How do you name a craft brewery? (featuring Birdsmouth Beer)
Today, we’re going to take a behind the scenes look at a branding project for a (now open) brewery in planning. This particular client actually bookends the pandemic—we worked with them before, during, and now continuing afterward on several follow-on projects.
In all, we worked with more than half a dozen brewery startups throughout the 18 months that comprised the height of the pandemic (early 20 through mid–2021), and this cohort holds a special place in my heart.
This was a stressful time—as a father, and a husband, and a son, and a business owner. I don’t have to tell you. You lived through it as well.
But these pandemic-era projects gave us (me, I’ll just say me), a sense of normalcy throughout all the chaos. World’s ending? Well, I can’t control that. But I do know how to name a brewery. And how to brand it. So let’s just focus on that little ray of sunshine, shall we?
I’ll stop here before becoming overly earnest.
For this case study, we’re going to focus on positioning, name development (in particular), story and identity design and how all of these align to inform each other throughout the creative process.
In order to keep this issue from becoming overly long, I’m going to drop in podcast and resource links throughout in case you’re interested in learning more about a particular topic. Look for this symbol [X] for these links.
On that note, we recorded a fun companion podcast with Birdsmouth Beer on their branding process and overall path to market.
Listen to that episode here.
Okay, that's enough preamble. Let’s meet Andy and Rocco.
The brewery team & initial brief
Andrew Gioia and Rocco Laginestra are two long time friends from New Jersey. They have a diverse background that spans real estate and finance, culinary arts and brewing, chemistry, engineering and manufacturing.
Their vision: To build New Jersey’s lager brewery. They will brew every day, approachable and unpretentious lagers for every day people—for New Jersey.
This initial scope included Brand Strategy, name development, brand identity design and brand guidelines.
[X] Here’s a podcast to learn more about what a project kickoff looks like.
We begin every branding project by working through Brand Strategy. Here are some highlights, pulled verbatim, from Andy and Rocco's Brand Strategy doc:
Key Messaging Pillars
– Sharing beer with others (community)
– Clean & refreshing lager beer
– Science & engineering
– New Jersey Local
– We will focus aggressively on providing fresh beer (less than 1 month old). We will put in place safeguards to ensure that our beer is fresh; such as, only distributing in NJ, and working with our accounts to ensure they have the latest and greatest.
– We will focus on learning and teaching, including listening to our local market via ongoing sensory panels and blind taste tests. Additionally, we will have a small resource library for breweries of all sizes.
– We will be an all-lager brewery from day one. We will produce repeatable, dependable craft lagers that stand out from a sea of unfocused portfolios.
Messaging to Avoid
We don’t want to be pretentious. At the end of the day, we’re making beer. And to go even deeper, we’re making traditionally-brewed lagers—far from snob territory.
Brand Essence development
Your Brand Essence is a distillation of the most compelling idea behind your brewery and business. It’s your mission, vision, values and positioning all wrapped up into a concise statement.
This is primarily an internal process tool used to capture the spirit of your brewery as opposed to a public-facing statement or tagline. Think of it as an alignment tool—a way of ensuring that everything you create and put out into the world is consistent and tells the same story.
[X] Here’s a podcast on defining your Brand Essence.
[X] Here’s a chapter from Craft Beer, Rebranded on this topic as well.
Here's where we landed on Andy and Rocco's Brand Essence.
In our youth, we hammered triple dry hopped 100+ IBU IPAs and barrel-aged stouts. We still love those beers, but today, we love the conversations that surround beer more than the beer itself. Beer should be well-made, clean, and enjoyable (that’s why we make lagers). It shouldn’t get in your way—it should be a vehicle for conversation and community building. Cheers, let’s have a few more.
Misc. (potential) messaging
For everyone (blue collar / white collar / all collars) / easy drinking shift beer / “beer that doesn’t get in the way” / every day lagers
Brand personality & attributes
Straight forward / confident / well-made / consistent / dry (wit) / pragmatic / traditional
Vintage (~ 1940’s) post-Prohibition beer branding — old beer labels (mish mash typography / simple printing methods) / Approachable and friendly / familiar / monogram or iconic symbol (maker’s mark) / ‘Modern Retro’ vs. 'Genuine Vintage' (lean toward Modern)
Now that we’ve outlined their Brand Strategy, let’s shift gears to discuss name development.
On timing: Strategy vs. name development
We’re breaking Andy and Rocco’s name development process out here to better focus on it.
However, when we’re naming brewery, we develop and present name options congruently with the Brand Strategy itself because your story, positioning and Brand Essence all inform what makes for an appropriate name.
Earlier in our career, we would do these things separately—that is, we would completely frame and finalize Brand Strategy and then develop name options.
But we’ve found that something that requires lateral thinking and genuine creative inspiration, like name development, works better if you let the Strategy, messaging and name options snowball into a collection of ideas.
[X] Here’s a podcast on how we name breweries as well as criteria for a compelling name.
How many options do we present?
We don’t actually have a set number of name options that we have to hit when naming a brewery. (We even state as much in our contract.) We present as many compelling options as we can develop until we get to a place where our client is excited.
We do this because we never want to be put in a position where we have to share options that we believe aren’t appropriate just so we can hit a specified quota.
Why? Because as soon as we present anything we don’t believe in, the client will love it. This is magic. Dark magic, but magic, nonetheless.
That being said, we generally share somewhere between 10 and 15 options in our first presentation.
Here’s a quick breakdown of how successful (or not) we tend to be with this approach:
In ~75% of our naming projects, we nail a name down from this first batch. The next ~25% of clients require a second round of options. And I don’t have statistics on this (too lazy to do math), but presenting a second round of options almost always results in final contenders coming from both rounds 1 and 2. (Sometimes, people just need to see what else is out there before making a decision.)
Aaaaand record scratch.
Remember how I just said 75% of projects are wrapped up after the first round and 25% are wrapped after a second round? That math is wrong. It’s more like 75% in round one / 24% in round two / 1% in round three.
Andy and Rocco have the distinction of being the first (and only) naming project we’ve ever had (out of more than 50) where we've had to develop a third round of options before getting it there.
They weren’t being overly fickle. And we certainly weren’t slacking. It’s just that creative work, especially highly-subjective (and high stakes) creative work like naming a company, is challenging. And sometimes, you have to see a lot of stuff before you realize what actually resonates.
After 3 rounds, we had our list narrowed down to 4 final contenders. I won’t share them here because, remarkably, 2 of the 3 unused options are still available.
But their final name, the one that put huge smiles on their faces during our conversations (and lifted an equally huge weight off our shoulders) was:
Here’s a brief writeup that went along with this option. I’m including this verbatim so you can see how we sketch out ideas during the naming process. This isn’t a final writeup (and in some cases, doesn’t even include complete sentences). But it outlines everything that we think could work for the name and highlights how we communicate these ideas with our clients:
A Birdsmouth is a type of joint in wood working. Sturdy. Bringing community together (joinery). Alliteration. Fine woodworking as an analog for brewing. Generally hidden from view (meaning the care and attention to detail that goes into creating something—even though the person who buys the handmade table or drinks the handcrafted Birdsmouth lager might not see all the work, they can tell the difference it makes). And perhaps more importantly, you will know the difference and can hold your heads high. Beyond this, Birdsmouth is rife with beautiful visuals—wood grain, saw marks, makers marks… It feels like a historic, mid-Atlantic beer brand.
And Andy and Rocco loved it.
Final step here is to have our IP attorney run a knockout search to make sure it’s available for trademark. (It was.)
Next step: Identity and package design.
Brand Identity Design
My goal for this issue was to deep dive into the name development and positioning process. But I'll include some images of the proposed (and summarily rejected) early logo concepts (above) as well as the final identity and packaging (below).
The final Birdsmouth identity system revolves around an American Goldfinch (New Jersey's state bird).
This may seem a bit on the nose, but it's also wholly appropriate given the historic beer packaging we were inspired by during the branding process.
Their color palette is deep navy blue, red and cream with touches of gold.
The typography is durable and reserved, with a few small flourishes to give it some unique character—peep the jaunty foot on the 'R' in beer.
None of this is trendy by today's standards, but rather, designed to look good 20 years from now by pulling on what still looks good from 60–80 years ago.
And weighing all of this against our initial Brand Strategy work, the final Birdsmouth identity system is confident, utilitarian and timeless.
I distinctly remember one point near the end of this project during the revisions phase where we had to sketch dozens of versions of the bird icon.
Its beak was either too long or too short. Or the feathers on the back of its neck were either too fluffy, or not fluffy enough. Or that it was either smiling too much, or not enough.
At one point, (round 4, maybe?), one of our designers yelled across the shop, "Can a bird even smile? I'm not a fucking ornithologist."
Life's all about the magic moments, folks.
Andy and Rocco opened Birdsmouth Beer in October 2022 and were welcomed to the community with open arms. It's been rewarding to watch their early success and again, at the risk of sounding overly earnest, it's been an honor to help them along their path. Early on and moving forward.
If you’re enjoying the Beer Branding Trends Newsletter, we’d love if you shared it with a friend or two.