Join 7,500+ other subscribers

Expert analysis that helps your team make better branding decisions and build a more resilient business.

VOL. 064

The year of craft lager? (the year of craft lager!)


This is your final exclusive issue from CODO's larger 2024 Beer Branding Trends report. 

If there’s someone on your team who you think would benefit from reading these, please forward this email to them or have them sign up here.

As a reminder, we're currently fielding subscriber-submitted questions for a Q&A podcast episode. If you've got questions on anything in this issue or our annual review, please shoot me an email

Thanks so much for being a BBT subscriber!

Let's get into it.

There’s a decade-old running joke in the beer industry that next year (at the very latest) will finally be the Year of Craft Lager.

Now, I’m not bold enough to call 2024 the *official* Year of Lager (sorry for the clickbait title there…), but damn if this doesn’t feel close.

Granted, I’m not sure what we were all expecting—craft lager to dethrone IPA as the face of craft beer? Hype breweries to drop $29 4-packs of Czech Dark Lagers??

But for some anecdata here, CODO has branded more all-lager breweries and created more lager brands (Sub Brands and standalone brands) over the last year than at any point in our 15 year history. 

(Above): Birdsmouth Beer is an all-lager brewery out of New Jersey. Read more about their naming, positioning and branding here.

And we’re seeing people approach the segment correctly, with horizontal tanks, step mashing and decoction—all manner of fun, esoteric production techniques to turn out a quality product.

So I can feel it. And I bet you can too.

But why now? Why is lager trending today? 

– Is it because we’re looking at several years of inflation that has consumers pinching their pennies, and your answer to this is to offer a slightly more expensive, yet still craft option for the budget-minded shopper?

– Or is it because breweries are scrambling to find pockets of incremental growth wherever they can, including historically-overlooked, if not outright disparaged segments like light lager?

– Or is it to offer an easy drinking, beer-flavored-beer option to the growing cohort of fatigued craft drinkers who are 1) getting older, 2) having kids, and 3) can’t smash IPAs like they used to?

– Or is it because Montucky Cold Snacks started from scratch and scaled to produce somewhere in the neighborhood of 70k+ bbl over the course of ~10 years (and partied the entire way there)?

– Or is it because your grandpa drank lager? And grandpas (and grandmas!) are universally cool.

– Or is it because modern day craft beer means going to a local brewery and choosing from one of twelve hazy IPAs? (Thrilling.)

Couple this with the mind-melting 4–5 years that we’ve all collectively experienced in this country and I think there’s comfort to be found in making an easy choice.

I don’t want to sort through 18 different beers for this weekend—I’ll just grab Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Or a Pivo Pils. Or Dead Guy.

Or, choose from a growing contingent of craft lagers that are vying to own this important space—go-to fridge packer brands that still have Craft bona fides without all the Craft baggage. 

Or is it a combination of all of these things?

I don’t have an answer here, but I do know that lager is trending.

So let’s explore a few broad themes we’re discussing in our work branding, positioning and promoting this most lovely of beer styles.

(Above): Lion's Paw Lager from Fernson Brewing.

A quick note on terms

We’re going to speak broadly about lager here, including beautifully made craft lagers and those positioned more in line with domestic light lagers.

Some of what we point out (particularly when it comes to COGS and positioning) will apply more towards craft breweries trying to compete in the Sub Premium space.

But let’s not get too wrapped up in delineating between these (we’ll do that where it makes sense) and look at the overall trend of more craft breweries making more lager as a whole.

Light lager: The positioning challenge 

The value prop of craft light lager is tricky to nail.

Offering a similar beer that is positioned alongside much cheaper, and better known, offerings that is roughly 50% more expensive isn’t the best position to be in. (Who knew?!?)

On one hand, it’s almost impossible for a small producer to compete on cost with the entrenched macro brands. (For reference, Montucky contract brews, so they’re able to price aggressively low, often at or even below common Domestic Sub Premium pricing.)

On the other hand, as we outlined earlier in this report, lager is a brand. A cool one.

So you can create a
somewhat craft, somewhat macro brand that allows drinkers to show that they’re cool (more on this idea here shortly).

From a COGS standpoint, a lower price to consumer means a lower margin on the backend. The goal then is to drive more volume to make everything, not just pencil out, but realize a profit.

And as
we’ve written before, you can’t compete with High Life (or Bud, Miller, Coors) on price. Hell, you can’t compete with the Oskar Blues or Sierra Nevadas of the world on price, so this is a very, very tough space.

The sweet spot appears to be to not try to compete with Domestic Sub Premium brands head on (those in the ~$15–$18 per case range), but land at a final price that’s only a few bucks more but still a touch lower than other craft beers in the cold box.

Bump Williams Consulting gave us a great beer pricing tier breakdown a while back. Check out this conversation for more context here.

But then how do you position these brands? Who should buy them?

And why would a consumer who might usually grab a 12-pack of High Life or Banquet switch it up for your offering at $3–$5 more?  

It starts with what you call the beer itself so people have a touchpoint for comparison. 


So what do you call them?

Earlier in our annual report, we made a case for why beer style names are more important as a positioning tool today than they are from a specific TTB style designation standpoint.

And this jostling, myth making, and in some cases, outright mental gymnastics is best exemplified by the various naming conventions we’re seeing in craft lager right now.

Some examples we’ve seen:

– Light Beer
– Classic Light Beer 
– Small Batch Light Beer 
– Beer (bonus points for brevity)
– Premium Beer 
– Premium Lager
– Heritage Lager 
– Light Lager (heads-up: “Lite” is trademarked and policed by Molson Coors)
– Craft Lager 
– Industry Lager 
– American Light Lager 
– Domestic Lager
– Lager / Pilsner / XYZ lager variants
– Cerveza (for Mexican-style lagers, obviamente)

Two quick additional thoughts:

We're starting to see a gradual shift away from the word "Craft." And I think the rise of lagers is actually going to accelerate this. We'll be talking more about this over the coming year in some upcoming case studies. (Stay tuned.)

We're also seeing "Cold" used a qualifier. This is fun in a Big Beer Super Bowl ad kind of way. What kind of beer do you want? A cold one!

There’s a world of difference between a “Light” Lager and a “Craft” Lager, but maybe less so with a “Craft Light” Lager.

Choose whichever nomenclature best serves your positioning goals and lean into it. 

(Above): What do you call lagers, and lager-adjacent crushable beers so that consumers understand what they are and when to buy them?


Lager as a Signal 

Let’s talk about signaling and the story that lager allows people to tell themselves, and the world, about themselves. I believe this is an important mechanism that’s driving lager sales right now.

Lager—craft or macro—is a way to signal cool confidence.

In the mid-2010s, if you showed up to a cookout with a special 4-pk IPA, everyone was happy. Now? C’mon, what is this, 2018? It’s 95° out here for God’s sake. Give me something crisp.

(To wit: This is exactly the spot Sierra Nevada Pale Ale occupies—a comfortable, flexible classic.)

But craft lager (and some macro lager brands) rides a fine line where you can show up to a party and not look like a cheapskate but still look cool and in the know.

Plus, lager is blue collar and authentic. It’s a working man’s shift beer—and there’s real cachet there.

This emotional dynamic is tough to balance, but it’ll be well worth the hassle if you’re able to pull it off when building your lager brand.

Now that we’ve given you a lay of the land on positioning and pricing craft lager, let’s look at a collection of visual and branding approaches we’ve seen across the segment.

Nostalgic Regional
Lager’s visual canon

“Nostalgic Regional” is a term CODO coined several years ago to describe lager’s de facto visual canon (if you’re feeling spicy, you could less charitably call this aesthetic “fauxstalgia”).

And this look and feel stems from the earliest days of the craft beer boom as breweries were bringing back the well-worn romance of locally-produced beer.

All across the country, people were rehabbing old brick and timber warehouses, decayed factories, and all manner of other buildings that had sat dormant for years.

Visually, this was all wrapped up in nostalgia to speak to the brewery’s authenticity, or to lend a sense of provenance.

While there are no hard and fast rules, the category convention here aims to look old. How old? We’ve predominantly seen the 1940's through 1970’s as the main period of influence. 

This branding can look like an authentically old brand, as though it were picked off of a shelf in a five & dime  in 1960. Or, it can be designed to live as a product of today, but still evoke this bygone era—a contemporary reimagining of something old. 

It tends to be tactile, often evoking a mostly bygone industry: Think automotive, manufacturing, lumber, tobacco, textiles and agriculture.

Check out our conversation with David Maxwell, aka The Beer Can Archaeologist, for more granular details on how beer packaging design and formats have shifted over the decades. 

This positioning works because beer is, historically, a blue collar product. It also works because of nostalgia—harkening back to a “Golden Age” (whether real or imagined) where deals were done on a handshake and good breaks came easier.

Logically, we know that the past wasn’t perfect, but this aesthetic addresses the nagging feeling that things used to be just a little bit better.

And looking around at the world in 2024, who can be blamed for chasing a little bit of this comfort?

(Above): The "Nostalgic Regional" aesthetic is lager's de facto visual canon.

Reviving heritage IP
Instant Provenance 

If the Nostalgic Regional beer branding trend aims to evoke a bygone era with a newly-created brand, then the spate of brewers across the country reviving genuine heritage IP would be its more authentic foil.

This trend started years ago with the resurgence of PBR and High Life, Hamms, Rainier and Narragansett (stuff you’d drink while fishing with grandpa).

On the smaller craft side, we’re seeing breweries across the country obtain IP for a defunct (usually pre- or just post-prohibition) beer brand and faithfully reproduce it, recipe, branding and all. 

This works because it’s fun (!) and brings an instant story to the table—a sense of historicity.

It’s an opportunity to lean into that authenticity and create a connection with your customers.

And from a portfolio and Brand Architecture standpoint, it’s also an opportunity to create a strong brand that can drive incremental growth and travel to markets your brewery’s parent brand might not be able to.

(Above): Fun Heritage IP examples from around the country, including one CODO is wrapping up right now.

Personality plays 

Another approach here is a straight lifestyle appeal, in the vein of PBR or Montucky Cold Snacks.

Heavy on personality (and memes), this targets a specific subculture and a well-defined audience.

This approach takes a lot of effort and continual investment to get right, but can be well worth it if you can pull it off. 

(Above): Personality plays are heavy on social media and lifestyle cues. And if done well, they're a fun way to cut through the noise of today's cold box and connect with people (often well before they even have a chance to buy).

Read more about the Cold Drinking Beer brand here.

Occasion plays 

I would argue that lager is the quintessential occasion beer (it never steals the show or gets in the way).

And this thread highlights some smart on-the-nose naming and positioning we’re seeing to tie craft lager brands to specific activities. e.g., lawn mower beer, at the beach, on the boat, at the cookout, post workout.

I think this can be smart, provided you don’t beat around the bush—tell people exactly what this beer is and when they should drink it.

If your branding and value props are strong enough, then people might reward you for being forthright.

(Above): Lager is the quintessential occasion beer. 

Lager: It’s Brand all the way down

We’ve said this a few times throughout this year’s report, but it bears repeating. In an era where traditionally-defined beverage alcohol categories are blurring, consumer drinking habits are shifting, as are LDA demographics themselves, the beverages you produce—the actual liquid itself—will become less important.

Assuming a baseline level of quality is there, it’s your Brand—your story, your personality, your identity, your reason for existing—that will differentiate you and help you scale moving forward.

Ready to learn more?

The Beyond Beer Handbook

Part book, part quiz, and part choose-your-own-adventure-style novel, The Beyond Beer Handbook is a purpose-built tool for helping you expand your brewery’s portfolio and build a more resilient business.

Craft Beer, Rebranded

Craft Beer, Rebranded and its companion Workbook are a step-by-step guide to map out a winning strategy ahead of your rebrand. Building on CODO’s decade of brewery branding experience, this book will help you weigh your brand equity, develop your brand strategy and breathe new life into your brewery’s brand.

Craft Beer Branding Guide

The Craft Beer Branding Guide outlines how to brand, position and launch a new brewery or beverage company. This is a must-read for any brewery in planning.

If you’re enjoying the Beer Branding Trends Newsletter, we’d love if you shared it with a friend or two.

You can send them here to sign up.

Want to work together?