Branding Cold Drinking Beer

Building a Sub Brand that can Travel

Today, we’re going to walk through a recent project that sits firmly at the intersection of a few major trends that are happening in craft beer right now.

Namely: Building Sub Brands, the rise of craft lager and lifestyle positioning. 

In mid-2023, Virginia Beer Co. reached out to CODO for help branding a new product called Cold Drinking Beer.

Their team was excited about an opportunity they saw to create a standalone light beer brand that could travel beyond Virginia state lines.



Note: We recorded a fun podcast with Virginia Beer Co. that dives into building the Cold Drinking Beer Sub Brand. Listen to that conversation here.

A few breweries in the mid-Atlantic market are making macro-ish, craft lagers, but none that stood apart from their brewery’s parent brand.

So other than a handful of products in that camp, and the entrenched macros, they felt that this was a great opportunity to create something fun that everyone (drinkers, retailers and wholesalers) could get excited about.

This project entailed Brand Strategy and Brand Architecture (so, where does this brand live within the VBC portfolio), brand identity, package design, web design and initial launch / sale assets. 

Let’s walk through the process, highlighting a few important points along the way.

Cold Drinking Beer’s Brand Strategy doc.

Brand Strategy & Positioning

Brand Strategy is an important part of bringing any new brand to market, but for Cold Drinking Beer, it was mission critical.

This is a very specific play, and if we whiff on any of these foundational pillars, the entire thing won’t go. 

Through this work, we’re framing the following:

– What is Cold Drinking Beer? 
– What style is it? (more on this in a minute…)
– What’s the format / price point?
– How is it positioned?
– What are the brand’s key messaging, tone of voice and personality?
– Who will drink it & what role does it play in their life?
– Why does this beer matter?


Here are a few highlights pulled directly from our Brand Strategy work:


On audience definition: 

Cold Drinking Beer will cater to the Fatigued Craft Drinker. “This is a craft beer that doesn’t go out of its way to bill itself as a (capital C, capital B) Craft Beer. We want to appeal to craft drinkers who want a quality beer, but are fatigued by IPAs, industry gimmicks, or scorchingly high ABV. They’re looking for a breather beer that matches their changing palate and lifestyle.”


On messaging & imagery to avoid: 

This is not a brand ripped from the 1970s; we’re not trying to evoke a sense of forced nostalgia (“fauxstalgia”), and we’re not trying to sell the past. Legacy nostalgia brands can come off feeling kind of cheap; this should be the craft answer to that.


Brand Essences 

We developed three unique Brand Essences to pull all of this messaging and strategy work together for art direction. These included: 

– “Your Old Pal” 
– “Take a Breather” 
– “Celebrate Each Other” 

The feel of the “Old Pal” direction combined with the tone and personality of “Celebrate Each Other” immediately resonated with the Virginia Beer Co. team. But there were a few other concerns to work through before moving onto design: 

– Make the colors cooler (we skewed warmer in the mood boards to connote warmth and approachability, but the VBC team wasn’t feeling it). This beer is cold, after all. 

– Make sure that the beer name is super legible at a glance.

– “We want this beer to have a humble confidence, but are these directions too humble?”

Great feedback here, and it highlights why Brand Strategy and art direction are an important first step in any project.

Had we jumped straight into concept development without these conversations, we would’ve ended up presenting a bunch of stuff that wasn’t right.

And then people’s feelings are hurt, you have to talk about the timeline and the whole project can go sideways real quick.

Properly framed Brand Strategy prevents this. 

Okay, onto initial concept development (a very churched up way of saying “sketching.”)

Snapshots from our initial sketching. Most of this didn’t make it into the first presentation.

Initial concepts 

We shared three initial concepts, and there were a few through lines in this work: Minimal, type-driven, familiar and slightly nostalgic (without trying too hard).

But each direction still had its own special something. 

– The first direction centered around this grocery store window painted sign vibe (e.g. ice, beer, bait)

– The second direction was the most contemporary of the bunch. It was bold, punchy and really, really proud of itself. “As proud of yourself as you can get without being an asshole.” as someone put it during the presentation.

– The third direction was understated and confident. It was supposed to look like it’s existed for decades without trying too hard to evoke that connection.

After a lively conversation, it turned out we were pretty close to the mark, as-is, with direction 2. 

Onto revisions.


The Revisions Phase

We were in a good spot after our initial presentation, but there was still a lot of work, internal critiques, and several rounds of revisions to get Cold Drinking Beer where the Virginia Beer Co. team was happy and it met CODO’s standard. 

We worked through a lot of stuff here: Dialing in the colors and typography, finessing the packaging composition (primary vs. secondary), developing taglines, iconography and other important trade dress to round out the brand identity.

Rather than bore you with 600 variations of slab serifs and tagline build options, here’s a snapshot of how much ground we covered through the revisions phase.

Sweating the (not so) small stuff 

There were a few important points that we discussed in our initial Brand Strategy work that we couldn’t answer early on.

Instead, we had to see how the design took shape and work through them as we went. 

We dialed these in through the revisions phase, so let’s talk about them now.


On Brand Architecture 

We built Cold Drinking Beer as a standalone brand with zero ties to Virginia Beer Co. (We discussed this decision at length in our companion podcast.)

There were two big reasons for this: 

1. VBC wanted to appeal to a broader audience. And tying this product to a respected (capital C) Craft brewery might narrow their reach. 

2. VBC has regional aspirations for this brand. This is one instance where their (otherwise great) name is a hindrance. 

With so many local options to choose from, why would someone in North Carolina or Delaware or Florida, etc. care about a beer from Virginia Beer Co.?


What’s Cold Drinking Beer’s style nomenclature? 

This was an important challenge from our earliest conversations.

Cold Drinking Beer isn’t a lager (it’s more of a Cream Ale). But we wanted to position it like a familiar light beer (so, lager-ish) since it would be vying for similar occasions.

So, what do we call this beer? 

Here, we’re not so much concerned with TTB style designations as we are with how beer styles have evolved as a tool for positioning beer brands.

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 where and when you should drink it.

But anything other than that (e.g. Golden Ale, Blonde Ale, Cream Ale) might just get in the way.

Again, we’re not positioning Cold Drinking Beer as a traditional Craft Beer. It’s made with craft ingredients, by a well-respected craft brewery, but that’s not the play here.

So the usual craft beer trappings (IBU, SRM, etc.), including esoteric style designations might just get in the way of what we’re trying to accomplish.

Cold Drinking Beer is your classic beer flavored beer. 

But that term is already done to death.

(Quick aside: I remember working with a brewery back in 2012 who wanted to make beer flavored beer to stand apart from other craft breweries. lol.)

So, again, what do we call it?

Is it a Fridge Beer? A Stocker Beer? A Yellow Fizzy Beer? A Light Beer? A Classic Light? A Domestic Beer? A Premium Light?

Our answer: Beer. 

It’s just beer. If you want to get technical, it’s a Cold Drinking Beer. 

We’ll see how people respond to this and adjust as needed moving forward, but our teams really like the simple confidence of this designation.



The Cold Drinking Beer name itself does a lot of heavy lifting here, but we still felt that an additional qualifier would be helpful for marketing and messaging.

This tagline and accompanying secondary icon ended up being quizzically challenging (maybe only slightly more so than nailing the style designation).

We ended up looking at more than 30 different icons, lockups and taglines before we got it where it needed to be: Serve cold. Chill together. 

Some of my favorite options (that were summarily vetoed) include:

– Chill before serving.
– Just Be(er). Cool.
– Keep it cold / cool.
– Snap into a Cold One (???)

Once we had this all wrapped up, we knocked out some other important touch points to help the Virginia Beer Co. team prep for brand launch. This included:

– Initial distributor and chain retail pitch deck support (an oft-overlooked step in this process)
– Sell sheets & POS materials
– Merch mockups 
– Brand Guidelines
– A Microsite

Wrapping up

It’s easy (and fun) to focus on branding and package design. And these things are important. But if you’re not getting out there and building a brand day after day, it just won’t go anywhere. 

The Virginia Beer Co. team knows this. 

​They’ve already secured several great chain placements (ahead of launch!). Their wholesalers are fully bought in. And they’re going to hit the ground running with heavy on-premise programming. 

So keep your eyes peeled. You may see Cold Drinking Beer in your neighborhood sooner rather than later.

Build a stronger brand.
Sell more beer.

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