In the year 2000, there were 1,500 breweries in the United States. By 2010, that number rose modestly to around 1,800. Then, the industry exploded. From 2010 to 2022, the number of breweries in the U.S. alone grew to 9,000+ (with several years of three breweries opening every day). By this timeline, the American craft beer boom started in 2010.
CODO Design was fortunate to start working in beer right at the start of this boom, landing our first brewery client in 2010. Since then, we’ve worked with nearly 70 breweries across the U.S. and around the world. By the nature of our work, we usually have a good idea of what’s around the corner, 6–12 months ahead of time (since a brewery that is launching a new product first needs to brand and position it). Through all of this, we’ve seen two distinct epochs in beer from a branding perspective (and by extension, a business and industry-wide perspective).
We call 2010 to 2016 the “Gold Rush” era. This period saw around 5,000 breweries come to market having started from the ground up. We were lucky to have worked with 25–30 of those breweries during this time.
These were fun years because organic growth was easy to come by and breweries who produced phenomenal beer (and likewise, breweries who invested in world-class branding) were able to build impressive and sustaining businesses.
The next big shift in American craft beer happened almost overnight, in 2017. Our inquiries—that is, people reaching out to discuss working together—shifted away from breweries in planning and to established breweries looking to rebrand. Let’s call this the “Maturing Phase.”
This signaled just how competitive the market was becoming and we were lucky to help more than 20 breweries (and counting) rebrand during this period. We rebranded breweries that were just three years old, some that were 30+ years old, and even one that was over 100 years old.
Rebrands still comprise a good deal of our work as a beer branding firm today. But we’ve seen a rise in what we believe is the start of the next epoch in American craft beer—the “Beyond Beer” phase.
So what does “Beyond Beer” really mean? Is hard kombucha a Beyond Beer offering? How about a startup Ready-to-Drink (RTD) cocktail brand? Or hard cider? Or a hop water? Is it product-specific—anything that isn’t beer? Or, is it anything a beer drinker might drink that isn’t beer? Does it have to be alcoholic? Does it have to come from a brewery?
In the interest of creating a concrete definition, we think that a Beyond Beer product is any beverage a craft brewer produces that is not beer. So a hard kombucha brand isn’t a Beyond Beer product unless it’s produced by a brewery. Semantic? Perhaps. But we think this is an important distinction when you’re thinking about how you can scale your brand.
At a quick glance (in 2022 as we’re writing this), Beyond Beer products would include things like hard seltzer, RTD cocktails, flavored malt beverages (FMBs), kombucha, cannabis and CBD concoctions, hopped waters, hard coffee, hard teas, functional beverages and a variety of non-alcoholic offerings.
A Beyond Beer product is any beverage a craft brewer produces that is not beer.
However you want to define it, Beyond Beer is no longer a catchy buzzword—it’s a mindset that has been fully embraced by the industry. In 2021, Bart Watson, Chief Economist of the Brewers Association, reported that one-third of craft brewers confirmed they were producing Beyond Beer products.
This statistic validates what we’re seeing as one of the biggest changes in the beer industry over the last few years—breweries producing and selling Beyond Beer products. More and more breweries are moving away from being a single-category brand (e.g. brewing and selling beer) and towards becoming a beverage company, offering an increasingly diversified portfolio of products in different categories to capture different consumer sets.
What is driving this?
Was it a flattening of the beer category after so many euphoric years of growth? Was it that 9,000th brewery coming to market that finally made competition too staunch? Was it consumer trends shifting abruptly to drink other non-beer beverages, or, less alcohol in general?
In a word, yes.
All of these factors played a part in driving breweries to go Beyond Beer. But the biggest factor, by far, has been the rise of hard seltzer. Not so much because brewers were excited to produce it (at first), but because it opened a lot of people’s eyes to other categories they could explore, innovate within, and grow a bigger business around.
On the flip side of this equation are consumers, who have been steadily moving away from solely drinking craft beer toward a variety of non-beer beverages for several years.
The most compelling reason we’ve seen for moving beyond beer is that offering a popular product in an adjacent category can make your business more diversified and resilient overall. This diversification strategy became an oft-cited tack during the COVID-19 pandemic as brewery’s across the country watched half (or more) of their business evaporate overnight as the on-premise went away.
Beyond making your business more resilient, extending beyond beer can increase top line revenue, bankroll other fun projects and put more money back in the hands of your team and your community. As small business owners ourselves, we think this is all great— anything that makes you more robust should be explored, after all.
But, if you don’t consider how these new extensions impact your brewery’s brand and business, your products can under-perform, or worse, hinder your long term success.
That’s what this book aims to prevent.
We’ve talked to more than 50 breweries who were planning to launch some sort of extension (e.g. a hard seltzer, non-alcoholic beer, canned cocktail or spin up a beer-centric Sub Brand) over the last year alone. A recurring theme from all these project inquiries has been how to brand the new product.
The questions go something like this: Should it be branded alongside our beers or should we develop a specific name for it? Will making a non-beer product hurt our brewery’s reputation and positioning? What if the whole thing flops? Or, what if this new thing sells better than our beer?
These are all Brand Architecture questions. And everything we’ve found on this subject, and more specifically, how to use Brand Architecture as a guide to launch a new extension, is either overly-simplified or needlessly complicated.
Literature on this topic tends to fall into one of two camps. The first presents Brand Architecture as a simple binary decision (e.g. you’re either a Branded House or a House of Brands. Done. Go to market!). The second camp is geared more toward multinational conglomerate portfolio strategy (e.g. how should Unilever release a new shampoo that won’t compete with its 12 other shampoo brands?). This is the type of overly-complicated stuff that gets MBAs excited— verticals, creating divisions, determining diversified vs. focused-value propositions, intrinsic vs. extrinsic benefits, co-drivers, token endorsements, shadow drivers (oooh, mysterious), varying levels of brand equity and so forth.
In either case, this leaves a lot of important considerations up in the air, specifically, implementation and how to brand and position the actual extension itself. There are a host of subtle nuances to weigh as you figure out how to scale your brewery’s brand against new products.
And if you make this process too simple, or paradoxically, overly-complex, you may very well end up with an ineffective strategy.
This book represents the results of our immersive exploration into the practical applications of Brand Architecture and how this can be applied by a craft brewery to scale its business.
Our goal is to take you beyond the binary Branded House vs. House of Brands framing. We have designed this book to help you quickly determine how to position, brand and launch your next extension so you can grow your brewery’s business in all ways that matter—mindshare, reputation, resiliency, revenue and profit.
After more than three years of research and real-world field work, we’ve built a diagnostic Assessment to help breweries and beverage companies of all sizes navigate these decisions. We’ve included what we found to be the most important concepts and tools you need to understand how to launch your next extension, be it a beer, a canned cocktail, a seltzer, or whatever else your team can dream up. No fluff and no fancy MBA jargon, just practical applications (with lots of examples you can model).
Now that you understand our objectives, let’s talk about you, and how your team should use this book.