Stories

Rebranding Southern Brewing Co.

Staking a Claim on the Georgia Craft Beer Scene

In late 2017, Georgia signed Senate Bill 85 into law. This legislature aimed to modernize the notoriously restrictive rules for alcohol production and sales in the state. For existing (and soon-to-be-existing) craft breweries, this new law rang out like the starting shot of a sprint race. The number of breweries in the state soon exploded threefold, from 21 in 2011 to over 60 in 2018. Suddenly, a relatively sparse craft playing field was packed with breweries springing up seemingly overnight. Southern Brewing Co. (SoBrewCo) opened their doors to the public in May 2015; after two years of operation, they were feeling the pressure amidst this eager new crop of craft breweries. Steven Brand, VP of Marketing & Sales at SoBrewCo, said it best: “We really felt like we needed a new look and to grow up a bit, from a marketing standpoint, in order to compete.”

 

“Growing up and traveling around the country, I’d fallen in love with craft beer. But then I came back here, and it was like a wasteland.” Rick Goddard is the kind of guy who tells you exactly what he’s thinking. He and fellow owner Brian met during their previous lives as lobbyists for the beer industry in Washington D.C. “You couldn’t even get a lot of the popular national craft brands here, let alone a solid local option. That’s why we started Southern.”

A lot has changed since Rick and Brian decided to throw their hat into the Georgia craft beer ring. Creature Comforts has risen from downtown Athens to become a regional favorite. Local brewing giant Terrapin sold to AB InBev in 2016, but retains the bulk of its credibility among local beer drinkers. And with Atlanta (and Atlanta Brewing) just a stone’s throw away, there is no shortage of exciting craft beer outfits beating down the doors. Prohibitive legislation—that once hampered the profitability of a traditional taproom model—was suddenly lifted, and Georgia has seen something of a craft beer renaissance. And while it’s not exactly Colorado, Georgia is far from a wasteland.

Southern’s previous brand identity.

Athens is an interesting place. For many residents it’s all about football, football, football. UGA promises a fresh batch of rotating students every season, and the enthusiasm for the Bulldogs never seems to falter among alumni. Two of Southern Brewing’s flagships—Red & Black, a trademark-friendly nod to the school colors, and Hobnail IPA, a reference to a legendary on-air call made by Larry Munson—pay tribute to the pride and identity that is tangled up with college sports in the area. For many, it wouldn’t be Athens without Bulldogs football.

Even so, football—if you can believe it—is just one facet of Athens’ identity. The town is has also proven itself as a veritable hotbed for notable musicians, with acts like REM, the B-52s, Drive-By Truckers (!!!) and Of Montreal, all getting their start there. Tack on a vibrant local art and performance scene and Athens suddenly seems remarkably eclectic. Downright bohemian, even.

This unexpected dimension to what is (on paper) a quaint Georgia burg is reflected in Southern Brewing’s offerings. Their ‘Southern Woodpile’ specialty series boasts a wide array of barrel-aged and flavored specialty beers. On site at the brewery, you will notice massive clay amphoras made to ancient Grecian specifications: we actually got to have a sample of this amphora aged beer, which had taken on a mineral quality that was unlike anything we’ve tried before. Co-owner Brian was proud of the fact that the amphoras were fired at the UGA art department kilns, even giddily pointing out an exploded pile of pottery that didn’t make it through the laborious production process.

As though this wasn’t enough, Southern has managed to source several strains of wild yeast onsite at their property, and, with help from the UGA Biology department, has isolated and brewed with these signature strains of yeast. We’ve always wondered why more breweries don’t take this approach: we think of it like wine grapes grown onsite at a vineyard, but for beer. We tried the Wild Azalea saison and found it fruity, refreshing and slightly tart. Connecting the specific brewery location to the product in a meaningful, distinct way that directly impacts the flavor of the end product? We are impressed.

“The biggest challenge when it comes to getting the word out is the fact that there are so many good breweries in and around our market,” remarks Steven Brand, VP of sales and marketing at Southern. And he’s right: the growth in local craft beer hasn’t come without challenges. Historically, Southern Brewing handled the majority of their design for logos, packaging, merch, events, website—you name it—in-house. This worked just fine for a while, and is still an important component of their staff capabilities. But as time moved on and more competitors popped up, things began to change: packaging trends came and went faster. Deadlines got closer and margins got tighter. It’s harder than ever to launch a new product and make it leap off the shelf, all before interest dries up and consumers move on to the next big thing. We’ve seen these obstacles in markets all over the country.

Southern’s previous branding and distributor assets (sales sheets).

We really felt like we needed a new look and to grow up a bit, from a marketing standpoint, in order to compete. We needed a set of outside eyes to really give everything a once-over and unify our packaging, tap room and merch under one umbrella.

Steven BrandVP of Marketing & Sales

Steven fell in love with Southern while working for a beer distributor operating in Georgia. When the opportunity to join the Southern administrative staff presented itself, he jumped on board. For Steven, this rebrand is just one piece in a larger vision for the future of Southern Brewing. He adds, “We have been busy in 2019 with a complete rebrand, the opening of our second taproom location in Monroe, GA, and the application for a distilled spirits and wine license.”

Our work with Southern started with a built-from-scratch brand identity with just a touch of DIY grit. We expanded on this idea with an artful SoBrewCo monogram, along with a library of illustrations to help tell the Southern story. This includes a custom cornhole board, wooden easy chair, and perhaps our favorite, the ever-so-slightly-retro but always hospitable HopBoi (eat your heart out, bulldog).

With these core brand elements established, we dove in to package design, creating can templates for the core lineup that carry custom type treatments to give each SKU just a touch of personality. The goal here was to create can designs that block together on the shelf but still look distinctive upon closer examination. This same thinking went into developing custom Southern Woodpile bottle labels and can label designs for a 16oz DIPA series.

It’s an exciting time for craft beer in the state of Georgia. There has never been more opportunity for an established brewery than exists now; legislation and consumer demand have driven the type of growth that other markets have enjoyed for a decade plus. But this growth brings the same challenges that craft beer faces in aggregate: How will craft maintain growth while competing with itself for customers? Perhaps more importantly, how can craft continue to sap market share from the big guys? For our money, this starts by offering something genuinely exciting. From there, the mission is to invite as many people as possible to the party.