Beer Package Design 101 

Friday, May 13, 2011 , By Carey Matthews

 

We thought people might be interested in some of the behind the scenes stuff that happens with putting out a new beer.  Part of my job as Marketing Coordinator is to work with our package designers, Voltaggio Johnson, to produce new designs for our 6-packs, 12-packs, master cartons, and labels.  The past few months we’ve been juggling multiple design projects, with Unchained #7 Honeymoon Saison and our Silver Anniversary Ale both coming out in July.  I’ll speak specifically to the Unchained, because there is something especially unique about that project.

When we initially started the Unchained Series, we challenged our designers to come up with packaging that could be updated pretty easily since we were doing 3 new beers every year.  The design they came up with is great-simple, clean, and didactic, that is, it tells you in a straightforward way what the beer is about.  This is a slight digression, but they had initially proposed putting Mark Stutrud’s signature on the packaging.  It was actually Mark’s idea to put the individual brewer’s signature.  “It’s their beer, they should get the credit”.  Almost two years into this series and that is still one of my favorite elements of the design.

So back to the process.  We now have a standard format for all Unchained beers, we just need to gather the specs and signature from the brewer and Voltaggio can drop them into the design.  Pretty easy.  Except, not as easy as you might think.  Every time we create a new beer and accompanying label, it has to get government approval through the TTB, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.  I work with Tony in our accounting department at this point in the process.  Typically this involves Tony submitting a jpg of the label and filling out forms via their website for COLA, or certificate of label approval, review.  They review not only how the label is laid out in regards to government requirements and warning regulations, but also what we call our beer and how the ingredients are listed.  One of the things we’ve hit hiccups with is the whole name part.  We ran into that straight out of the chute with the Kölsch.  It was just going to be called Kölsch.  That label got rejected because it had to be called a “German Style Kölsch”.  Since Kölsch refers to an area in Germany, we had to make reference to that fact this wasn’t actually from that region, just imitating the style.  Another way to think about it is how wines are labeled-only wines from the Champagne region of France can technically be called Champagne.  A bubbly from California needs to be called sparkling wine.  This COLA process can take a week or so for approval, which can seem like an eternity when you are working with such tight deadlines as we are for this series.

The added step we are in the midst of right now with Unchained #7 is that it first has to go through formulation approval pre-COLA because of Brewer Sam’s use of honey, which is outside the standard definition of malt beverages.  We also had to go through this for Nate’s beer, the Imperial Pumpkin Porter, because of the pumpkin and the spices.  This process can take 10 business days or more.  We are actually sweating it out right now, waiting to hear back on Sam’s beer! 

After the TTB approves the label/formulation, Tony has to go through each state and “apply” for a brand license as well.  Even though the Feds approve it, he has to get it approved at the state level as well in order to sell the brand in that particular state.  On top of that, every state has different regulations on how the brand is approved, which may differ from what the TTB requires.  In order to have state approval, we think about which states we will be selling this particular brand in and specifically design the labels to be approved by those states.

So once all these steps are taken, and everything is approved (god willing), then Debra in our operations department can FINALLY send the art files off to the printers, which then takes about 2 weeks for master cartons, 4 weeks for labels, 4-6 weeks for 12-packs, and up to 6-8 weeks for 6-packs.  For the master cartons (the box four 6-packs are shipped in), we use the same design every time and the fellas in packaging hand stamp the style name on them. All the timelines mentioned above are if everything goes right.  Very often they do not.  This is why I’m already starting to think about Unchained #8 and we haven’t even finished everything for #7.

There you have it, a little 101 on how a new beer comes to be packaged.  It takes a team to get through this process, and we're all getting better at it every day.  I didn't even get into the brewer's process to determine what style he wants to make and how he comes up with the recipe.  Another blog, another day.  What other "how things are made" stories would you like to hear?  Let us know!


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