Branding Beer, and How I Would Do It Differently

I love Tröegs beer. For those of you not on the eastern side of the United States, or on the western hemisphere at all, Tröegs is a brewery in Pennsylvania that’s been brewing beer for about 20 years. They’ve concocted fantastic representations of most popular beer styles, and I think they tend to set their brews apart by making them just a little more hop-forward than you might expect a given style to be. They have a fantastic range of IPAs, from session-style to imperial, unique stouts and porters, and a ferocious holiday beer called Mad Elf, which might be their most notorious.

I don’t really want to talk about Tröegs beer in this blog post, though (well, I do, but I won’t). I want to talk about their branding. Since their beginning, Tröegs has had a pretty consistent combination of logo, color, and style. Though the colors may have changed from beer to beer, they seemed to have come from the same palette.

The original Tröegs branding featured Victorian-esque typography, deep jewel tones contrasted by brighter and more saturated colors, and posterized, slightly Art Deco illustration.

It should probably be noted that in the world of beer, branding operates on a different set of rules sometimes. Some of the best breweries in the world have some of the world’s worst branding. Maybe this is because beer relies so heavily on word-of-mouth, and individual experience, that the taste and the story of a beer almost replaces the packaging in which the beer is sold.

That being said, I was never a huge fan of Tröegs’ branding. Although it was a step or two above some others in the craft beer industry, I always saw room for improvement.

Tröegs apparently did too. This year they rolled out a new visual identity along with redesigned beer labels and a new website. I’ve tried to find out who created this identity but I was unsuccessful, which leads me to believe that it may have been done in-house or by a friend. Anyway, this new identity is seemingly meant to focus on the “hand-crafted” aspect of the beer, as it’s typography consists of a thin, uppercase hand-lettered font, and the new beer-specific illustrations are subtly embellished line drawings. It’s all mostly black on white, with some accents of reds, oranges, and greens.

This is a big change. Going from deep colors, flourished typography, and detailed illustrations to mostly white backgrounds, thin lines, and a distressed style has had quite an effect on the brand’s visual impact, and I’m not sure it’s for the best.

When you’re an established company, any branding shift is a big shift. No matter what your current branding is, people know you for it. They’ve come to equate your logo, colors, and styling with what they know of your brand and your product, so when you change any part of that, you risk weakening the draw of your brand, or at least confusing your consumer.

When you change everything, you’re asking a lot of your consumer and your regular customer. You’re saying “we have changed, all of a sudden, and you need to trust that we are the same people you’ve always done business with.”

I’m not saying Tröegs is doomed. They will be fine, and the regular beer consumer will learn to identify Tröegs beer by its new labelling, if only because this is a fairly common thing in the world of craft beer, but I think the process of rebranding was a missed opportunity.

What I would have done

The one thing Tröegs’ new branding lacks is distinction. Especially in the case of its logo, the uniqueness that once made a bottle of Tröegs beer instantly recognizable on a shelf of other bottles is gone. The illustrations, on the other hand, are a step up from that of the old branding; they feel more unified and modern, and do retain just an inkling of that old Victorian-meets-Art-Deco style.

I would have simplified the lines old logo, reworking the kerning of the type to maximize readability while maintaining the original character of the type.

I would have chosen one dark background color, or a set of complementary background colors for the beer labels, to reflect the original branding, making sure the overall look of each label is congruent with the identity.

I would have updated the illustrations, as Tröegs did. Although the new art is good, I would have probably ended up somewhere in between the old style and the new style, retaining more of the bold, high-contrast styling of the Art Deco influence, while making each illustration look as though it was perhaps part of the same series of art, with similar layouts, imagery, and shapes.

As Tröegs grows as a brand, I hope they are able to bring their audience along for the ride. With new beers constantly being brewed, and new extensions of the brand on the horizon, consumers just might learn to get used to the “new” Tröegs.

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