? Does it have to be alcoholic? Does it have to come from a brewery?

In the interest of creating a concrete definition, we believe that a Beyond Beer product is any beverage a craft brewer produces that is not beer. So a hard kombucha brand isn’t a Beyond Beer product unless it’s produced by a brewery. Semantic? Perhaps. But we think this is an important distinction when you’re thinking about how you can safely leverage your brewery’s parent brand as you scale and explore new categories.

Most of our Brand Architecture work over the last few years has centered around helping breweries launch Beyond Beer products. Here are a few interesting shifts we’ve seen on this front in the beer industry during this time.


What we’re seeing at a broad level

In the early days of the hard seltzer boom, circa 2018/19, there was a well-founded concern about how it would be received if a brewery launched a seltzer. 

What this resulted in was, more often than not, breweries launching these new seltzers as Endorsed Brands or entirely new brands. The former approach creates a small connection to the brewery’s Parent Brand, mostly as a seal of approval more so than to claim direct ownership by the Parent Brand. The latter is a strategy to completely disown the new product so as to not muddle your positioning and confuse your customers.

But these early days and those early concerns about how releasing a non-beer product would look for your brewery are past, for both the brewer and consumers. 

Today, consumers not only understand that breweries are producing a wider array of products. Indeed, they may actually be expecting it and may not understand why you’re not making an RTD or a seltzer or a hop water, etc. 

As a result, in our Beyond Beer and Brand Architecture work over the last few years, we’re now seeing more new Beyond Beer products being released more closely tied to the Parent Brand. Think Brand Extensions or Sub Brands. 

This isn’t blanket advice for your brewery to apply when releasing your next Beyond Beer product. You still need to work to determine what strategy both protects your Parent Brand’s equity and positioning while also giving this new product the best shot at success possible.

Pro tip: Take our Beverage Extensions Assessment Tool (B.E.A.T.) if you’re in this position right now. This will help your team quickly determine how to position, name and brand any new product you’ve got on deck.

The Beverage Extension Assessment Tool (B.E.A.T.) is a purpose-built diagnostic assessment for helping your team quickly determine how to position, brand and launch your next beverage (without harming your brewery’s reputation).

The big takeaway here is that breweries and consumers have adapted to this new market. And you now have more leeway with how you introduce new brands, beer or beyond.

This section could easily balloon into 15,000 words on its own. So in the interest of brevity (and keeping this report more actionable), we’re going to focus on two main areas and ideas: the big tent that is non-alcoholic beverages (NA beer and water) and what we’re seeing on the hard seltzer and RTD cocktail front.


Non-Alcoholic beer

We first wrote about non-alcoholic craft beer back in 2018 (when we started seeing any real number of project inquiries on that front) and boy howdy has the segment come a long way since then! It’s gone from dusty, overlooked and stigmatized to cool, great tasting, and broadly-accepted (and celebrated) within three years. 

Now I can already see you out there shaking your head, so let’s get this out of the way early: Detractors will mention that, while this growth is happening, that it’s still infinitesimally small given the rest of the craft beer market. 

And that’s true. 

Non-alcoholic beer is currently about 0.5% of the entire U.S. beer market. And industry leaders and economists have predicted that NA beer will only ever claim 1% of the market at most. They’re saying that NA beer is a fad, that everyone is talking about it because beer itself isn’t growing. 

And, there may be some truth to all of these points. 

But a simple counter. Let’s say NA craft beer does eventually hit 1% of the U.S. beer market—this isn’t exactly chump change we’re talking here.  

Let’s look at last year’s $50 Million investment into Athletic Brewing by Keurig Dr Pepper (KDP) for another angle to this story. With moves like this happening, I actually think NA beer could become larger than 1% of the U.S. beer market by 2030 (an idea I would’ve scoffed at even 24 months ago). 

The point I’m trying to make is that, no matter what detractors say, there is a real segment here (and we’re still in the category’s early days). And there are hundreds of millions of dollars to be made along the way. 

Now for some less bullish perspective.

If your brewery is still considering an NA beer, know that there is growth to be found here. A lot of it. But you need to consider that this growth may be almost entirely driven by Athletic Brewing and even more so by non-craft NA brands (Guinness, Peroni, Budweiser) other established players who are, right now, going through eye-popping funding rounds, building amazing DTC infrastructure, and spending tens of millions of dollars on ad campaigns to educate the public on what today’s NA beer can be. 

So do explore this category—your customers may increasingly ask for it, after all. Just don’t bet the whole farm on it.

1. Good George Brewing, 2. Brooklyn Brewing, 3. Ceria Brewing, 4. Lagunitas Brewing, 5. Guinness, 6. Samuel Adams, 7. Athletic Brewing

Hop Water

*This section was previously published on our Beer Branding Trends Newsletter. Subscribe here if you’d like to receive timely insights like this throughout the year.

In early drafts of this piece, we were calling 2023 The Year of Craft Water. And indeed, if you look at Liquid Death, or the growing number of sparkling water and Hop Water brands coming to market, it can feel that way. 

For this section, we’re going to focus on Hop Water specifically, because we believe it’s a fantastic Beyond Beer beverage that should be on your brewery’s radar.

As of the time of this writing, Hop Water is not a trend in the you-see-it-everywhere-and-everyone-is-talking-about-it sense. Though the category has actually been around for several years (as far back as the early 2010’s from what I’ve seen), Hop Water is still relatively new as far as consumers are concerned. 

Indeed, this entire category could fizzle out and get lost in the veritable sea of new product development we’re currently enjoying across the beverage industry. BUT, as hard seltzer loses steam (or at least, as the newness that drove seltzer’s wild ascendency continues to wane) and the NA category continues to expand, I think Hop Water is in a perfect position to flourish.

There are enough on-trend and compelling value props that could make Hop Water a decently-sized category in its own right, and something that any brewery who is producing Beyond Beer products might want to consider. 

This might be confirmation bias on my part (I love Hop Waters), but CODO has seen a sharp uptick in inquiries for Hop Water branding projects. Sharp uptick as in we received one inquiry in all of 2021 and more than a dozen throughout 2022 and thus far into 2023.

These inquiries (several of which became fun, ongoing projects) have come from startup Hop Water brands, smaller breweries (~1,500 bbl per year) and even some regional breweries.

Another interesting point here: We’ve also seen a steady decline in the number of breweries reaching out to discuss non-alcoholic beer branding projects this year. We had a lot of movement on this front throughout 2021 and even into early 2022. But this has since quieted down almost entirely.

While anecdotal, this context matters. There’s movement in this space, at all levels, and there are land grabs available for early movers who get it right.


What is Hop Water?

Hop Water, in its simplest form, is just hops, water and carbonation. That’s it. There’s an infinite amount of tinkering you can do with it, but it’s a simple beverage. 

And it’s worth noting that most of what we’re discussing here can apply to any beer adjacent, NA hopped product, from Hop Water to Hop Tea and Soda, (coffee?), etc. 

I think Hop Water is the most immediately exciting product in this category, particularly as a potential foil against NA beer, but these will all likely grow over the coming years.


What trends & value props could drive Hop Water’s growth?

It’s a sparkling water (so it’s familiar)

Sparkling Water has been trending for years (see LaCroix, Polar, Topo Chico, Spindrift, Bubly, Waterloo, etc.). What this means for Hop Water is that you don’t have to work to educate your consumers on what this product is. They already have familiar drinking experience cues to pull from when being introduced to your brand, particularly in off-premise, where they will likely encounter your Hop Water for the first time. (Consumer education is an ongoing issue for the kombucha category, for example.)


It’s got nothing (which makes it better for you)

Hop Water has no alcohol, no calories, no carbs, no sugar, no sodium, no gluten, no adorable bunnies harmed during the brewing process. Nothing. This means that it’s healthy to drink, which follows a broad cultural shift towards balance, wellness and overall fitness.

Look for this to be a major point of differentiation, particularly if Hop Water starts squaring off with NA beer. And as far as what categories Hop Water could steal share from, my bet is squarely on NA beer because of the shared audience and this key differentiator.


For the brewer specifically (COGS and path to market)

Hop Water could hit a sweet spot for the growing number of brewers who are interested in releasing a non-alcoholic beverage but aren’t set up to properly make NA beer.

In its base form, Hop Water can be high margin (similar to hard seltzer) and relatively easy to make (compared to NA beer). However, the COGS can increase significantly depending on what additions (including the hop bill itself) go into your final beverage. 

Offering options like this in your taproom are a no brainer. You can get patrons to stick around longer and increase your average ticket size. Whether they enjoy a Hop Water as a pacer in between beers, or finish their evening off with a few, you’re still banking an extra $5 – $8 (whatever you charge for it in your taproom) per pour. And a good deal of that is profit.

Hop Water, like NA beer, is good-to-go for direct to consumer (DTC) shipping. You can mail it out to anyone in the country. Hell, you can buy Hop Waters on Amazon.

This is cool because eventually, shipping beer will be made legal (or at least, easier). This is definitely a boon for larger producers, but for smaller outfits, you can still take advantage of this (or at least, put in place a DTC plan for when/if shipping beer actually becomes less onerous and more viable at your scale).


Broad (early) thoughts on branding and positioning Hop Water


Can Hop Water move beyond a beer-drinking audience? (or, does it need to?) + opportunities for categorical differentiation

I think we’re still in Phase 1 of Hop Water (think ~2018 for hard seltzer) where consumers are still not entirely aware of it. And the breweries that are moving on this category are leaning heavily into the hop angle. 

This first cohort of Hop Water brands are being positioned as beer alternatives. Or, a beer alternative-alternative (an NA beer alternative). With as fast as trends move today, I see this phase lasting a bit longer before we start to see established brands and new entrants alike start to carve out other (categorical) positioning opportunities en masse.

A key challenge for Hop Water as the category matures, will be in reaching beyond a traditional beer drinking audience who is in search of a more wellness-focused beer-ish option. Though with an aging Millennial cohort (seeking more beer alternatives), and more growth across NA beverage in general, there may be plenty of runway (or at least, opportunities for incremental growth) with a traditional beer drinking audience as is.


Hop Water as a platform (or, a blank canvas)

We should think of Hop Water as a platform for experimentation. There’s the immediate angle of exploring different hops, and dry hopping and overall level of carbonation, etc. 

But I think Hop Waters are a perfect chassis to accept other macro beverage trends. Consider the litany of better for you, functional ingredients, the more emergent and esoteric the better (e.g. nootropics, adaptogens, super fruits, mushrooms, electrolytes, caffeine, THC, CBD/CBN).

All of these could work in a Hop Water, so long as they don’t add to the calorie or carb count. Again, having a traditional beer tasting note while being calorie and carb free (and refreshing) is the real value prop here.

Hop Water is also a blank canvas when it comes to visual rule set and category cues.

It’s so new (and hasn’t had a rocket ship to define what is and isn’t allowed, visually, like White Claw or Truly did for the seltzer category), that there are no category norms, constraints, or visual canon yet. There are no preordained formats, colors or iconography. Nothing. 

This is exciting from a brand building standpoint because we can swing big and make some beautiful stuff.

1. HOP WTR, 2. Hoplark, 3. Sierra Nevada, 4. NoDa Brewing, 5. Wellington Brewery, 6. Lagunitas Brewing, 7. Vine Botanicals, 8. Athletic Brewing

Hard Seltzer & RTDs

Hard Seltzer has gone flat

“Stunning collapse” of hard seltzer sales turn fizzy category flat 

Has the “bubble” burst on hard seltzer?

Why the hard seltzer craze has ended

‘Millions of cases’ of Truly Hard Seltzer will be destroyed as hard seltzer boom fades



If you pull up non-beverage industry news outlets (and even some beverage industry-specific ones), it would be easy to draw the conclusion that the hard seltzer trend has dried up—or gone flat, to use the lowest of low hanging fruit metaphors. 

Hard seltzer’s growth has slowed, but it is not precipitously tanking. But wasn’t this bound to happen? Hard seltzer saw several years of more than 100% YoY category growth. There are only so many LDA consumers who can (and want to) buy this stuff. And at some point, you will have reached most of them. 

Another way to think about this is that the hard seltzer market itself is still here, and it’s entrenched at around 9–10% of the beer market. It’s the unchecked runway and energy and excitement that drove seltzer’s ascendancy over the preceding years that’s gone flat collapsed.

That’s where we are now. 

In our project work, we’re still helping breweries launch hard seltzer brands in 2023. Less so than in, say, 2019, but again, seltzer is still in demand. People like hard seltzer. And they want to support their local brewery. So in many cases, it can still make sense for a smaller brewery to bring one to market. 

Here are a few common themes we’ve seen in our hard seltzer work over the last year or so.


Malt vs. Spirits 

If hard seltzer was a gateway category for folks to explore Beyond Beer options, RTD cocktails and spiked, or spirit-based (non-malt based) seltzers are a logical next step in this evolution.

They satisfy the same occasion, with less calories. Spirit-based seltzer has long been dominated by High Noon, and I’m curious to see if we’ll see a major shift in these other powerhouse brands to reformulate—or even retrain their customers—to go for a spirit-based version (though, probably not so long as the tax equivalency favors malt-based seltzer).

A word of Brand Architecture caution for anyone out there who’s discussing this issue. In my mind, this is close to a zero sum game. Why would someone buy a (malt-based) Truly Hard Seltzer AND a Truly with Vodka? I could be wrong here, but the value props are just different enough here that spirit-based RTDs can fill the occasion explicitly at the expense of malt-based seltzer. 

So go ahead and release a spiked version, but know that you will likely cannibalize sales from your existing malt-based seltzer.


An opportunity for regional seltzers to grow as national brands decline

Back to our previous seltzer discussion from above: I do still think there’s an opportunity for smaller breweries and regional breweries to launch a successful seltzer brand. With the national brands having reached full market saturation and consumers exploring other, more local options, don’t write this category off. 

Hard seltzer is still in play, particularly if you’re in a region that doesn’t (yet) sport a major regional brand.

Combining this and our points made in the previous section, I think there’s a real opportunity to release a regional, spirit-based seltzer brand (if it’s in the right market). This is a compelling marriage of these two major trend lines.

1. Truly, 2. Nütrl, 3. High Noon, 4. White Claw, 5. Topo Chico

Seltzer vs. RTD Category Visual Canon
Defining the rules so we know when we can break them

Hard seltzer began its meteoric ascendency somewhere in 2018–2019. The ensuing period, led almost entirely by White Claw and Truly, saw several years of double and then triple digit category growth.

This created an environment where any brewery who was interested in releasing a seltzer had to move as fast as they could.

Speed to market became paramount.

And what that meant (and in some markets, may still continue to mean) is that there were strict visual rules and category signifiers that you had to adhere to if you wanted to wade into the seltzer category.

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Section 4. Recession & Inflation


We listed several article headlines earlier that outlined how hard seltzer is dead and how Gen Z drinking rates have fallen off a cliff. A similar (overly-simplified?) theme has emerged around the recession and craft beer. If everything costs more, then surely consumers are trading down (buying cheaper offerings). 

Remember, beer is “recession proof.” Or, is it recession-resistant?

Either way, we’ve been tracking this idea for the last year and can’t find any conclusive data that shows this is actually happening in craft beer. And besides, the idea of a category-loyal buyer who, in times of plenty, may spend a few hundred dollars a month on craft beer suddenly tightening her belt and buying a 30 rack of Busch Light seems… improbable.

I do think there’s a case to be made for consumers, even category-loyal ones, simply buying less though. Discretionary spending is down because we’re in a terrible economy—we have been since early 2022. So what does this all mean for your customers? 

Let’s explore a few recurring conversations we’ve had in our project work this year.


On the perils of going budget?
Can your brewery (safely) enter the budget market?

*This section was previously published on our Beer Branding Trends Newsletter. Subscribe here if you’d like to receive timely insights like this throughout the year.

We’ve had interesting conversations with several Bev Alc groups (breweries and distilleries) over the last year about opportunities for creating budget products specifically as a hedge against the economic downturn. 

To give a concrete example: We’ve spoken with a few breweries who are considering a large pack light lager approach. Specifically, they want to create a real deal, cheap light lager that would be priced along the lines of a Bud or Miller 12-pack—so somewhere between $10.99 and $12.99 per.

At first blush I have two competing thoughts: 

1. This entire notion seems like more of a Big Beer / Large Craft conversation because in order to enter a lower cost space, you have to have the volume, both in ingredient costing, production capabilities and sales, to compete with a variety of already entrenched brands.

2. But then creating a budget option also makes sense at first glance. If our customers are getting hammered by inflation (and at the gas pump, and on increasing rent, and groceries …) then let’s give them a cheaper option that they can still enjoy. And for what it’s worth, all of these conversations were in this spirit—these people care about their customers and want to keep serving them.

So while noble, I want to address this idea head-on because of all the Brand Architecture strategies we’ve discussed over the years, releasing a markedly cheaper product can potentially be one of the most damaging moves you can make.

With the economy seemingly mired in place, I imagine that these sorts of plays could become more common over the coming year. In that spirit, let’s explore why creating a budget offering can be so dangerous and discuss some practical ways to minimize the risk should you decide to ignore everything I’m saying here and move forward anyway.


Why is this risky?

Can something be high quality (craft) and cheap at the same time? Not a great deal, per se, but a premium quality product at a mass market price?

Can you find a luxury vehicle for $15k? Or how about a luxury watch for $200? Can you have an artisan burger at a McDonald’s price? 

You can’t. It’s just not possible.

You can’t use high quality ingredients, and proper manufacturing methods, and pay your people well and still offer a high quality thing at a cheap price. There’s always a catch.

And we all knows that.

This isn’t how the world works and anyone who is paying attention would view this with suspicion. What corners did they cut to get their price this low?

When you buy a 12-pack of Bud Light, you’re buying it because it’s cheap. No value judgment there—the beer fills that mass market role well.

By attaching your brand name directly to something that is of lesser quality than your typical offering, you are creating a potential level of mistrust that can spread to the rest of your portfolio.

“Yeah, they shit out this light lager. But I’m sure their IPA is up to snuff.”


How to determine whether or not this is a good move

Let’s start by working through three key questions: 


1. Is there a market opportunity?

The first (and most obvious) point to consider when launching any new product is whether or not there is an actual need. Do people want something that they’re not currently able to find? Does your market need XYZ (a light lager, a budget seltzer, a cheap NA beer, affordable well spirits, etc.)?

I can’t think of a market where this sort of unmet demand exists. For any of this. That doesn’t mean there’s not a market out there where this strategy could work, but there’s a beer at basically every price point in every market in this country already. And a glut of entrenched options in the budget space (i.e. Domestic Sub Premium @ ~$18 per case to Domestic Premium @ ~$23 per case tiers).


2. Can you compete? 

The second point is whether or not you can realistically compete. 

I’ll use the light lager example from above because it’s the most immediate move in the craft beer context. Can you, a small (hell, even medium size) craft brewery, get your COGs to pencil out in such a way that you can actually compete with Big Beer on price (and still stay in business)? 

And another fun wrinkle: Will your distributors, who are likely also delivering truckloads of that same Big Beer, be open to carrying this new product? 

And let’s step down from Big Beer. Can you even compete with Big Craft? Can you price your beer such that you can compete with the Yuengling’s and 805’s and Oskar’s Lager’s of the world (and still stay profitable)? 

We’ve worked with more than 75 craft breweries, including some of the largest in the United States, and I don’t know if there’s a single one we’ve come across that could actually pull this off at scale. 


3. How will this affect your Parent Brand’s positioning and reputation (and ability to charge a premium)?

Our third point, and perhaps most germane to this issue itself, is how your Parent Brand will be affected by this move. Not just in the short term, but over the long haul. 

Can you safely maintain a premium (craft) positioning at the parent level while also offering a lower cost, budget option? 

The real risk in all of this is of repositioning your Parent Brand itself. If you release a cheap (super cheap, budget) beer, what will that say about the rest of your portfolio? 

You can undo years of hard work in one move by changing what your Parent Brand stands for in your customers’ minds.

And that change won’t be positive. 


Craft on Craft M&A
Finding strength in numbers 

Craft M&A activity has been happening for years. Big craft outfits selling to multinationals. Cross-category sales (brewery sells to cannabis companies, Big Soda (or Big Energy) invests in and/or partners with a brewery, etc.).

And indeed, Modern Times selling to Maui, or Stone selling to Sapporo and Bells selling to Lion are all major stories. 

But this trend specifically highlights the rise in smaller (when compared to a Stone or Bells) breweries joining forces. These deals usually combine specialties of both parties to complement each other. E.g. we’ve got brewing and product innovation and distribution dialed in, and you’re good at the hospitality side of the house. Let’s partner to make a stronger outfit. 

A few examples here include: Urban South x Perfect Plain Brewing. Roadhouse Brewery x Melvin Brewing. Saucy Brew Works x Cartridge Brewing. Bishop Cider x Wild Acre Brewing. Mass Bay Brewing (Harpoon) x Long Trail Brewing. Finnegan’s Brew Co x Hairless Dog Brewing. Faubourg Brewing x Made By The Water. Eagle Park Brewing x Milwaukee Brewing. Drake’s x Bear Republic. 

A note from the editor here: This trend could have just as easily been in the Brand Architecture section above because there are some major brand and messaging issues to work through if you’re buying (or merging) with another brewery. But I believe the increase in these deals that we’re seeing is a direct result of the competitive market and economic environment we’re in today coupled with the challenges of running and growing a brewery coming out of the pandemic. 

We’ve seen branding inquiries and projects centered around brewery acquisitions almost every single month for the last year. These range from rebranding a brewery post-acquisition, to Brand Architecture projects to sort out how the two companies can blend, to conducting a Brand Audit on behalf of a national hospitality group to determine what value they should place on the Brand of a brewery they were planning to purchase.

We’ve seen so many of these inquiries, particularly the rebrand or brand refresh post-acquisition variety, that we dedicated an entire issue of the Beer Branding Trends Newsletter to it last year.

Here’s an excerpt from that piece.

So you bought a brewery. To rebrand or not to rebrand?

Since about Q3 of 2021 to today, we’ve fielded loads of inquiries and projects centered around brewery sales. In most cases, these aren’t headline grabbing M&As like Stone or Modern Times, but rather, small-to-medium (say, 500–15k bbl per year) outfits. 

So the people we’re talking to (and working with) are usually in one of two camps: They are either about to buy a brewery and want to figure out their immediate next steps from a branding and positioning standpoint once the deal closes. 

Or they have recently acquired a brewery and as part of getting everything up and running during the transition, realized they need to address their branding and packaging in some way—generally a refresh or outright rebrand. 

I’m not sure if all of this is a good sign or a bad sign. The industry has been around, in its current form, since 2010, so it may just be that there are a lot of founders who have been at this for 5–10 years who are ready to move on.

And let’s not forget 2020, in particular. 

The industry is still dealing with fallout from the pandemic—mandatory shutdowns, revenue dropping as much as 90% overnight, major channel shifts, changed consumer drinking habits, obscene input cost increases, labor shortages, inflation, and recession… But unlike 2020, there are no stimulus checks or Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds coming. And the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF) seems like it’s tapped out as well. And again, we’re in a recession. 

So any one of these could be the deciding factor to pack it in for many founders.

I’m guessing here since CODO’s interaction in these scenarios is almost always with the purchasing party and not the outgoing group. (But this isn’t too hard to imagine, right?)

Either way, the reasons driving these sales don’t matter for our conversation today. What matters is that there are a lot of brewery sales happening right now in the United States. And I suspect this will continue over the next several years. 

So back to those folks who are reaching out to us to discuss these sorts of projects. What do you do with a brewery’s brand after you buy it?

Let’s discuss this situation and give you some things to think about if you’re shopping for a brewery.

There are three important questions to consider whenever we discuss a situation like this with a potential client:

1. What are you actually buying? 

2. Is there any visual and/or brand equity to be retained?

3. What is your vision for this brewery?

Broad Stroke Guidance

It’s tempting for me to tell you that you’ll need to revamp your branding after buying a brewery no matter how you answer these questions because this would set you up for a running start either way. But a strategically sound answer is going to be much more nuanced. 


Here are a few broad stroke ideas for you to think about if you’re in this position:


When buying an established, popular brewery 

The more well-known and established a brand (how long it’s been open, number of active accounts, annual bbl production, distribution footprint, etc.) the more likely you will want to retain (or at least honor in some way) the brewery’s visual and brand equity. 

And it’s a safe bet that this equity is probably a driving reason for the purchase in the first place.

So in this case, you could go through some sort of refresh—address some pain points, clean things up and set your team up to manage everything better—but probably not a sweeping rebrand.


When buying a smaller (or even mid-size) brewery 

If you’re buying a smaller, or newer brewery (limited production capacity, limited-to-no distribution, likely a small taproom, etc.), then you likely have more leeway to change things up in a major way.

So you might consider a thorough rebrand if that aligns with your vision and goals for the business. 

As always, your project context, competitive set, broader brand strategy and goals should drive all of these decisions.

Section 5. Visual Trends


This section highlights several interesting visual trends we’ve seen across beer and beverage package design over the last year.

As we’ve noted in previous reports, with north of 9,000 breweries now open in the United States and a burgeoning beverage industry beyond that, these trends aren’t as easy to pinpoint as they were in the early days of the Craft Beer Boom (say, 2010–2016).

But there are still recurring themes nonetheless. These are the ideas and aesthetics that we’ve seen in our project work and in our field work, scouting cold boxes, C-stores and beer sets all across the country as we help to rebrand breweries or bring new ones to market.


Mascots (redux)
Put some legs on it

We first wrote about this trend back in 2021, and in that short time, a vintage mascot has evidently become a standard issue deliverable for every single brand identity project in the world. Branding a coffee shop? A coffee bean with bendy arms should do the trick. Branding a mom and pop diner? Order up a chipped coffee mug with Mickey Mouse shoes and Betty Boop eyeballs, perhaps. 

Look, we love this trend. It’s playful and nostalgic and brimming with a warm, familiar personality. But, speaking objectively, this approach is reaching the dreaded status of “extraordinarily overdone.” So much so that’s an unfortunate risk of creating a design that looks identical to an already existing mascot character, even if just by sheer coincidence. To wit, there are only so many ways one can anthropomorphize a hop or a beer can. Tread lightly here, lest you get put on blast for stealing someone else’s (already not particularly original) mascot graphic.

1.Jibby Cold Brew Coffee, 2. High & Mighty Distilling, 3. Shacksbury, 4. New Belgium, 5. Whitebox Cocktails, 6. Left Field Brewery

Delightful Blobs
Just like me

We’ve noticed an uptick in what we are calling “delightful blobs” used in package design and promotion of beer (and other beverages besides). Usually these blobs manifest as amorphous patches of color in an off-white or otherwise solidly colored field. Sometimes there are outlined graphic elements, or a blobby style is used to render more concrete objects / figures. 

What is most interesting is seeing the market embrace abstraction as a branding tactic; the Bev Alc space has come a long way from a compulsive need to explicitly depict hops or barley (or fruit or similar) hyper-realistic images of key ingredients.

Abstraction can be a tricky gambit though. This approach can serve as a Rohrschach inkblot test of sorts: When you look at colorful, aesthetically pleasing blobs co-mingling, what does it suggest to you? Does it suggest creativity and visual opportunity? How about a blend of diverse perspectives and ideas? While this is an attractive treatment on its surface, the onus lies upon designers and marketers to make sure that appropriate messaging is clear to the interpretation of potential drinkers.

1. Miok Milk Beer, 2. Poppi, 3. WeldWerks Brewery, 4. Vina Probiotic Soda, 5. Dram Apothecary

Deconstructed Medley
You can really taste the bergamot

The Beyond Beer space has delivered an overwhelming array of flavors and ingredients to intrigue and beguile the palette of the modern drinker. To help customers navigate this deluge of options, designers are moving to depict the drink’s contents (or at least, to help a customer understand how a given beverage might taste ahead of time) by including easy-to-parse, intentionally arranged graphics of the ingredients themselves on the package.

This mise en scène approach to customer education is an efficient and visually attractive method to set taste expectations and communicate complex flavor blends in one glance. This tact also presents the opportunity to deploy beautiful colors and branded patterning across a shelf set. Just be aware: market conditions are driving this trend, and by now it is considered well established. It would be perilously easy to default to a generic iteration of this approach and come across as “samey”—where even something beautiful can get lost in the planogram.

1. Vita Coco, 2. Berczy, 3. Big Easy Kombucha, 4. Olipop, 5. 10 Barrel Brewing, 6. Ball Sparkling Water, 7. Good George Brewing

Millennial Nostalgia
The future isn’t so bright

It’s natural for people of any age to hold nostalgia for the simpler days of youth. This particular flavor targets Millennials specifically as they become more financially established. This tendency to look back seems to have accelerated among the roughly 27–40 year olds that comprise this demographic; after being sandblasted for three years with a pandemic, waves of civil unrest, (another) recession and the ongoing struggle to not spend your days endlessly doom scrolling, the Millennial set is retreating even further into the comforting signifiers of days gone by.

For Bev Alc in particular, this manifests in many ways; think retro video games and pop culture references, including fashion, music, TV shows and other period-appropriate ephemeral artifacts. Products and brands positioning themselves in this sphere tend to focus more on end-user flavor and novel packaging formats rather than a strict brewing tradition or fussy high design. This phenomenon has also opened up a deluge of co-branding opportunities for nostalgic products and brands, exemplified by hedonistic fixation on junk food staples such as rocket pops, breakfast cereals and Capri Sun pouches.

It’s unclear whether this trend will have legs moving forward. This maxim comes to mind: “You can’t go home again.” In other words, indulging in nostalgia can be a pleasant diversion for a time, but will eventually serve diminishing returns. In addition: the advertising and marketing world is extraordinarily ageist, and tends to overly-fetishize youth and “youngness.” We expect that even we precious Millennials will be cast aside in favor of Gen Z’s whims in the coming years (if this hasn’t already occurred).

1. Michelob Ultra, 2. Elysian Brewing, 3. AriZona Iced Tea, 4. Alani, 5. Tallgrass Brewing, 6. Voodoo Ranger, 7. Tappers Arcade Bar

Instant visual rhythm

While stripes are a universal design element—art school folks will recall tedious lectures about Gestalt theory—we are noticing examples of stripes being deployed to great effect in the market. For one, it’s a timeless look; the relatively basic nature of the approach comes with a sense of evergreen relevance. Maybe the plain visual rhythm of colors interplaying together will always hold an innate attraction. Or, maybe this function is driven by more concrete experiential reference points—think the stripes on a barber pole, a vintage sock, or those of eye-grabbing caution tape.

This isn’t a trend that has reached critical mass yet, so think of it as largely unclaimed territory at the time of this writing. Yet, as we make our way through different markets and field work on our various branding projects, when you see this in the wild: It really does jump out and grab your attention.

1. Vina Probiotic Soda, 2. Talea Beer Co., 3. Collective Arts Brewing, 4. Lemon Lemon, 5. Barbet Sparkling Water, 6. NYLO Hard Seltzer

Gender Neutral Design
Why pick a side?

We touched on gender neutral design earlier in this review in the section about changing demographics in Bev Alc consumption. To build on the notion of an evolving customer landscape; Marketing beer to anyone outside the 21–49 year old male demographic has been an interesting challenge, historically speaking. The industry did itself no favors on a macro level by dabbling in outright sexism, peer pressure, and clichés in advertising.

But creating a brand image that, er, literally anyone else will find appealing has proven a challenge as well and often results in dumbed-down attempts—e.g. make a label that’s pink, or one that panders to de rigueur stereotypes. We know this as the “Happy Meal” approach to a tired and clumsy gender dichotomy (Hot Wheels for boys, Barbie for girls…)

An interesting way to avoid this entire issue is to just be more vague and gender neutral across the board in your marketing and branding. That is, opening the playing field by simply using less traditionally “masculine” visual cues in your package design (sharp, dark, heavy metal, etc.). While this serves as a start, it falls apart under the same scrutiny outlined above: There are women who like sharp, dark, “aggro” design. And there are men who like softer, more colorful, and less harsh aesthetics.

With the caveat above in mind, we do think there is merit to exploring gender neutrality as an aesthetic tactic. And we are not alone. We see this trend gaining steam particularly in diversifying markets or in emergent categories geared for the lifestyles and preferences of younger (Gen Z) drinkers. 

The actual “look” of this approach can vary and is admittedly open for exploration, but it often involves an attractive and refined suite of colors (desaturated or otherwise), some level of graphic abstraction, functional / accessible typography and a bit of whimsy either in illustration or in language.

Keep an eye on the fashion world and other similarly creative fields for cues as this is a wide-sweeping cultural discussion that is ongoing. We imagine the understanding of how gender informs (or perhaps doesn’t inform) aesthetic preference to evolve rapidly as the conversation continues.

1. Soonish Natural Beer, 2. Carlsberg, 3. Luna Bay Booch, 4. White Claw, 5. Hiyo Sparkling Tonic, 6. Kura Kira Beer

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