Stories

Talking Shop with Printer’s Ale

Zen and the art of commercial printing

We began working with Greg Smith and Printer’s Ale Manufacturing Co. (PAMCo) back in 2016. And it turned out to be one of those fun relationships that crop up once every few years.

Greg owns a high-end commercial printing company in Carrollton, Georgia called Printed Specialties. And he decided to turn the back half of his industrial building into a production brewery to honor his family’s German brewing history. This set the stage for us to navel gaze a bit and develop an overly designerly (literally) brand identity and packaging system. PAMCo’s flagship beers tell this story by paying homage to the every day inks he uses in the front half of the building—Cyan (IPA), Magenta (Amber), Yellow (Pils) and Black (Porter).

We’ve worked with more than 50 breweries to date and the “Printer’s Every Day” CMYK beer series we developed with Greg is still one of our most popular portfolio pieces (it’s always popping up on design blogs and Pinterest). We’re proud of that, but beyond this: Greg is one of our favorite people we’ve worked with. He’s no nonsense, constantly works to improve everything around him and is an honest-to-God artisan. Not an insufferable, overly-romantic one, but a guy who has dedicated his life to super technical trades like commercial printing and brewing where incremental improvements may not be noticed by 99% of people. But they’re still worth pursuing.

Printer’s Ale recently began packaging their beer, so we thought it was a great time to catch up with Greg and see how things are coming along.

*NOTE: this conversation took place before the COVID-19 pandemic.

CODO: Kicking off, please introduce yourself—what’s your background, and what lead you to open Printer’s Ale Manufacturing Co.?

Greg (PAMCo): Name is Greg Smith, no relation to the other Greg Smith you know. Went to college and studied political science. My goal at the time was to be nominated to the supreme court. BTW, my goal is STILL to be nominated to the supreme court so if you know of any vacancies… Anyway, I knew if I was going to go into business as a career I would join the family printing concern—a business that my great grandfather founded in 1911 in Scranton PA. This gave me a bit of latitude when attending UT in Knoxville, TN so I could indulge my annoying side by advocating in classes for drug legalization and other libertarian fancies. I also started home brewing around this time, in the early 90’s. Alas, I ended up in the printing business—no one has called (YET) with a request for my SC robe size. A few years back we bought a building to expand the printing business and ended up not using the back third of that building. It’s an old hosiery mill, and the back of the building was the wet room, and has these sloped concrete floors, trench drains that had been filled in, etc. I was in that room December of 2015 trying to think of what I could do with this space—we’d really have to renovate it if we were going to move printing equipment into it. I looked down and saw the trench drains and sloped floors. I looked up and saw the 10” water main and 6” natural gas line and thought, why not start a brewery? Went home, popped open a home brew and the laptop and put together a plan.

 

CODO: What parallels do you see between printing and brewing?

Greg: I personally see a lot. On the printing side, we work with a lot of really high quality, highly demanding customers—think of golf ball sleeves. That’s what we do here—packaging for that sort of thing. Super high quality with highly demanding clients. Craft beer, for me, is about creating this really high quality thing and not making excuses about it. I don’t see it as an art or mystical thing, as much as this really fun puzzle to solve. Once you solve it, then you have to do it over and over the same time with the same results. I really love the process of making things and printing and beer share that same characteristic for me—it’s all about making and improving something, striving to create something great that you can share. I love being part of a supply chain on the printing side, and see our work out in the stores even though sometimes it’s super hard to get the job done on time. For beer, it’s great fun to push and pull towards this end product and then share it with others and see their reactions.

Craft beer, for me, is about creating this really high quality thing and not making excuses about it. I don’t see it as an art or mystical thing, as much as this really fun puzzle to solve. Once you solve it, then you have to do it over and over the same time with the same results.

Greg Smith

CODO: Do you think the printing-themed branding and story has been limiting in any way? We’ve had several conversations with clients over the years who worried about getting locked into a certain theme with their branding.

Greg: I would think that could be the case with any sort of theme or story if it doesn’t play out. You just hope that the message gets out and people can enjoy what you’re striving towards.

 

CODO: For years, no one believed you were a real client of ours. We designed this fun identity and beautiful packaging, but never had physical samples to show off (only renders and comps). I remember it being important to you to design your packaging congruently with your branding when we kicked off. Was the gap between that design process and when you were able to finally get it into production planned, or was it just the way things shook out? 

Greg: It was actually personnel driven as much as anything to be honest. I’m a pretty DIY person and I had to get some people on board that believed in their power to control or influence the stuff that’s in front of them. I needed to get people in that understood and appreciated the process as much as I do, that want to get their hands dirty and do it themselves, rather than simply call a vendor and contract out for everything. I want to do everything in house that I can, always. Kind of a character flaw, but….

CODO: I also think it’s interesting that your packaging still stands out (I promise we’d tell you if we felt otherwise). Maybe that came out wrong—we designed this several years ago against an entirely different competitive set and industry context. I wouldn’t feel so confident designing packaging today and having it debut 3–4 years from now. But yours works. Maybe it’s because your entire story is such a drilled down concept, that it rings true as this fun, quirky, authentic thing?

Greg: Yeah, the CMYK stuff if really cool and when I saw your design it really hewed to what I was thinking in my head. That cool Chris Ware sort of detailed feel, old school and industrial, but with the pop of color. It really does stand out—you guys nailed that idea I had in my head and gave it space to run.

 

CODO: Continuing this theme, you recently started packaging(!!!). How has that process gone and what has the response been thus far?

Greg: It was a long haul to get here, but to me it’s important that we do things ourselves and develop an appreciation for that process. The response has been really good, even though we’re running bottles at the moment. I know, I know. We runs bottles still? Again, to me—it’s really hard to put beer in bottles and that is part of the thing that makes you appreciate the process. Anybody can put beer in a can, but it’s hard to bottle. And since no small brewery is doing it anymore, our stuff stands out as a kind of artifact, a throwback, which is kinda what the brand is—heritage, process… Relentless Tinkerer!* We do have cans coming for a few of the new styles as well—our goal is to have a full portfolio of all packaging styles.

*EDITOR’S NOTE: Relentless Tinkerer was the brand essence we defined with Greg during his foundational branding process.

CODO: How important is story to the Georgia beer consumer?

I think authenticity is important, and if the story is authentic then it has the potential to resonate. Of course, just because something is genuine doesn’t mean anyone is going to care. Our story is really about this quest to create a great product every day, kind of blue collar, just trying to be the best we can be and live our best life.

Greg Smith

CODO: What role has branding played in growing your presence throughout and around Carrollton?

Greg: It’s cool that the story seems to resonate a bit and when people come out and see the brewery and realize it’s in the back of an actual printing company it kind of clicks. I thought the story might be kinda quirky and not really hip—sort of like me, hahahah—and I had this vision of these really clean crisp images that might help tell the story of printing and hard work and beer. I really dig Chris Ware’s work in comics and I just have this—I don’t know—connection with the way he tells a story with his pictures. I thought maybe if we could tell a similar story with the look of our logo that it might help share our message. I had thought of branding before as I work in the packaging business but always as a producer. To be on the other side actually trying to make something work is totally different and it’s definitely a puzzle to solve.

 

CODO: What’s the most surprising think you’ve learned as you’ve opened and scaled PAMCo?

Greg: Probably that branding is harder and more important than I thought going in. I had thought about it and since we’re a printing company and work with brands all the time that we would be able to nail our look and feel right out of the gate. Not true. It really isn’t just about a picture or a logo but entirely about the totality of the thing. Again, coming from the production side I relied on work that others put together and then we would manufacture this into packaging that sits on a shelf. So the concept that this thing needs to work with that other thing to stay on track and tell your story consistently is a different concept for me.

CODO: What is the biggest mistake you’ve made so far? Or asked another way, is there anything you’d go back and do differently now that you’ve got some time in the market under your belt?

Greg: I hired a real dumb ass for our first GM. Young kid who sold beer but really knew nothing and just wanted to be around the beer world. I’d have started out with a different set of personnel—I come from the sales side of things as well and probably needed to be a bit more focused on setting up a great team in the brewery rather than the front end side.

 

CODO: Do you have any advice, branding or otherwise, for people who are considering opening a brewery?

Greg: Sounds obvious of course but do what is true to yourself and don’t be phony. People want the authentic experience, whatever that is, when they come to your place.

 

CODO: If you had unlimited budget, what would you do / buy / invest in over the next year?

Greg: Canning line.

 

CODO: What’s your grand vision for PAMCo? And what can we expect to see from you guys over the next year or two?

Greg: Our wild beer program is kicking off, getting beer into the coolship and into barrels and foeders which I’m super excited about. I love open and wild fermentations and can’t wait for this beer to get ready. We’ll start up some bottle service only at the brewery with these beers, maybe some really limited offering out into the market with select accounts. Just constantly improving the brewery and trying to maintain standards. Not sure where it all leads but it’s a cool journey for sure.

 

CODO: World class beer/food/customer experience or world class branding: which is more important for long term success moving forward?

Greg: Probably the first for long term success. But history has shown with world class branding you can come out of the gate with garbage and move a lot of volume. Sometimes you can figure it out afterwards, but I’d rather start with a great base and then start telling the story.