A Fresh Take on a Classic Brand
Colorado’s first craft brewery revamps its look
By Kyle Kirves
When the as-yet-unwritten quasi-biblical history of Colorado craft beer comes to pass, Chapter 1, Verse 1 should read something like “In the beginning, there was the Boulder Beer Co.”
No, Colorado’s first craft brewery didn’t spring fully formed from the mind of some beer god or goddess. But it does date back to a foggy and mythical past known as “the late seventies” — a time of bell bottoms and Burt Reynolds, when the Bandit’s smuggled beer wasn’t micro or craft, but rather that ubiquitous macrobrew that comes in the golden can.
It is a story of humble beginnings, but with the happiest of endings.
“Two astrophysics professors had homebrewed for years before starting Boulder Beer Co. (BBC) in 1979 at a goat farm just north of town,” recounts Tess McFadden, director of marketing. “And we’ve been at the Wilderness Place location since 1984. When we came on, there were just over 40 brewers in the country, much less in Colorado.”
BBC takes great pride in being out in front of the craft beer phenomenon, and you can see it in the company’s bold, new brand refresh. The black banner at the bottom of the cans proudly proclaims “Colorado’s First Craft Brewery — Enjoyed Since 1979.” It’s the next step in a brand history that, like all hero stories, is about evolution.
“When Boulder Beer started out, we were definitely a branded house,” says McFadden, who could serve as in-house historian and chief storyteller. “It was Boulder Amber, Boulder Pale Ale, Boulder Porter. And the labels always showed the Flatirons, something that still figures in our branding.”
However, brewers are a naturally creative lot and, in 2001, Boulder Beer branched out with a new series of one-off, pub-only beers, including one flagship that is now virtually synonymous with BBC itself.
“Hazed & Infused was an experiment for us in terms of production and hopping,” says McFadden of the hybrid amber/dry hopped ale. “We realized very quickly – very quickly – that we would need to package it. But it didn’t fall in line with our other brand packaging and product. We created a new line that we called the Looking Glass series. We created whole new branding around that.”
The branding was all done in-house, with aid from then-local artist Jeff Keffer. The new branding was a significant departure from the regal, painterly branding BBC had in place originally, and created new possibilities for the brewery.
“Hazed & Infused was the first experiment, but that opened the door for others like Mojo (IPA), Killer Penguin (barleywine) and Sweaty Betty (hefeweizen),” McFadden says.
Thematically, the branding was tied together – bright, brand-driven, text-heavy labels. You’ve seen them on the full BBC bottled line, including the incredible Shake Chocolate Porter.
“The whole idea was kind of whimsical and fun. We take our beers seriously, but not ourselves,” she said.
Eventually, the new line’s popularity would force the gradual diminution of the old, legacy lines (so long, Boulder Beer Porter!) but that’s a good problem to have. And BBC will still occasionally brew up a batch of the legacy recipes for the pub.
Never satisfied to stand pat, a few years ago Boulder Beer began ruminating on a brand refresh. Not necessarily new beers per se (that’s always on their minds), but a new way of reimagining the packaging.
“It’s becoming more important on a crowded shelf to stand out,” McFadden says. “We want to remain fresh, relevant, and appeal to younger, emerging beer customers.”
Enter the new, can-only artwork, designed in collaboration with Boulder-based design house Moxie Sozo.
“We love the vibe at Moxie Sozo,” McFadden says. “We love their detailed, fun, illustrative work. That work dominates our new can art.”
Getting BBC on the can in a much more visible way was also part of the goal.
“We kept hearing, ‘Oh, I love Hazed & Infused, but I never knew who made it,’” McFadden says.
With the new can art, there’s no doubt of the source and longevity of the brewery. Boulder Beer Co., its origin date, and a half-hop, half-Flatiron logo they call the “Hopiron,” are prominently displayed. And the Hopiron is sure to be a favorite on t-shirts and caps.
And what a new look it is. While the Looking Glass series labels were eye-catching and colorful, the new labels go one step further, providing more depth and a full wrap so that the images are rendered with more dimension than previous brands.
Two of my favorites in the new line are the Due East New England IPA and the seasonal Festbier. The pairing is a study in contrasts.
Due East is rendered in dark blues and black, and shows a shipwreck with a valiant skipper eyeing the safe promise offered by a lighthouse. Festbier’s bright, sky blue and copper tones tell a more pleasurable tale of a day at Oktoberfest, complete with Ferris wheels, session ales and a band.
Both are imbued with narrative possibility, and, with the full wrap around the can, they are alive with motion absent from flatter art. Characteristic, too, of the new art is that, in both of these new offerings, you are looking over the shoulder of the characters on the labels, taking in the same scene as they are — you are invited in to be part of the story, not just witness to it.
The response has been overwhelmingly positive. “Anecdotally, we have heard a lot of positive feedback. People love the art, the black lids to the cans. It’s all been great,” McFadden says.
All-time favorites like Mojo and Hazed & Infused will share a new look. As new beers come online for the experimenters at BBC, they will too. In a nod to the pub’s outdoor mural designed by Husky Creative, look for the upcoming Spaceman beer.
Just because BBC was the first craft brewer in Colorado doesn’t mean it has to get old or complacent. Boulder Beer Co.’s creative energy, curious nature, and experimental philosophy are present not just in the beer they craft, but the cans they put it in. Be part of that story and maybe you too will be written into the history of craft beer.
Kyle Kirves is a solid dude who believes drinking beer should be a five-senses experience.