Brewing an Iconic Beer Brand from Scratch
The big idea
What you’ve gotta understand, when you meet Daniel Lanigan, he’s instantly larger than life. Already a successful restauranteur and beer bar owner when I met him, he’s the definition of self made badass. His idea, by all accounts a wild moonshot, was to create great IPAs and sell them at scale from the beginning. He needed brewery branding and an initial can design, and I was on board instantly. I had no idea how big, how epic, and how totally rad this project would become over the next few years of my life.
Daniel was sure the name would be Lord Hobo Brewing Company (named after his award winning Cambridge beer bar), and he knew the first beer would be Boom Sauce, and it needed to feel luxurious. As Daniel became fond of saying later, beer is the ultimate affordable luxury. Armed with this information and a feeling for where we were headed, I jumped into making stuff.
Translating the man into the brand
There were some things about the brand that seemed inevitable. There was almost no choice — from day one I knew it would be black, gray, gold and white. We never even looked at any alternates. We also knew the logo would be some kind of crown, to pay homage to the Lord Hobo bar and pay forward the concept of a lord.
Rather than run you through all the options — let’s focus on what worked from the start.
Here, you’ll see the first round I presented. Although this went through a ton of tweaking, pushing and pulling, weight changes and more, you can see we were awful close on day one.
I tried to capture the essence of Daniel — because this brand is really him.
He’s brash, but sophisticated and smart. He’s refined, but there’s no ignoring him in a room. Kind of like this brand, and the first beer (but we’ll get to that in a moment).
The final brand
After much refinement and tweaking, most of the changes were about weight and proportion. Testing legibility at small sizes and figuring out the multiple lockups so it could be super flexible, for any variety of uses.
The first beer
Let’s get the this right out there: an old school rule of packaging is you never make it black. Or dark, dark, dark grey. Why? It shows dust. If your product sits on shelf for more than a week, it will look like it’s been there for a month. But, I had a feeling these products wouldn’t be sitting on shelf very long. So I said fuck it, it feels right — let’s roll with it. The first beer off the line is the now-iconic Boom Sauce, so we started there.
Since we knew that color was locked, we had to plan ahead and differentiate beers in another way. I had a feeling it would be typography (also, that’s sort of my thing, so, you know, do what you enjoy, live laugh kern). You can see Boom Sauce beginning to define some of the overall can looks we would roll out even in the very first design presentation:
Balancing in your face un-ignorability with refined luxury. That’s the name of the game.
Round two brought more type explorations as we dialed in our bold look. Here’s two of the front runners from that round — again you’ll see the evolution of the final can coming together.
I wanted to create something you were driven to hold, to pick up. It also had to stand out on shelf among the wide ranging in quality (both in beer and design) competitive set. It had to draw you in from 10 feet away, and once it was in your hand, you had to want to further enjoy it from 1 foot away.
Finally, we ended with the ultimate Boom Sauce can design. Iconic, strong, bold, refined. Kind of like the beer inside, I reckon.
More cans, more growth
From there, we grew the line, one beer at a time. We would test new ideas, push at the edges of the brand guidelines (see that top on Consolation Prize for a stretch).
Don’t tell the other cans, but Glorious is currently my personal favorite. Let me know in the comments if you’d like to read about the design evolution of that one, it went through a lot of iterations and took a fun journey to it’s finished design.
The branding and design guidelines I set out were instrumental in building this beer brand into the behemoth they are becoming today. They grew nearly 415% in 2016 alone, and are already sold in over 12 states.
They also have a social presence that tells the success story of the design better than all these annoying words ever could. Just.. check out the #lordhobobrewing tag on the ol’ Instagram.
Then we blew it out: Tap handles, growlers, tshirts, damn box trucks, keg collars, cases, a van..
You get the idea.
Future beer and the hand-off
Now, I’m proud to hand the reigns to the internal design team at Lord Hobo so they can continue to create merch, cans and everything else under the sun this brand will need as they grow. They are more than capable, and I can’t wait to see where they go next.
Care for another pint?
So what do you want to hear about next? The tap handle design? A detailed process post on one of the cans? How hard it is to consistently get evenly-inked dark grey cans printed?
Let me know in the comments or on twitter.
EDIT: Well, Armin over at Brand New was kind enough to write up a little review on my design. Check that out if you want someone else’s opinion (besides my own) on this work.