As far as craft beer goes, Denver is the most advanced market we’ve visited. On a recent trip, we found ourselves in the RiNo neighborhood (AKA the “River North Art District”), searching for a particular dispensary (a story for another time) and passed no less than three breweries in a block-and-a-half span. Three. All newer, smaller operations, with identical austere interiors and nearly-identical hazy IPAs. While this is not necessarily a bad thing for beer lovers, from one spot to the next, a sense of deja vu was palpable.
The exact number is ever-shifting, but Colorado remains in the top five, both for number of breweries total, and breweries per capita in the United States. Nearby Boulder is recognized as the city with the most total breweries stateside. A quick search reveals dozens more in the works for the state of Colorado, with every indication that this growth will continue. In what is arguably the craft beer epicenter of the world, there is no shortage of rock-star brewers in line, ready to open the next buzz-worthy spot.
This obsession with newness puts established brewers in a precarious place. In a market rife with frenetic growth, attention is at a high premium. Breweries who have been around for merely three or four years are deemed old news. On top of that, if you aren’t kicking out the most on-trend, up-to-date beer styles, it’s hard to secure a tap handle, let alone generate buzz among hyper-opinionated, local craft beer consumers.
This was the lay of the land when Prost Brewing contacted us to discuss a potential rebrand.
In an industry ever-fixated on the shiny and new, Prost is an anomaly. We didn’t realize just how special their beer is until we journeyed out to Denver for the project kickoff. Prost is one of maybe a dozen breweries in the United States who can claim to brew in adherence of the Rhineheitsgebot (German beer purity law) for their flagship lineup. All grains and hops are imported from Germany, then subject to a variety of old-world brewing methods, including esoteric detours like decoction, horizontal lagering and step mashing.
All of this passes through a massive copper brew kettle—purchased and flown over piece by piece from a nearly 400 year old brewery in (deep breath) Breitengüßbach, Germany—with very little automation built-in. It’s a miracle that their beer is so consistent from batch to batch. Beyond garden-variety Instagramable mash-ins and hop additions, Prost’s brewers monitor every step of the process, at times feverishly turning decades-old valves by hand to adjust water flow or temperature. Their focus on clean, crisp, traditionally brewed lager beer stands out sharply amidst a de rigueur backdrop of “hazy this” and “juicy that.”
Prost Brewing’s previous brand identity and packaging.
Even still, after five years of operation: Prost was feeling the pressure. Dated branding and lackluster package design contributed to the idea that Prost represented the “old guard.” A sad state of affairs, considering Prost makes what we regard as some of the best beer in the country. When our other brewery clients found out we were working with Prost, they assumed a tone of reverence normally reserved for standbys Sierra Nevada, New Glarus or Dogfish Head. Almost every one of them had a story about going to Denver and sitting in their taproom for hours, drinking liter after liter of Pils or Dunkel.
In short, there was an obvious disconnect between the quality of Prost’s beer and their overall perception within a fickle, scene-driven market.
Fortunately, brewery leadership refused to let this disconnect go unaddressed. Prost has begun renovating their flagship Denver taproom and launching a few more locations across Colorado. Additionally, they’re ramping up their off-premise focus and opening up the equally competitive California and Texas markets. What started as a conversation about retooling packaging quickly morphed into a rebranding and repositioning project, including core identity and messaging, packaging, merch, sales material, environmental design and a fully-responsive website, all built from the ground up.
We wrestled with some interesting ideas along the way:
German beer vs. Craft Beer
Is there a disconnect between contemporary American craft beer and the traditional Rhineheitsgebot approach to brewing? A key factor of craft beer’s success has been experimentation. Boundary-breaking recipes, adjuncts and aging processes stand apart from set-in-stone Old World methods. Can these two seemingly different approaches live together under the same roof? Prost is proof that they, indeed, can.
While their core lineup cleaves close to the traditional, their brewers and leadership have no qualms with pushing their seasonal and specialty releases past the norm of traditional German offerings. If Craft Beer (capital C, capital B) is vehemently opposed to anything, it’s the industrialization and watering down of mass produced beer. By focusing on Prost’s positioning as a premium, hand-crafted product, we’re not specifically speaking to German purity laws, but of precision and taking pride in the craft of making a perfect beer itself.
But is it too German?
Traditional German beer culture trappings, while fun, tend to be kitschy and dated. Don’t get me wrong, I personally love everything about it: but weird old cuckoo clocks, lederhosen and ceramic steins don’t necessarily convey quality in 2019. This summarizes the biggest question we tackled throughout the entire brand strategy process:
To what degree do we modernize the traditional German look & feel? How can we make Prost look more premium through its overarching identity, tap room design, website and storytelling while remaining true to their most important differentiator?
The danger here: if Prost looks completely modern and sleek, it undercuts what sets the brewery apart in the first place. But, as already discussed: if things look too traditional, the end result may not leap off of shelves and grab peoples’ attention the way beer of this caliber should. To strike a workable balance, we toured the more modern, diverse and progressive visual language of East Germany, while retaining a touch of Bavarian familiarity. With these parameters in place, we worked with Prost to develop the brand essence, ‘Berlin Modern’.
This strategy culminated in a custom-built logotype that calls back to traditional German Blackletter in a clean, contemporary way (look at those sexy angles), plus a series of secondary icons and a confident makers mark harkening to traditional German craftsmanship.
Prost’s flagship packaging expands on this idea with subtle Bavarian patterning and a bold black/cream combo threading the portfolio together. Individual colors differentiate each style and SKUs. All told, we revamped 9 bottle labels and 6-pack carriers, a variety pack and 24-pack.
Colors differentiate SKUs across the portfolio with a large, consistent brand panel to achieve expansive billboarding on shelf.
12-pack variety box and a ‘generic’ 24-pack case that allows Prost to check a box denoting which beer it carries.
Prost’s new website represents a monumental leap forward, giving staff a handy way to launch new taprooms and markets without incurring loads of additional design or development work. We also built a fun brewery history timeline, championed their new package design, and built out a robust e-commerce store offering custom merch and brewery tour bookings. This new build is a fully-custom, responsive site that allows them to update content and images without touching a single line of code.
A few of our favorite social media teaser and brand launch announcement posts.
Wrapping this all up, we addressed a bevy of design touch-points, including custom merchandise, environmental signage, delivery vehicles, coasters, in-house menus, and sell sheets for distributor partners.
It pains us to say that, as of the time of this article, we cannot find a beer that matches the refreshment, balance and subtle bite of Prost’s Pils here in Indiana. If we are to take one thing away from this project, it’s an expanded appreciation for the wonderfully understated world of German lagering. Hazy IPAs have been the lifeblood of many a nimble new brewery, but as a result, it’s tough to find a brewery (and beer) that stands out from the pack. With so many players in the market, it’s equally difficult to find a beer that stops you in your tracks on its own merit—because it tastes that damn good. For our part, if we’ve helped to make this stuff look as good as it tastes, then we hold that as a major point of pride. Prost!
Interested in branding your brewery? Check out our comprehensive craft beer branding guide over at www.craftbeerbrandingguide.com