Established in 1996 in the basement of an antique store in the city of Blanco, TX — one-hour-drive away from both San Antonio and Austin — by Phillip and Diane Conner, Real Ale Brewing Company is a craft brewery producing nine year-round beers and about half a dozen seasonal offerings. Today, it employs approximately 45 people, produces 58,000 barrels of beer, and has just opened a tasting tap room. Its most popular beer, Firemans #4, can be found on tap pretty much anywhere in Austin, and pretty much no one could have told you it came from Real Ale — one of the main reasons the brewery introduced this week a new identity and packaging system designed by Austin-based The Butler Bros..
The new logo includes three components that are meaningful to the company: the hop, the sprocket, and the characters “TX 96”. The hop pays homage to the previous logo, which consisted of the company name and a simple hop graphic for most of the brewery’s history. The sprocket is a nod to the original tap handle and label of its bestselling year-round beer, Firemans #4. The inclusion of “TX 96” around the new hop/sprocket is a reference to the company’s roots and where they come from.
The old logo was remarkably sad with its droopy hop and poor typography. Like, it would make you want to quit beer because it was so unexcited about being beer. The new logo cranks up the excitement to eleven with a great drawing of a hop inside a sprocket that doesn’t rely on a mono-width execution like all illustrations today but actually has thicks and thins and curves. The “Real Ale” goes for the Western Industrial motif that is popular among craft and microbreweries, which is not a terrible thing and it’s very well executed in this case. Even the same forest green color that was so bland in the old logo is enlivened now.
Craft brewing is one of the most crowded and competitive industries today. Real Ale has been independently brewing for almost two decades, building a diverse line-up of award winning beers. Yet, many beer drinkers identified more with their individual beers than the brewery making them. One beer, Firemans #4, was almost more identifiable than the Real Ale brand itself. Without a packaging system to help beer drinkers see the larger picture brand equity was taking a blow. We collaborated with them to create a new identity and packaging system, collateral materials and a website, all to help make the branding resonate as much as their beer does.
“Don’t fu*k with Firemans.” It was the very first thing Real Ale said when we began working together. And why should we? Firemans #4 is one of the most beloved craft beers in Texas. We refined the original label design and brought in the new branding elements to family it with the line.
Their flagship beer, Firemans #4, retained its own logo and has been vastly improved. The bottle breaks just a tad from the rest of the system (see below) but being so widely available and recognized it had to maintain the large sprocket-#4 combo writ large.
We designed packages for 20 different offerings. It’s a system flexible enough to communicate the unique individual characteristics of each beer and cohesive enough to family strongly on store shelves. We also used package to tease up a core brand message, “Only In Texas” a reference to their promise to never sell beer beyond the borders of Texas. Unfiltered. Unpasteurized. Unavailable in 49 states.
The new labels are really great. They are crisp, full of texture, vibrant, and efficiently clear in their designations. Each beer now has its own icon, all in the always pleasant Chuck Anderson style. Although similar, they are not perfectly consistent in execution and some are more effective and attractive (arrowed skull and giant barrel) than others (roadway devil and waterfall). They do bring a playful element to the bottles and 6-packs and is not a common thing to do, so they are definitely welcome.
The neck labels stick out real nice from the 6-packs.
The sun-ray, cross-like pattern is one of my favorite elements from the packaging and it looks particularly good on the 1-color cartons.
Overall, it’s clear that both designer and client had a ball creating this, with a commitment to overhaul every single aspect. Nothing is halfway done here. And while the design is operating within the usual visual confines of craft and microbrewery stylings it’s always a pleasure to see it well done from crown to carton to tap handles.