2024 Beer Branding Trends Review

Exploring opportunities to build a resilient, thriving brand in today’s challenging craft beer market

Hi there, and welcome to CODO Design’s 2024 craft beer branding trends review.

2024 is shaping up to be another challenging year for the beer industry, but it’s not all doom and gloom. There are opportunities for incremental growth if you know where to look.

That’s what this review aims to outline: Interesting opportunities, strategies and concepts we’re seeing right now in our field work across the beer industry to bolster your business and help you thrive.

We’re going to explore trends we’re seeing with newer breweries, mid-market (and growing) outfits and Regional / Legacy breweries that span Brand Strategy and positioning, Brand Architecture and package design trends.

We’ve got a lot of ground to cover. Let’s get to 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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We’ve released a companion podcast on this year’s review over on the Beer Branding Trends podcast. Head over there for more background context on what we see shaping beer and Bev Alc right now.



This is a comprehensive report (23,000+ words). Click on any of the following links to skip ahead to a particular section:


Beer Branding & Positioning

Brand Architecture

Beer & Beyond (Beverage Trends)

Visual Trends



Section 1: Beer Branding & Positioning


This section examines what we’re seeing in our daily work with breweries and Bev Alc brands across the country right now.

These insights span brand strategy considerations, the renewed importance of a proper brewery website (and email list), why Lifestyle Brands aren’t going anywhere anytime soon and the shifting role of beer style designations. We also cover how your brewery can build a better merch program, what we’re seeing in our hospitality-focused brewery branding work and finally, some ways that mid-market and Regional Breweries are staying relevant and finding a third wind in today’s rocky beer market.


Rebrands & Refreshes: Why are breweries rebranding right now?

Over the past year, we’ve rebranded breweries as young as 10 years old and as established as more than 100 years old. This work has spanned subtle brand refreshes, sweeping rebrands and tactical package refreshes that land somewhere in the middle.


Here are a few recurring reasons we’re seeing breweries rebrand today.


Breweries are rebranding to figure out where to go from here.

One of the more pleasant surprises we’ve seen over the last year has been the number of breweries reaching out to discuss a revamp because things are going well. It’s easy to get stuck in a bubble where you think the entire industry is collapsing. Indeed, things aren’t super rosy, but the sky isn’t falling either. And there are definitely breweries out there that are thriving right now.

We’ve fielded several rebranding projects to help breweries capitalize on momentum and address key pain points (usually more annoying than existential), or move on exciting opportunities (e.g., new development coming to their area or revamping a strategic acquisition).

Craft Beer, Rebranded and its companion Workbook are a step-by-step guide to map out a winning strategy ahead of your rebrand. This book bundle will help you weigh your brand equity, develop your brand strategy and breathe new life into your brewery’s brand

Breweries are rebranding to address Brand Architecture issues.

We’ll explore Brand Architecture in more detail later in this review. But for now, we’re seeing a lot of rebrands being driven by Brand Architecture issues.

A few examples of what this can look like:

– Our brewery just bought another brewery and now we need to figure out how these brands live together.

– We’re planning to launch a new Sub Brand but want to get our flagship portfolio in a better place first.

– We’ve launched a series of taprooms that gave way to a restaurant and now we have an exciting new opportunity to continue growing that channel. But we first need to revisit our core positioning.


Breweries are refreshing their packaging (on the heels of major SKU rationalization)

We’ve handled a lot of package refreshes over the last year, and in most cases, this has come after a period of major SKU rationalization.

We’ve seen some of our brewery partners retire as many as 50 brands (with about as many retired over the previous year as well) to build a laser-focused product line.

There’s a lot to explore here about managing and (re)constructing your portfolio. But from a branding standpoint, it can often make sense to freshen things up to signal these changes and where you intend to take the business moving forward.

Read more about Fernson Brewing’s package refresh here.

Sub trend: Breweries are rebranding specific beers.

We’ve also seen a few breweries rebrand a specific beer. This is in a kind of middling position where they’re not intending to create a proper Sub Brand, but they also aren’t addressing the rest of their portfolio with a major overhaul. It usually focuses on a best selling brand and manifests as a very tactical package refresh.

This isn’t quite triaging, but it is a recognition that there are some clear winners in your portfolio and that it may make sense to double down on what’s working rather than spend resources on lesser performers.


Legacy Breweries are rebranding to find their third wind.

We’re written a lot about Legacy Breweries over the last year. And we’re going to dedicate a small section of this report to older outfits here in a bit.

But at a glance, we’re seeing Legacy Breweries rebranding as part of a process of figuring out where they go from here. It’s easy for aesthetics to wander over time (just look at any random brewery’s packaging to see what I’m talking about). But for breweries that have been open for 15, 20, 30+ years, you can run into a situation where other important things have wandered as well—core values, brand voice, personality and positioning. As one founder put it during a recent project, “We have no idea where the hell we even are right now.”

(I feel this. In a big way.)

We’ve handled several Brand Strategy engagements to address this sentiment.

Without boring you with too much behind the scenes branding firm stuff here, what this has looked like is we use Brand Strategy as a diagnostic tool to get a lay of the land. We’ve heard from several outfits that it’s valuable to have an outside set of eyes come in because they’re too close to everything.

So we’ll work to define key differentiators and make strategic recommendations based on what we’re seeing with the recommendations being a deliverable itself. This differs from a more typical engagement where we develop Brand Strategy en route to tackling a set list of deliverables like revamping a brand identity, creating new packaging, or designing and developing a new website, etc.

In this scenario, that stuff can (and often does) come later, but for now, we’re just helping brewery leadership teams figure out where the hell they are.


Sub trend: Breweries are seeing (or preparing for) a change of the guard.

Another thing we’re seeing in our project work, especially among Legacy Breweries (though certainly not limited to them) is rebranding ahead of, or as part of a succession plan. Many of the founders we’ve worked with on this front are in their late 50s or 60s and are looking for a good time and a graceful way of stepping back to let the next generation take the reins.

Again, this isn’t solely a Legacy Brewery issue, but we are seeing it more often with our older brewery breweries.



Since rebranding and reinvention is such an important part of today’s craft beer industry, we wanted to take a moment to explore an important element of these projects—properly defining your visual and Brand Equity.

Most folks come to us with some existing notion of whether they’re looking to evolve their identity and positioning or burn everything to the ground and start anew.

This is a dynamic we’ve framed as “Evolution vs. Revolution.”

The answer here is rarely black and white, and regardless of which direction you’re leaning, you’ll need to take careful stock of your current brand identity and messaging to see if there’s anything worth building on to begin with.

This brings up an important question: How do you concretely define your visual and Brand Equity in the first place.

1. Ninkasi Brewing, 2. Founders, 3. Mission Brewing, 4. Night Shift Brewing, 5. Partake Brewing, 6. NoDa Brewing, 7. Good George Brewing, 8. Dragon’s Milk, 9. Von Trapp Brewing, 10. Tupps Brewing

Defining your Brand Equity: Fast & Slow
Tools and tactics for defining your Brand Equity

Defining your Brand Equity is an important part of successfully rebranding your brewery.

Which existing elements stay and which can be jettisoned often provoke some of the liveliest debates during our work. But the frustrating thing about this entire subject is that *concretely* defining which visual signifiers are mission critical for your brand, and which aren’t, is more art than science.

We’ve fielded a nonstop stream (a torrent?) of brewery rebrands since 2018 and this refrain has been a through line in all this work:

“We want to build on what we’ve developed over the years, but we’re not quite sure what to build on.”

So, for this 2024 Beer Branding Trends Exclusive issue, I wanted to outline some of the ways that we’ve measured visual and Brand Equity over the years, to give you some different perspectives to consider, if or when you embark on your brewery’s rebrand.

This content is reserved for our Beer Branding Trends Newsletter subscribers. Join here to receive all 4 exclusive insights from this report directly in your inbox.

Breweries are leaning into content marketing
Your website as a content marketing hub (+ an exciting rise in email marketing)

We’re seeing more breweries dive into content marketing, email marketing and long form storytelling this year. (And I love it.)

In our work on this front, particularly amongst our larger clients, we’re developing well-rounded blog pages that can house long form articles, podcasts, video series, recipes and more.

Behind the scenes, we’re also seeing an emphasis on breweries getting their SEO squared away and making sure they’re in compliance with impending GDPR (for breweries that sell internationally), CPRA (for California breweries) and ADA requirements (for all Stateside breweries).

And we’re building a lot of custom email marketing templates within their preferred platform (e.g., MailChimp, Klaviyo) to create an even more immersive user experience. But custom templates are definitely a nice-to-have vs. a need-to-have. So if you’re interested in email marketing, just get started—you can always build custom templates later.

And if you don’t want to begin doing this today, you should at least begin gathering email addresses through your site so that you’re not starting from zero when you do decide to ramp this up.

One more thing to consider here: Don’t build on rented land.

Social media, while important, is a rapidly changing landscape. A simple algorithm change here or a shift in regulations there can dramatically alter how much reach you’re able to get on your everyday posts. This applies to all social media: What’s in today will be old news in a few years.

But there’s one channel that can’t be throttled, or demonetized, or that will force you to pay hard earned money in order to see any sort of engagement down the line…

Your email newsletter.

I can go on and on here: Email marketing gives you amazing customer data. Email marketing helps you stay top of mind with your fans. And lastly, your fans trust you enough to opt in to your newsletter which means they’re actually excited to hear from you.

Your newsletter platform is built on trust and value.

And all of this is amazing.

Main takeaway here: Your website is a tool that should take work off of your team’s plate and build your brand and sell for you 24/7. Work to understand what your customers need from your website and then build a robust system that delivers.

Lost Nomad Brewing: Check out Pete’s ‘Startup Journal’ series where he takes his newsletter subscribers along on his journey, including the ups and downs, as he builds a small brewery in northwest Africa.

Lifestyle Brands, Revisited

Lifestyle brands are becoming a more important play in beer and Bev Alc, in large part due to the success of brands like Liquid Death, Montucky Cold Snacks, 805 and Athletic Brewing.

Defining what makes a Lifestyle Brand, well, a Lifestyle Brand, and how this is different from a (plain old) brand is challenging. We’ve written about this before, but our best answer here is that to be a true Lifestyle Brand, you have to be built around three main pillars:

– You must be aspirational (i.e., by supporting this brand, you are embodying the values of some desired lifestyle).

– You must be hype-worthy (otherwise, people won’t line up to buy it and brag when they finally do).

– But most importantly, you must tap directly into a subculture.

The mechanism that actually makes Lifestyle Brands work is that the brand goes out of its way to embody a particular set of values so that the consumer can, by purchasing and interacting with the brand, signal that they too share those values.

(David Attenborough nature documentary voice overlay here…) Lifestyle branding allows your customers to signal in-group identification. In other words, “I’m one of you guys. I’m cool too.” In many cases, the thing you actually purchase is secondary to this end.

And this is a powerful idea for brand builders.


Here are a few interesting lifestyle plays we’re seeing right now in beer:


Own an occasion
Make it easy for people to imagine when and where to drink your beer

With category-wide flatlining sales, brewers are getting more precise with how they introduce and market new products. One of the most common ways we’ve seen of doing this is working to identify and target previously overlooked occasions. So where can a new product fit in, where can we win share, and where can we go from here?

We’re seeing a lot of great branding plays that do this without being too cutesy: You know everything you need to know about Garage Beer just by hearing the name. Same with Lake Hour Cocktails. Same with Surfside Iced Tea.

The strength here lies in these product’s simplicity. Give a clear value prop, let people know, point blank, when they should enjoy this product, and deliver.

1. Lake Hour Cocktails, 2. Garage Beer, 3. Hopewell Brewing, 4. Friday Beers

For the blue collar (mind)set
A gravelly voice whispers in the distance, “God made a farmer”

The Domestic Sub Premium beer cannon has always been targeted squarely at blue collar America. And we’ve seen some smart plays that aim to ramp this up (and ride the populist wave that’s gripped a large swath of our country) over the last several years.

This is mostly a Big Beer play (with a lot of mega-corp co-branding in the mix), though we’ve seen a few craft breweries angling for this positioning as well. (You could dismiss this as pandering—along the lines of a Belgian-owned beer conglomerate unabashedly printing AMERICA across its label—but hey, if it’s stupid and it works, then it isn’t stupid.)

The reason I’m highlighting this is I think there could be an opportunity here for craft beer. The entire industry is talking about shifting demographics (how to court Gen Z drinkers, how to appeal to the growing number of female and BIPOC drinkers, etc.), but I haven’t heard too much about snagging macro drinkers over the last few years.

You may recall a lot of talk and focus on brewing “converter beers” back in the mid-2010’s, for example, what you would serve a guy (definitely a guy) who walks into your taproom, takes a gander at all the reclaimed wood wall treatments and the Edison bulb light fixtures and still asks for a Miller Lite.

I get that this might be a tough row to hoe given your undoubtedly higher price point, but if someone truly values keeping their money local and voting with their wallet (vs. just signaling about it from the driver’s seat of their F950 King Ranch Ford on Instagram), then we may be able to bring new drinkers to the table from a group that we’ve all kind of written off.

1/4/6. Busch Light, 2. Big Truck Brewing, 3. Grain Belt, 5. Keystone Light

Lean into local pride
Where you from? 

We’re seeing a lot of brands that aim to celebrate a specific town, city or state right now.

I’m not sure if Firestone Walker was the first to do this, but they’re certainly the best at it. Granted, 805’s reach is clearly broader than its namesake area code (it’s easier to export Southern California than it is Des Moines), this is a great example of creating something that locals identify with and can make their own.

Word of caution here: Make sure no one else is already doing this in your market before you invest the time and energy into developing a brand that you can’t use.



We believe that lifestyle positioning will become an increasingly common strategy for launching new Bev Alc brands over the coming decade.

The ability to start lean (via flavor development groups, co-packers and/or contract brewing) and create something that speaks directly to a well-defined, ardent audience may be a safer bet than opening yet another taproom brewery in a city full of taproom breweries.

1. 805 (Firestone Walker), 2. Cincy Light Lager (Rhinegeist), 3. 801 (Uinta), 4. 312 (Goose Island), 5. 802 (Woodchuck Hard Cider), 6. 318 (Great Raft Brewing), 7. 617 (Lord Hobo Brewing)

What’s in a (style) name?
Beer style as a positioning tool

I don’t have any hard data to back this idea up, but I’m getting the sense that beer styles don’t matter as much today as they did, say back in the mid-2010’s.

You could argue that this has always been the case (that style designations only matter when it comes to submitting beers to GABF or other competitions), but more so today, we’re seeing them discussed and used less as a TTB designations and more as a tool to help position a product.

A few examples: What type of beer is Kona Big Wave? It’s “Liquid Aloha” (or if you look closer at the can, “Premium Beer”). And 805 has recently eschewed any style designations, as has Fat Tire (unless you simply count “ale”).

And you can extend this line of thinking to any number of esoteric styles. Is there a more approachable designation for a Kölsch? Or a Saison? Or a Bière de Garde (Excuse me)? Hell, even the venerable Pale Ale could pivot to further delineate from IPAs (in some cases).

Or to put it more simply, one person’s Kriek is another’s person’s “Sour Beer.”


We’re seeing a lot of this conversation around the following styles in particular:


IPA vs. Hazy

In the early days of the beer boom, IPAs were fairly monolithic. Order an IPA at any taproom across the country and you would likely expect a classic, hoppy West Coast ale—a gloriously clear, resinous, bitter, floral beer.

But then Hazy IPAs came along and completely upended what an IPA can be.

Anecdotally, I’m happy to report a rise in clear, West Coast IPAs, at least in my neck of the woods and in our project work. And with this (perceived?) resurgence, I wonder if we won’t see a marked split in the IPA category where Hazy / Juicy IPAs lose the official designation and you’re just left with a Juicy / Hazy beer and IPA can once again mean a beer that is clear and pleasantly bitter.


Lager as a brand

You know what you’re getting with a light / premium / classic / craft lager.

Lager is a brand and it immediately orients you so you understand what type of beer this is and when and where you should drink it.

And we’re seeing the de facto lager visual canon (vaguely nostalgic, minimal, mostly white can, script typography, fun violators to call out specific claims and premium ingredients, etc.) being co-opted and applied to all manner of light crushable beers like Golden Ales, Blonde Ales and Cream Ales right now.

We haven’t seen any brewery go as far as to outright call a Cream Ale a Lager, but we’ve seen several breweries put out lighter bodied beers and either eschew the “technically correct” beer style designation altogether or position the beer as a classic lager (or in some cases, simply calling it “Beer”) to hit that occasion.

Main takeaway here: don’t be precious with your flavors and descriptors. Be short, simple, direct and familiar.

Who do you want to buy your product, and what’s their comfort level and familiarity with beer?

Use beer styles to tell people exactly what to expect and as a tool for positioning your beer however you see fit. And meet people where they are.

1. Fat Tire, 2. Shiner, 3. Cold Drinking Beer, 4. Calidad, 5. Kona, 6/7. Firestone Walker

Breweries are taking their merch seriously
Brand building for fun & profit

*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. And listen to a Beer Branding Trends Podcast episode on merch here.

Merch is a fun subject and something that some breweries completely knock out of the park. And others, well, they try (and in doing so, leave a lot of revenue on the table).

I’m not going to go into specific fashion trends here because they’ll change over the next year anyway. (Also, I’m wearing jorts as I write this. Literally. Right now. Jorts. My wife is horrified.) I’ll also try to skip the more obvious pointers (e.g., Hoodies sell better in fall than summ… revelatory!).

Instead, I’ll outline some evergreen things we think about when we discuss merch with our clients in the hopes that this helps your team create better stuff moving forward.

Let’s get into it.


Your merch is a direct reflection of your business

I’ve had the same Sam Adams keychain bottle opener for more than 20 years. It has dutifully opened hundreds (thousands?) of beers and every time I bring it out, I smile. (These days, it lives on the top shelf of my tackle box. And if I’m being honest, it’s really only still there because my kids like playing with it when we go fishing. Aluminum cans rendered this old friend obsolete a decade ago.)

Now I’m not sure that it’s reasonable to expect a t-shirt to last 20 years, but my point here is that you need to invest in high quality merchandise—quality shirts and hats, quality printing, patches and stitching, quality keychains, etc.

Whatever you decide to offer, make sure it’s well made.

This is such an important point, that if you have a choice between offering cheap merch (junky, boxy shirts, poorly made stickers, cheap bottle openers, etc.) and selling no merch at all, you would be better off not creating anything.

Do not sell cheap merch. It is a direct reflection on your brewery itself.

Your merch should reinforce your positioning and brand story

What is your brewery’s Brand Essence, voice and personality? How are you positioned? What are your values and key messages? All these things can be reinforced by your merch. Not just in design, but in the actual artifact itself.

What are your fans into? What activity and/or lifestyle are you centered around? Thinking in these terms can allow you to go esoteric and fun here.

If you’re the fly fishing brewery, then go deep on that: Branded bandanas. Fly boxes. Sunglasses straps. Fanny packs. Waders. Or maybe sticker packs geared for specific places like a truck cap or a canoe.

You can do this with any lifestyle or hobby.

You know what your people are into, so have fun here.

Left Field is Toronto’s baseball brewery. That sells their outfit short a bit, but this is what they’re known for. And their merch program reinforces this positioning and story with every single piece. I can’t think of a single piece of merch they’ve ever put out that I wouldn’t want to wear. Check out their entire store here.

Think beyond your primary logo (give your fans winks & nods)

There’s a place for logo’d merch. A big place. But if all you’re doing is slapping your primary logo on a bunch of shirts and calling it good, you may be missing out on sales to folks who don’t want to be a walking billboard but would otherwise happily buy and wear your shirt.

This is where your Modular Brand Identity System really shines.

All of your secondary and tertiary marks—your icons, tagline builds and other bugs—are perfect for merch. These are exactly the type of winks and nods you can offer to folks who want to wear something cool and low key.

And beyond this, whenever we sit down to develop a dedicated batch of merch, we lean more into lifestyle and cool illustrations.

Think more along the lines of a band t-shirt vs. a corporate polo.

Is this design cool?

Does it relate to our brewery’s story?

If so… Go. To. Print.

1. Fertile Ground Beer Co., 2. Forest Road Brewing Co., 3. Henderson Brewing, 4. Plain Spoke Cocktails, 5/7. Big Lug Brewing, 6. Prost Brewing, 8/9/11. KettleHouse Brewing Co., 10. Mission Brewing Co.

Create merch drops & scarcity

Whenever your brewery orders merch, you’re balancing wanting to order fewer items (in case they don’t sell well) with the fact that you can get a better price by buying more units.

One way to reframe this scenario is to think of your merch along the lines of your brewery’s pilot program:

Purposely order small batches and promote them as such.

There are several benefits to this approach:

– You can test things out and see what pops. Does a particular shirt color, or style, or design sell out almost instantly? Then you know you might want to order more of that item the next time around.

– You’re also not left with hundreds of units sitting there gathering dust if you miss the mark on a particular piece.

– And finally, you’re introducing one of the most powerful nudges in all of advertising and Behavioral Economicslimited time only! If your hats are only available for a limited time, then someone might be more inclined to grab one now than if it was a year-round staple.

Buy smaller quantities to see what the market likes. Take notes. And refine on your next drop.


Create a beautiful retail footprint (please exit through the gift shop)

If you want your fans to buy more merch, you should make purchasing your merch as easy and pleasant as possible. One way of doing this is to create a beautiful retail experience inside your brewery.

I suggest looking for inspiration out in the world here. Go to a Harley Davidson dealership to see how they merchandise shirts and lifestyle gear. Go to REI to see how they merchandise camping equipment. Or take your Goth son to a Hot Topic and check out how they merchandise chain wallets and eye liner.

Go to any store that has a similar vibe to your brewery (e.g., technical, outdoorsy, warm and inviting) and look at their retail displays. How do they hang shirts? Do they use mannequins? What sort of backdrops do they build? Do they take advantage of vertical space or is everything in bins? What sort of hang tags / retail labels do they use?

Creating a cool, inviting space in your brewery to house your merch can, in and of itself, help to sell more products.

Bonus point here: I’m always surprised when I see a taproom employee not wearing a brewery’s shirt. If you don’t have a uniform policy in place, especially amongst your front of house folks, consider at least asking that they wear one of your shirts during every shift. This will get more eyes on your merch throughout the day and hopefully help to move more products.

(And another piece of low hanging fruit: Put your merch on your taproom menus. If you’ve got cool stuff to offer, don’t be shy about it.)

1. Left Field Brewery, 2/3. North Pier Brewing Co., 4. Deadwords Brewing Co.

Final thought: Driving revenue vs. brand building

If done well, your merch program can be a lucrative revenue stream at your brewery. And indeed, you should strive for profit here.

But as long as you’re not losing money, and if it’s not soaking up too much of your team’s capacity, you should also consider the more intangible, but no less important benefit of your merch as a brand building tool.

It’s hard to put a price tag on someone wearing your brewery’s t-shirt to the gym or at the grocery store. But these small day-to-day impressions add up over time and help to keep your brewery top of mind.

And all that for a measly $30 shirt.


Hospitality focused breweries: Taprooms & Brewpubs
Why you need to brand your taproom

If you can operate it well, a taproom brewery or brewpub—your quintessential neighborhood breweries—are faring okay(ish) right now. Sure, you’re still dealing with inflation, a labor shortage, increased input prices and a widespread decline in draft sales. Though despite these challenges, many outfits report being up YOY.

But as with the rest of the beer industry, consumers are drinking less beer than any time in the previous decades and there are more breweries than any time in modern history. So, you’ve got to be dialed-in if you want to make it through this period.

This section highlights a few interesting through lines we’re seeing in our taproom and brewpub branding work right now.


Multi-use spaces (coffee shop > brewery > event center)

We’ve worked with a few breweries in planning over the last year that were building a business that can shift to accommodate different customers throughout the day.

The most notable concept would be a new brewery we worked with out of Lewis Center, Ohio, called Standardized Brewing, who will serve as a coffee shop in the morning and then shift into a brewery taproom in the afternoon.

But we’ve also seen breweries opening co-working spaces, arcades, concert venues and event centers (think lucrative wedding venues, or a place to host corporate parties or large family gatherings).

All of these are cool ways of further enmeshing yourself in the community and building multiple revenue streams. Good stuff all around.


Create a killer bar experience

We’re seeing more breweries open with two-way or three-way licenses (serving beer, wine, spirits / cocktails). I think this is a great move. You get more people in the door, keep them there longer and can serve them a variety of higher margin drinks.

This highlights a subtle shift in how you might consider positioning your taproom. Namely, you should think about your brewery less as a taproom and more as the coolest bar in town.

Bonus points if you can bring other amenities to the table, e.g., family friendly setting, dog friendly amenities, a great view.

And think about how you can attract people to your taproom beyond your beer. Would a trivia night land with your customers? Or could you host a small farmers’ market? Or a yoga night (goats optional).

Something else to consider: Your taproom design itself matters today. A lot. The days of opening a taproom in an industrial strip out in BFE, complete with folding tables and mismatched chairs are waning. Those breweries with gorgeous spaces, including stylish furniture and fixtures, cool murals, wayshowing and killer patios—will be better set for the coming years.


Food as a differentiator (give folks another reason to come in)

We’re seeing more breweries putting in real-deal restaurants and food concepts. I’m not saying there’s an impending resurgence of gastropubs, but we are seeing more, and betterfood being served at more breweries today and amongst our clients.

Obligatory caveat here: Operating a restaurant is arguably more challenging than running a brewery (and with even lower margins!), so don’t read this section and run off to put a restaurant in the back of your brewery. But if you do think this could be a good move, you may be better set up for the long term.

The Regional Brewery Playbook
Strategies for staying relevant as a older brewery

The entire beer industry is dealing with a down economy. But mid-market and Regional Breweries (a very useful definition from the Brewers Association (BA) here: breweries who produce between 15k and 6 million barrels per year. Great.) are dealing with a uniquely challenging set of headwinds today.

They’re small enough that they face competition from more nimble, local outfits, but big enough that they often compete with Big Beer on price.

And while not always the case, these are groups that saw phenomenal growth over the latter half of the 2010’s. And you might have invested heavily to continue that expansion. But then 2020 happened. As did all of the continued fallout and now you’re dealing with flat sales, an even more competitive market, and you’re potentially still servicing those major bank notes that you acquired in a different era of the industry. Phew.

This content is reserved for our Beer Branding Trends Newsletter subscribers. Join here to receive all 4 exclusive insights from this report directly in your inbox.

Section 2: Brand Architecture


Brand Architecture is a framework for determining how all your brands, current and future, interact with one another. How do specific brands relate or differ, how are they positioned and named, how are they priced, and how does all of this help you build your business?

And this subject has become an important part of nearly every single project we’ve fielded over the last several years.

Our first dozen or so Brand Architecture engagements were mostly focused on helping breweries launch hard seltzers or RTD cocktails. It was mostly project-based. We’re still seeing this in our project work, of course, but we’re also fielding more complex Architecture issues brought on by years of easy organic growth, followed by a (new normal?) state of uncertainty.

A few examples here:

– We’re helping people figure out how to handle the branding for a brewery or brand they just acquired (or how to position a joint venture).

– We’re helping breweries figure out how to better unite their packaging and taproom network under a more cohesive brand experience.

– We’re helping breweries spin best-selling beers into formal Sub Brands within their portfolio.

– We’re helping breweries figure out how to position a new line of Fourth Category products (e.g., Hop Water or canned coffee).

– And we’re using Brand Architecture as a tool to future proof a growing brewery’s new product development pipeline by identifying new segments, audiences, and occasions they could credibly play in.

This is just a small glimpse at what we’re seeing on this front. And with more economic-driven M&A activity on the horizon, and more breweries searching for ways to drive incremental growth in both beer and beyond, this is a subject you might want to familiarize yourself with moving forward.

Here are some of the most recurring trends we’re seeing in our Brand Architecture work this year.

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.

The continued march of Sub / Endorsed Brands
When does a brand become a Sub Brand?

One of the biggest trends we’re seeing in beer and Bev Alc branding right now is a focus on building Sub / Endorsed Brands. This can manifest as an entirely new brand family, or spinning an existing brand out so that it can stand and grow more on its own, separate from the parent brand

No matter what form it takes, more breweries today are looking for growth by building brands within their existing portfolios.

We were discussing a project with a new client last year, when they asked, “When does a brand become a Sub Brand?” And despite all of our writing and thinking on Brand Architecture and portfolio strategy, we didn’t have a clear answer for her. This spurred a fun, three-part Beer Branding Trends Newsletter series last year that explored this question.

I’m going to include some highlights from this series here because this remains an incredibly important strategy for any brewery looking for an edge right now.

Sub Brand Summer: If you’d like to receive insights like this directly in your inbox each month, subscribe to the Beer Branding Trends Newsletter.

Why are Sub Brands so hot right now?

All across the country, breweries are looking to find growth by building Sub Brands, or in the more common nomenclature, “Brand Families,” within their broader portfolio.

This is a natural move for larger Legacy Breweries for whom finding relevance with new drinkers is a life and death matter. But we’re seeing our smaller, younger brewery clients build intra-portfolio Sub Brands with great results as well.

In either case, there are interesting takeaways that you can think about as you shape your brewery’s portfolio over the coming years.

Let’s quickly explain what a Sub Brand is and then explore why we think this is such a pervasive strategy right now, what this means, and more importantly, how your brewery can explore this path if you think it would be a good fit for your vision and goals.


What is a Sub Brand?

From The Beyond Beer Handbook:

A Sub Brand is connected closely to your parent brand—think of it as a little extra spice given to separate each product from one another within your overall portfolio. A Sub Brand still carries the same values that intuitively link it to the parent brand, but targets a specific audience with further defined attributes and benefits that might not be offered by the parent brand alone. This allows you to build stronger bonds with your existing customers while expanding your overall footprint by dipping your toes into new categories and audiences.

A few important nuances here:

  1. In Brand Architecture terms, this strategy can manifest as a Sub Brand or an Endorsed Brand. The specific approach isn’t as important 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.
  2. When building a true Sub Brand, your parent brand is still the main purchasing driver.

    That is, a customer buys this product explicitly because it is from your brewery. With an Endorsed Brand, the new product brand itself is the main purchasing driver, with the parent brand relegated to an “endorsing” role.

For the rest of this section, I’ll use “Sub Brands” as a shorthand for both Sub and Endorsed Brand strategies.

We’re focusing on the middle section of the Beverage Brand Architecture Continuum, as you scale your brand from Extension to Sub / Endorsed Brand and beyond.

Why is this happening? (Or at least, how did it start?)

Reason 1: Follow the leader(s)

I believe we’re seeing this strategy so often today because of how successfully it has been implemented by a handful of respected Legacy Breweries.

A few prominent examples include:

– Voodoo Ranger (New Belgium)
– Little Thing (Sierra Nevada)
– 805 (Firestone Walker)
– Beer Hug (Goose Island)
– Golden Monkeys (Victory)
– Dead Guy (Rogue)
– Dale’s (Oskar Blues)
– Wicked (Boston Beer Co.)
– Fresh Squeezed (Deschutes)
– Hearted (Bell’s)

We offered a similar theory recently for why high ABV beers are trending right now. (Question starts at the 1 hour 13 minute mark in this podcast). Basically, someone took a shot (in this case, on aggressively priced Imperial IPAs in single serve stove pipes), and it worked. It really, really worked. So other breweries followed suit.

So take this dynamic, sprinkle in the macro trend of beer consumers shopping based more on brand than style, plus shifting Legal Drinking Age demographics and preferences, and you have a perfect setting for Sub Brands to thrive.

Follow the leaders: 1. Sierra Nevada, 2. Firestone Walker,, 3. Samuel Adams, 4. New Belgium, 5. Victory, 6. Goose Island, 7. Bell’s

Reason 2: The beer industry is facing major headwinds.

I don’t need to outline the myriad economic forces that are constricting the beer industry because you’re seeing this firsthand every day in your work. But for those who aren’t following along as closely, let’s just say that between a recession and inflation, lingering supply chain shortages and dramatically increased input costs, things aren’t looking so great right now.

So how can a brewery survive over the coming rocky years?

One way is to diversify your offerings.

It’s good practice to rebalance your investment portfolio every year to ensure you’re not overly-weighted in one asset class. This keeps you resilient and can minimize losses when things go sideways.

This concept applies to your brewery’s portfolio as well: By building a variety of brands and products across multiple categories that appeal to different audiences, price points and occasions, you can keep your business more robust as consumer preferences shift and broader economic constraints emerge.

We saw a lot of this from 2019 to 2022 in the form of breweries releasing hard seltzer and RTDs.

But this move is category agnostic.

For this conversation, we’re not drawing a line between beer or Beyond Beer products. Instead, we’re focusing on Sub Brands as a tool to leverage your parent brand to grow your overall portfolio.


Reason 3: Sub Brands create a smoother path to market than creating an entirely new brand.

Building a new brand is expensive. And it’s challenging. And it takes capacity (that you may not have). And to do it right, you have to invest as much time and energy and capital as you did when bringing your parent brand to market. In contrast, releasing a new brand that can come to market tied to your parent brand in some capacity can create a faster path towards driving trial and gaining mindshare.

I won’t go as far as to call this strategy a shortcut, but it is faster and cheaper to bring a new Sub Brand to market than creating an entirely new brand (one with no ties whatsoever to your parent brand).


Reason 4: Sub Brands are a platform for long term brand building.

We’ve written about the merits of Monolithic Portfolios vs. fanciful names and Sub Brands before. One thing that we’ve heard from our brewery clients is that Sub Brands give your customers one more point of reference to grab onto and to understand and bond with. Fernson Brewing mentioned this in our recent podcast conversation.

Think of the Bar Call heuristic. Someone walks into a bar and orders a beer: Which of these sounds (and feels) better?

“Give me a Firestone Walker Blonde Ale, please.”


“805, please.”


Welcome to the Era of Sub Brands (or, why Sub Brands are so hot right now)

For the Legacy Brewery: Sub Brands are an opportunity to target a specific audience more credibly than you would be able to with your parent brand. You can bring to bear your entire scale (production, innovation, distribution, marketing, etc.) and launch a new brand more forcefully than a startup ever could. 

For a newer, smaller brewery: Sub Brands are another chance to create something that resonates with your customers. And it creates a platform for future growth via Line Extensions, co-branding and a deeper universe you can flesh out over time.

For your customers: Sub Brands are an easy way to cut through the noise of today’s cold box and find a new go-to beer brand family that never lets them down.


How to Scale the “Sub Brand Ladder”
A step-by-step framework for building your Sub Brand

Your brewery’s Brand Architecture isn’t a static thing. Similar to your Brand Strategy and brand itself, you should revisited it as needed—whenever you’re planning to launch a new product, or setting annual goals, working through your ABP, doing some spring cleaning, and so on. 

This applies to your overarching Brand Architecture as well as at the individual product level—no brand in your portfolio has to fly under the same strategy forever. Overtime, as a brand grows in prominence, it will naturally start to slide more rightward on the Continuum.

This is a concept we call “scaling up and down” the Beverage Brand Architecture Continuum.

The Sub Brand Ladder concept narrows our focus on this evolution to the middle of the Continuum, as you scale your new product (to, or) from Sub Brand to Endorsed Brand and beyond.  

Some of the ideas we outline below don’t fit neatly into one stage vs. another. And if you talk with two breweries who have built successful Sub Brands, you’ll find that they’ve taken very different, circuitous (if not serendipitous) paths to get to where they are today.

So don’t get too hung up on whether you need to complete everything in the middle rungs before moving on to the top rungs, etc.

Think of this less as a punch list and more as a tool box you can sift through and select from as you build your Sub Brand.


First steps: Creating a platform

So you’ve decided to build a Sub Brand. (Nice!)

At the earliest stages of this process, you are building a platform for future brand building work. So you don’t have to create a perfect plan (and besides, your plan will inevitably shift given how fast industry and consumer trends evolve today). 

It’s important to note that the following items on their own don’t make your beer a Sub Brand. But you cannot build a fully-formed Sub Brand without them. (e.g., all Sub Brands have a fanciful name, but not all fancifully-named beers are Sub Brands.)


Some things you’ll need at the first rungs of the ladder include:


1. Develop a fanciful name.

Your Sub / Endorsed Brand will need a compelling name. This can be as important as your parent brand itself name, so don’t shortcut this process. Learn how to develop a great brewery name here.


2. Determine your Brand Architecture strategy & develop differentiated aesthetics.

Once you’ve established a compelling name, you’ll need to decide whether you want to initially position this brand as a Sub or Endorsed model. (Take our B.E.A.T. Assessment to quickly orient yourself here.)

Once you’ve made that decision, you’ll need to flesh out the brand’s look and feel. The level to which you do this will depend on whether you’re launching a Sub Brand or an Endorsed Brand to start. To wit, a Sub Brand will be closely tied to your parent brand, whereas an Endorsed Brand will stand more on its own out of the gate.

In either case, you will need to establish some level of Brand Identity for this new brand.


3. Build a rough plan for how you intend to scale the brand.

How do you want to develop this brand? Do you envision entering multiple categories, or staying nimble and focusing on a limited number of products? Does it make sense to (eventually) scale through Line and/or Brand Extensions?

Fast forward 5 years: What does this Sub Brand look like? And how does this compare with the rest of your business?

Your Brand Strategy will evolve over time so I wouldn’t worry about getting it perfect at this stage. But roughly charting out how you want the Sub Brand to relate to your parent brand and a few initial ways you think you can help the brand achieve velocity is a good place to start.

Sub Brands create a platform for long term brand building. This was a central theme during our package refresh work with Fernson Brewing.

Intermediate Steps: Giving it some gas

Now that you’ve established your Sub Brand’s important foundational components (fanciful name, Brand Identity and a rough plan for growth), you can start to lean into this and more formally develop the brand itself.

There are a lot of fun things you can do here, but at a 30k-foot view, you’ve decided to build a Sub Brand and are now working towards gaining a foothold throughout your market.

In doing so, you will slide further away from the parent brand on the Continuum (Sub > Endorsed — i.e., pushing away from your parent brand and placing more emphasis on the new brand itself).


Some of the more potent things you can do at this stage include:


1. Develop your Sub Brand’s Brand & Marketing Strategy.

– Frame your Sub Brand’s positioning

– Develop a distinct brand voice & personality

– Develop unique brand values (if markedly different from your parent brand values)

– Firm up the brand’s value props, target audience and occasions

– Develop a unique social media hashtag


2. Build out the portfolio (and explore where you can credibly take the brand).

Develop Line Extension(s) if appropriate

Line Extensions are a natural path towards growing the overall brand and giving consumers more options for flavor, occasions, packaging format and price points.

However, you don’t have to develop multiple lines in order to build a successful Sub Brand.

You can build a strong Sub Brand off the back of one product (e.g., Lion’s Paw Lager, Shipwrecked, Cold Smoke). But if your product lends itself to a Line Extension, then this can be a great way to further build out the portfolio. (TLDR: Don’t Line Extend without a compelling reason or opportunity.)

Read more about how far you can extend a brand here.


Create Sub Brand-centric variety packs (if applicable)

This one is dependent on whether you release Line Extensions. But if you do have enough products to fill one out, variety packs can be a great way to drive trial and slowly introduce (and test) new brands in your portfolio. (They also allow you to stay top of mind throughout the year as seasons change.)

And allow me to beat this old drum once again: If you decide to build a variety pack, make sure you view it as a brand building opportunity. So develop a theme that helps you tell a compelling story and capture a specific occasion or audience.

TLDR: Don’t just call it a “variety pack” and move on.


Develop a merch program

Creating a Sub Brand-specific merch line is another great way of building awareness and evangelism. It’s also another avenue for fleshing out your brand voice and personality while driving more revenue.

( Examples: 805 / Howdy Beer / Fat Tire )


3. Distribution / Sales / Marketing Alignment

In order to scale your Sub Brand, you’ll need to dial in your distribution and marketing plans. You will work with your distributor(s) on this front. This process can include chain retail and national account considerations depending on your scale.

You will already have a few priorities within your parent brand’s portfolio, but you will shift dedicated focus and energy to growing this Sub Brand alongside these other brands.


Other items you can tackle at this stage include:

– Build a dedicated distribution plan (with clear sales rep priorities, and/or hire a dedicated Sub Brand rep, focus on the Sub brand within your broader ABP, formalize how you submit products to chain retailers, etc.).

– Define a dedicated marketing budget.

– Build Sub Brand-specific vehicle wraps and sales materials.

– Build Sub Brand-specific tap handles.

Left Field Brewery is taking the intermediate steps of building out their popular Ice Cold Beer Sub Brand by creating a line extension (a “lime” extension, if you will), variety packs, fun merch and some smart field activation.

Final steps: Taking “The Leap”


At this point, your flywheel is spinning and you’re focused on maintaining the momentum you’ve built along the way.

So as your Sub Brand matures, you’re doing more of the same work you began in the middle rungs of the Sub Brand Ladder: You’re continuing to develop the brand itself, you’re expanding your marketing efforts and budget and distribution reach.

You’re just doing all of these things better—more efficiently, more targeted and on a bigger scale.

The line between the middle rungs of the Sub Brand ladder and the top rungs is blurry. So rather than trying to pin down a concrete definition (i.e., when you hit an annual CE target, when you hit a revenue milestone, etc.), let’s say that you *officially* reach the top rungs when your team decides to take the leap. 


“The Leap”

Taking the leap means your brewery is fully committed to this Sub Brand and in doing so, you’ve decided to permanently decouple it from your parent brand. You may still maintain some level of Endorsement but at this stage, this is more to let people know that your parent brand exists than it is to offer a quality guarantee. 

Your Sub Brand (likely an Endorsed or standalone brand at this point) is now standing entirely on its own.

(Fly away baby bird!)

This happens naturally over time, and indeed, it’s usually the goal that your Sub Brand becomes more identifiable than your brewery’s parent brand.

As an example: How many people know Voodoo Ranger vs. New Belgium? Or that Dale’s Pale Ale comes from Oskar Blues? Or that Dead Guy comes from Rogue?

There are a few other items that you can do to commit to taking the leap. These can include:


Filling out your digital footprint

– Create a Sub Brand-specific website. This can be a landing page, or a robust eComm site, depending on your needs. Here are a few examples of this out in the wild: Voodoo Ranger (New Belgium) / 805 & Mind Haze (Firestone Walker) / Skip Day Hard Seltzer (Fernson Brewing) / Arrogant Bastard (Stone)

– Create Sub Brand-specific social channels—unique handles and content, Custom Spotify playlists, etc. ( Examples: @Drinkdales / @VoodooRanger / @HowdyBeer / @DrinkDeadGuy )

– Build assets (sales materials, POS) and tools (distributor portal on your website) to support growth and marketing.


Fully realized team and budget

Start treating this Sub Brand like its own standalone business. To do this, you will need to put in place the systems and processes like any other business (staff, budget, SOPs, etc.).

– Build a dedicated in-house team to focus on the Sub Brand (e.g., Marketing Director, Brand Director / In-house designer, Social Media Manager / eCommerce Director).

– Develop Sub Brand-specific marketing plan with a real budget (refining and executing what you framed during the intermediate phase).

– Build a dedicated sales program.


Brand Architecture

– Build strategic partnerships (co-branding, sponsorships, stadium and concert venue placements). This will allow you to tap into additional audiences, continue building the brand and further enmeshing yourself in the community.

– Aim for complete marketing, sales and distributor alignment. This builds on and clarifies what you established during the middle rungs of the Sub Brand Ladder.


Other moves to solidify your Sub Brand can include:


– Shift to move volume (multi-packs, such as variety packs, 12-packs and even 24-packs) and channel-specific formats (single-serve programs like stovepipes in C-stores and at concert venues).

– Create Sub Brand-specific taprooms and venues.

– Organize signature events / festivals / field marketing plans. 

– Run influencer marketing and partnership campaigns.

– Ad Campaigns (Super Bowl ad? I don’t know… let’s dream big here.) And if you can’t swing $7 million for a 30-second commercial, then what else can you do? What is your Sub Brand’s Super Bowl?

A handful of brands that have taken (or are currently taking) The Leap: 1/2. Fat Tire, 3. Wild Basin Hard Seltzer, 4. Dead Guy, 5. Dale’s, 6. 805

When does a brand become a Sub Brand?

It’s a question of intent.

Thousands of breweries have beers with fanciful names. But this alone doesn’t make a beer brand a Sub Brand.

It’s the intent to grow that specific brand as a more individualized family, complete with its own key messaging, value props, brand voice and personality that will push you across the line.

The Sub Brand Ladder isn’t a punch list for you to check off over time.

These are stepping stones, or foundational blocks in the platform that allows you to move forward and build your Sub Brand (and your entire business) along the way for years to come.


Restaurant vs. Brewery
“Why would I sell your beer? You’re my competition.”

People across the beer industry are bemoaning that draft hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic levels, or that taproom foot traffic is down, or that consumers are drinking more spirits than beer, or not drinking at all. And indeed, it’s been a rough few years for breweries.

But if we look outside our category for a moment, we’ll see that our friends over in the restaurant and bar industries have been clinging on to life support since March 2020. And with the economy looking terrible for the foreseeable future (continued inflation, the Damoclean threat of an always-around-the-corner recession, rising interest rates, decreasing consumer savings), things are going to get worse before they get better.

So why am I bringing this up in our beer and beverage trend report? Because we’re fielding a lot of projects with brewpubs who are rebranding and repositioning specifically because of the zero-sum view that many of these struggling bars and restaurants have adopted:

“Why would I sell your beer? You’re my competition.”

Outside of beer and Bev Alc, CODO does a lot of bar, restaurant and hospitality group branding work and can confirm that this is a very real sentiment (amongst somerestaurateurs). Coming out of the pandemic has introduced a dog-eat-dog mentality, and it won’t go away as long as the restaurant industry remains on the ropes.

And if you’re a brewpub who wants to distribute your beer, particularly to local restaurants? Good luck. We’ve heard from several of our brewery clients that this dynamic makes securing new drafts accounts much more challenging. Even more so when you have multiple satellite taproom / restaurant concepts.

The executive summary for these sorts of engagements usually looks something like this:

We’re a brewpub that recently started distributing our beer. We want to be viewed more like a brewery, and less as a restaurant, so we can sell our beer into more local restaurant accounts. How can we put more distance between our food and beer in the market (without dissuading people from coming in to eat)?

This dynamic has always been around in some form—I remember sitting in on a panel at CBC back in the mid 2010s listening to a speaker talk about the friction between bar owners and small taproom breweries. But now, when there’s far less money to go around, this has become a life and death issue for restaurants and bars.

The strategy prescription here will differ from brewery to brewery based on your competitive set and context. But one way we’ve approached this problem, in a few instances, has been to consider whether or not it would make sense to spin off your brewery under a new brand entirely to put more distance between it and your restaurant.

This can help you appear to have more skin in the game with distributors and retailers, and help shift your positioning amongst local restaurants. (Though local restaurateurs may see through this, we’d offer that it can be presented as a good faith move to not impede on their business).

A quick & dirty guide to Co-Branding
A primer on the what, why & how behind co-branding
Let’s discuss a fun, emergent trend we’re seeing in the beer industry right now: Co-branding.

It seems like every other week, a client will reach out to us with a new project on this front (“We’re partnering with XYZ baseball team / XYZ pickleball league / XYZ donut shop and need help with the packaging.”). Or, we’ll see an equally splashy announcement between two brands on BrewBound.

I don’t have any deep insight into why this is happening right now, but I can say that I really like it. These arrangements are fun and usually produce cool products. (Deep observations here at CODO, I know.)

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Section 3: Beer & Beyond ( Exploring the Fourth Category )

We’ve always defined Beyond Beer as any beverage a brewery makes that is not beer. And we, along with the rest of the beer industry, have beaten this term to death (even titling our last book, The Beyond Beer Handbook.)

Since publishing that book, we’ve worked with breweries, hard cideries, distilleries as well as stand-alone RTD cocktail brands, Hop Water and cannabis brands that are all making similar products. So rather than letting it be context dependent—beyond spirits, beyond cannabis, beyond cider—we’re trying to leave this nomenclature behind and simply call these beverages collectively the “Fourth Category.”

There’s nothing revelatory here, and we certainly didn’t coin this term, but it’s a more flexible descriptor for the continued convergence that’s happening right now across beverage alcohol.

That preamble out of the way, we can now highlight a few interesting trends we’re seeing in beer and beyond, er, the Fourth Category right now—not so much in terms of specific styles, but more so from a positioning and portfolio perspective.

The year of craft lager? (The year of craft lager!)
Fizzy yellow beer is in!

There’s a decade-old running joke in the beer industry that next year (at the very latest) will finally be the Year of Craft Lager.

Now, I’m not bold enough to call 2024 the *official* Year of Lager (sorry for the clickbait title there…), but damn if this doesn’t feel close. Granted, I’m not sure what we were all expecting—craft lager to dethrone IPA as the face of craft beer? Hype breweries to drop $29 4-packs of Czech Dark Lagers?

But for some anecdata here, CODO has branded more all-lager breweries and created more lager brands (Sub Brands and standalone brands) over the last year than at any point in our 15 year history.

And we’re seeing people approach the segment correctly, with horizontal tanks, step mashing and decoction—all manner of fun, esoteric production techniques to turn out a quality product.

So I can feel it. And I bet you can too.

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All the alcohol, or none of it?

One of the more quizzical things we’ve seen in the beer industry over the last few years has been the simultaneous rise of Imperial IPAs, often clocking in at 9%+ and of e beer and NA beverages.

Consumers are showing that they want both of these things, and often in the same occasions. We could postulate for a moment as to why this bookending effect is happening:

– Imperial IPAs are an opportunity to “trade up,” they offer more bang for your buck, people are drinking less volume but still want to catch a buzz. (Large craft producers are leading this charge with large format cans primarily sold through the convenience channel.)

– Or on the other end of the spectrum with NA beverages: Many of Craft’s main cohorts, Gen X and Millennials, are getting older, having kids and looking for more mindful ways of consuming alcohol.

– And perhaps a more existential industry-wide threat—the (possible) perception amongst the youngest of LDA consumers, that drinking itself isn’t cool.

But none of this is falsifiable, so we can leave it there for now.

A more actionable point on this subject that we’ve seen in our project work is the rising importance of clearly denoting a given product’s ABV.

At a base level, ABV can be an important value prop that you’ll want to clearly call out (indeed, someone buying an Imperial IPA is doing so because they want that higher proof beer and vice versa with those buying NA beer where the total lack of ethanol is the benefit).

But from a consumer safety standpoint, if you have multiple products in your portfolio that span different categories and from zero ABV up to high octane, it’s important that people clearly know exactly what they’re grabbing from the fridge.

Another wrinkle in all of this is the continuing trend of traditionally non-alc brands (e.g, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Monster, Mountain Dew, Simply, Sunny D (???), AriZona Tea) launching spiked extensions. We’ve dedicated an entire Beer Branding Trends Newsletter issue to this subject, and what we believe to be a major impending regulation shift within the next decade. Read more about this here.

I think the beer industry has a lot of catching up to do on this front as a whole.

We should do a better job of clearly denoting ABV on every product we release (whether it’s legally required or not). And similarly, if you’re wanting to get out ahead of the curve, you may want to consider including nutrition facts as well. At some point, these will likely become requisite. But until then, it’s a courtesy to your fans that you care about them and want them to have all the info they need to make more informed purchasing (and responsible drinking) decisions.

1/7. Sierra Nevada, 2. Victory Brewing, 3. Mission Brewing, 4. Dogfish Head, 5. Two Roads Brewing, 6. Zero Gravity Brewing, 8. Oskar Blues, 9. Lawson’s Finest Liquids

Hop Water (+ NA beer) 
Giving your fans relevant NA options

We’ve been writing about, championing and drinking (case after case) of Hop Water for the last few years. And we still think this category has a lot of runway, especially as the NA beer market continues to take shape.

And the segment is growing (up 142% since 2020), though it’s still a small sliver of a small (but growing!) NA beer and beverage category.

Anecdotally, we’re seeing more movement among smaller breweries in our project work. But there are exciting major entrants wading in right now, beyond the first big two: Lagunitas and Sierra Nevada. (Honorable mention to CODO favorite HOP WTR here, though they came to market as a standalone brand vs. as an extension from a brewery.)

Notable movement in the space includes Revolution Brewing, Austin Beerworks, Brooklyn Brewery taking a minority stake in Hop Lark (a hard tea, but positioned similarly to Hop Water), and an interesting co-marketing campaign between Pacifico and HOP WTR.

I bring these up to illustrate that larger breweries and Bev Alc companies see something viable here. And the more high profile entrants there are, the more consumers catch on and the more Hop Water becomes a viable Fourth Category beverage you might consider producing.

We’ve covered Hop Water extensively: Read more of our thoughts here and listen to a podcast on the subject here.

But for now, here are a few additional things we’re thinking about as the segment continues to take shape.


On Categorical Differentiation Opportunities

We’re still seeing some early categorical differentiation (Sierra Nevada announced that they’ll be adding real fruit to a future variant, and there’s a litany of Hop Water brands that feature nootropics and adaptogens), but I do think that we’re still a bit early on this. The category itself is still in the education phase. People are still learning that it exists, what it is and what role it might play in their lives. So there’s no need to push to categorically differentiate it too heavily yet.

Most of the differentiation that is happening now should be at the brand level, meaning you have to create a compelling story, make a great product and brand the hell out of it so it becomes impossible to ignore.

But do keep an eye out for categorical differentiation opportunities. While not critical now, it could become so very quickly after another year or two of new market entrants.

1. St Elmo, 2. Lagunitas, 3. Almanac, 4. Sierra Nevada, 5. Aslan, 6. KC Bier Co., 7. HOP WTR, 8. Hop Lark, 9. Fair State Co-op, 10. Noon Whistle, 11. New Holland, 12. Fremont, 13. Left Field Brewery, 14. Revolution, 15. Forgotten Boardwalk

How do you position Hop Water?

We’ve previously made a case for why Hop Water is a fantastic NA beer alternative—something that can compete directly with NA beer for a beer occasion. I do still think that is a natural use case for Hop Water, however, I now believe this positioning could be too limiting if the category wants to see overall growth.

In my own personal use case, I switch from coffee at around 11am to Hop Water. (I haven’t had a beer at 11am since I was 25, so this definitely is not a beer occasion for me, but just a normal part of my daily routine.)

I think that the category might need to start leaning away from hops as a beer-adjacent attribute and think more broadly about how this product can slide into other occasions and routine parts of peoples’ days, more akin to how a Lacroix or Polar or Spindrift or any other established sparkling water currently does. Example: If you’re not a beer drinker, but you do like bitter coffees and teas, then Hop Water could be a refreshing option for you. Though I’m not sure that branching outside of a beer and NA beer drinking audience will be necessary. If the category wants to become a huge segment, then we’ll all have to think more broadly here.


Hop Water’s Brand Architecture

Launching a non-beer product is a major undertaking and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. You can do real damage to your brewery’s parent brand (either through a misaligned new product or one that takes off and starts outselling your main portfolio).

We heard this concern constantly during the early days of the Beyond Beer boom (2019–20) when breweries were rushing to get a hard seltzer out into the market, but pausing just long enough to wonder, “What does releasing a hard seltzer say about our brewery?”

Functionally, this usually resulted in breweries launching new beyond beer brands as Endorsed, if not new stand-alone brands to put a healthy buffer between the new product and their parent brand.

But this concern falls away with Hop Water. It’s a beer-adjacent product, and in a lot of ways, competes directly with NA beer for when you want a beer, but without the negative aspects that come with it.

So from a Brand Architecture standpoint, it’s far more common to see Hop Waters positioned as straight Brand Extensions or Sub Brands (with close ties to the parent brand). The big thing to keep in mind here is to consider if tying your Hop Water brand to your brewery’s parent brand could be limiting in some way (due to misaligned values, or messaging, or be geographically limiting, etc.).

Here are two pieces of homework for you in case your team is on the fence about how to position and launch your Hop Water:


  1. Take our Beverage Extension Assessment Tool to quickly orient yourself as to which Brand Architecture approach makes the most sense for positioning your new brand.
  2. Read up on the differences between a Brand Extension and a Sub Brand. (Spoiler: It really boils down to considering this product’s future growth opportunities.


A quick note on NA beer

Non-alcoholic beer continues to grow, though this is still a top-heavy category (most of the exciting headlines and figures you’re seeing about craft NA beer are being driven by Athletic Brewing).

This doesn’t mean your brewery shouldn’t consider putting out an NA beer, though you should consider whether it’s worth the effort to develop something that is high enough quality and safe enough for you to be proud of (and develop into a profitable brand).

For what it’s worth, I think it will be challenging for most breweries to find success in NA beer without going all in on the category. That doesn’t mean it’s not possible, but you’ll be fighting uphill to build the brand more than you would if you built a dedicated NA beer and/or Lifestyle NA beer brand from the jump.

Though, if we can go back to our friends at Regional Breweries for a moment: This is one group for whom NA beer might make sense. You have the infrastructure (innovation capability, QA/QC, distribution scale) to actually pull an NA beer off at scale. Look at Deschutes and Sierra Nevada for great examples here of larger craft breweries finding success in NA beer right now.

At this point, NA beer isn’t going anywhere. But make sure you do your homework before deciding whether it makes sense to wade into the category at this point.



Hard Cider
An overlooked opportunity?

The hard cider market here in the States has been interesting to watch. It’s been quietly growing in the background for as long as the contemporary beer industry (and has actually outperformed beer sales as of late, driven in large part by imperial ciders). Along the way, several outfits have quietly built up impressive empires spanning multi-regional footprints and posting production figures that would put them amongst the top 50 breweries by volume.

And cider itself is an interesting category that mirrors a lot of the self-examining questions the craft beer industry faced in the early 2010s as the category began its rocket ship growth path. Namely, a (sometimes) heated conversation surrounding defining what hard cider even is.

Is it a cloyingly, apple-forward commodity CPG product with a surly tree adorning each bottle? Or is it an artisan product, made from only the finest fresh-pressed juice and served locally in the Old World tradition? Does it have to be apple-based, or can it follow the footsteps of beer and continually stretch the bounds of what constitutes the category itself?

This latter point is more compelling when you look at broader Bev Alc trends of setting aside quaint notions like category conventions and TTB classifications and focus more on flavor (!) and ABV (!!) and attitude (!!!).

We’re seeing more breweries get into hard cider (looking for incremental growth) and more hard cider companies themselves stepping up their new product development game and brand-building muscles. And I think that if beer’s collective share continues to slide, this is all the more opportunity cider needs to continue ascending (and I bet we see more breweries get into cider as well).

I could go on and on about this category (I love, love, love) hard cider, but I’ll stop now and outline a few big points we’re seeing in our project work in this space.


Parallels between beer and hard cider

We’re seeing a lot of the same trend lines driving growth in cider that are at play in the beer industry, including:

– Flavors (novel and bold) will drive consumer trial
– Imperial Ciders will continue to be a big growth driver
– NA ciders could be a viable segment to explore
– Better for you ciders (with esoteric ingredients like Adaptogens & Nootropics) could see growth
– Light ciders (low cal and quaffable) could see growth

Cider’s halo effect

From a messaging standpoint, cider benefits from a perceived “naturalness.” This can’t be bad for you, it’s just apples.

Cider’s innate agricultural provenance and orchard connection lends a halo effect to the category as a whole. It’s not quite better for you, though there is an angle here to reach people who are looking for a healthy, honest drink.

Cider as a beverage platform: Opportunity and risks

We’re seeing the same push into Fourth Category beverages from cideries as we are across the rest of beer and Bev Alc (smoothies, sodas, functional beverages, pre & probiotic sodas, etc.). On one hand, I think it’s smart to view cider as a platform for innovation and exploration.

But on the other hand, you have to wonder: How far can you push hard cider [away from apples] before a consumer is just buying another FMB or RTD cocktail?

I think experimenting with fruit is a credible play for most cideries, but beyond that, you should think carefully about the Brand Architecture implications of launching non-cider and further afield products. The further away you get from apples as a base, the further you get away from what makes you special in the first place.

 1/2/3. Shacksbury Cider, 4/9. Schilling Hard Cider, 5. Minneapolis Cider Co., 6. Austin Eastciders, 7. Stem Ciders, 8. Cider Corps

Hard Teas & RTDs (+ FMBs & Juice)
On moonshots and dead ends 

We’ve branded a few new hard tea brands (and extensions) over the last year, and there are several fun craft brands in the space like Hop Lark and Loverboy. But I still don’t believe that this is the moonshot that many breweries may think it is.

These new entrants are all playing in a market that was completely built and continues to be dominated by Twisted Tea. It’s hard to grasp just how large Twisted Tea is. Boston Beer spent a few decades quietly building the brand and the market itself and now enjoys something like 90%+ of the entire hard tea category!

I suspect we’ll see, not a seltzer-like bull run, but a small blip where other major brands—alcoholic and non-alcoholic—lob hard teas out into the market to see what all the buzz is about. But almost all of those products will quietly be retired within a few years.

I’m going to include the broader umbrella of FMBs and RTDs here as well. RTD cocktails are an emergent and important category. But, similar to Twisted Tea in the hard tea space, or Athletic Brewing in NA beer, when you read industry news about the explosive growth of RTD cocktails, you’re really just reading about High Noon (which is currently the largest spirits brand in the country, as a canned RTD cocktail.) and accounted for 34% of all RTD sales in 2022. Wild.

That being said, I still think there’s room for craft breweries to explore RTD cocktails, especially if you’re aiming to be more vertically integrated and bring your own distillery online.

Here are a few broad strokes we’re seeing in our work in the RTD and Hard Tea space that could continue shaping the category:

– Flavor rules the day (no subtle hints of flavor here).
– These products are about indulgence (more than health and wellness), though this doesn’t mean that functional positioning is completely off the table.
– I’m not sure the spirit actually matters (vodka or tequila? Who cares?).
– Novelty (but not gimmicks) can be a big differentiation play (see Buzz Ballz, Beat Box, smaller format cans, larger formats, etc.).
– These brands seemingly have to built in the C-store channel (especially hard tea), so think single serve, large format, different formats, high ABV and high flavor.
– You’ll have to differentiate on brand (but the product has to be great as well).

1. Ranch Rider Spirits, 2. BuzzBallz, 3. Twisted Tea, 4. Plain Spoke Cocktails, 5. High Noon, 6. Slow & Low, 7. Ramona, 8. BeatBox, 9. Golden Rule, 10. Slingers, 11. The Cocktail Courier

Nostalgia throughout CPG: 1. Hamm’s, 2. Narragansett, 3. McDonald’s, 4. Natural Light, 5. Burger King, 6. Oskar Blues, 7. Bud Light, 8. Pop-Tarts

1970s: 1. Better Beer, 2. Karbach Brewing, 3. Slice Beer Co., 4. Almighty Active, 5. Hoop Tea, 6. Sound Sparkling Water, 7. Nelson Brewing Co., 8. Rhinegeist Brewery, 9. Zero Gravity, 10. Boochcraft, 11. Shacksbury Cider, 12. Brickyard Brewing, 13. Stillwater Artisanal, 14. Ringa, 15. Peace Vodka

1980s: 1/2. Lake Hour Cocktails, 3. Betterdays, 4. Half Full, 5. Garage Beer, 6. Partake, 7. Bickco, 8. Ordinary Soda, 9. Café Limo, 10. Barbet, 11. Bungalow Beer, 12. Graza, 13. Lark, 14. Something & Nothing

Even More Mascots
Trend or just the new norm?

It’s 2024 and here we are, writing about mascots again. What was for a while, a cute (if fairly overdone) trope has fully bloomed into a runaway free-for-all. Originally positioned as a bid to make craft beverage more approachable, it’s hard to tell what effect this trend is having as it reaches absurd levels of saturation (not to mention, when it reaches underage drinkers).

Is that a coffee bean that sprang to life from a 1930s Betty Boop cartoon? Why is this strawberry wearing gloves? Did the people behind Schoolhouse Rock open a taproom? It’s all a bit much.

Any hope of this trend fading into a dignified obscurity was dashed by the success of character-driven brands like Voodoo Ranger (and its inevitable knocks-offs). The issue here is that a fun little retro cartoon mascot is way easier to produce (from an illustrator’s perspective) than a fully-realized Pixar-quality voodoo skeleton.

Designers, ask yourself: Does the world need another twee little cartoon tangerine capering about, wall-eyed and capricious? At what point does one of these characters look so much like the next that there was never a reason to fire up Procreate in the first place? How does this contribute to the greater good?!?

1. Fall Brewing Co., 2. Heaps Normal, 3. Play Brew Co., 4. Garage Project, 5. Ottogi Nuroongi, 6. Jibby Coffee, 7. Berczy, 8. Blake’s Hard Cider, 9. Hedlum, 10. Lost Boy Cider Co., 11. Cool Beans, 12. Brewboyz, 14. Dozy Drinks, 15. Cervecera Hércules

Dimensional Typography
Springing up!

Picture a brand name emblazoned in bold font, bolstered by an extending depth on the Z-axis, as though the words themselves are sliding forward from some seamless, hide-away cabinetry. When paired with contrasting (or in some cases, complimentary) colors, it’s easy to see why so many brands are going this route in a bid to up their presence on the shelf. 

Projecting an almost 70’s funkadelic, comic book energy, dimensional typography has been around for a long time. But we’re really seeing it come to the forefront in CPG beverage at this moment, albeit with more contemporary color and type treatments.

From this side of the pandemic, it’s easy to assume that people are feeling a little trapped by all the screens in their life. Perhaps this dimensional effect provides a fresh, liberating conceptual break from the two-dimensional tedium of Zoom calls and calendar invites?

Conjecture aside, this really is just a great way to feature a brand name or main message. Text literally races forward from a colored background to push front and center: It’s tough to ignore the impact of typography that is literally jumping out toward you.

1. Firestone Walker, 2. Jersey Rosé, 3. Coldness, 4. Fanta, 5. Darl Bar, 6. Cold Drinking Beer, 7. Birria, 8. 7-Up, 9. Indian Brewery

Who needs legibility? 

The influence of cannabis and other relaxation and mood-altering ingredients has introduced a visible shift in typography, resulting in what we simply call “gloop.” There’s not a corner in sight on this lettering, trading a bit of legibility for stylish, broadly curvy, fluid strokes that look as though they were drawn with naught but the most viscous of substances. Usually presented on a flat colored background, the letterforms might have highlights rendered in rounded strokes, or they may be filled in flat and solid for maximum contrast.

Perhaps this conceit has risen out from its origins in nostalgic obsession to become its own thing entirely; a veritable 70’s lava lamp plasma finding a new life. Another explanation lies in producers who are further experimenting with ingredients, textures and adjuncts; Brewing beer with fruit jam? Pushing the pleasant mouthfeel of an Imperial Hazy IPA? The exaggerated curves convey a smoothness or richness of experience that drinkers crave as they constantly branch out to explore what’s new. If nothing else, this wavy-gravy aesthetic immediately communicates a personality and creativity that exists outside of the typical off-the-rack offering.

1. Juvee, 2. Scobie, 3. Oskar Blues, 4. Drink Local, 5. Smooj, 6. Kombucha Culture, 7. Better Eggs, 8. Slug Club Kombucha, 9. Mother’s Milk

Vibrant & Neon
Ready-made for the digital shelf

We’re turning the saturation all the way up and strutting around the shelves like a flock of tropical birds. Loud obnoxious color? Excellent. Seven noisy colors that clash together? Even better. Call it a vibrant celebration of life; a party for your visual cortex. Call it a craven ploy for your attention at the point of purchase. (Or, call it an intentional move to stand out in people’s IG and TikTok feeds.) Whatever you do, just don’t call it black and white. The shelves haven’t been this rowdy with saturated color in many years, and this extends beyond beer into CPG packaging in general.

It would be easy to explain all this explosive color as a pushback of the industry white-washing brought on by the seltzer craze of 2018, when every brand felt the need to release a stark white package to chase sales. Or the continual “Blanding” that has steadily marched through corporate brand identity design over the last 5 years.

But perhaps more consequentially, it is difficult to overstate the impact of current events on the mass psyche; economic woe and seemingly never-ending global unrest have painted a bleak backdrop to everyday life. How many heart-rending headlines can you watch before reaching for a colorful, fun, carefree escape hatch? Pair this with more choices on the shelf than ever before, honestly an impractical embarrassment of choices, all vying and vouching for your attention… Welcome to the ThunderDome, where the prize is your eyeballs. Er, not literally, but, you know…

The only other thing to note here: It will be fun to watch the pendulum swing back the other way, to stark, de-branded, desaturated brutalism once more, as the visual din of runaway color runs its natural course.

1. Loma Vista, 2. Watertight Cocktail Co., 3. Nova Easy Kombucha, 4. Goose Island, 5. Big Easy Kombucha, 6. Love Kombucha, 7. Superfoodio, 8. Darling Mimosa, 9. Austin Beerworks, 10. Teatulia, 11. Greene King Brewery, 12. Tinker Coffee, 13. 7th Inning Seltzer, 14. Lykke Kaffegárdar, 15. Truly, 16. KettleHouse, 17. Maraca Cold Brew, 18. Good George Brewing

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