Shapes of Things

Canada’s Breweries Pushing the Envelope with Merchandise and Branding

James Burt

Many modern breweries are uncertain on how to promote their wares, especially in the digital age and when they begin operation. But once they begin to work on creative branding strategies, they come up with novel merchandising ideas. Often it’s all about having something people can see in plain sight and objects to take away after a drink while drawing on where the beer comes from historically to help define their branded image.

“If our brewery is the nucleus, then the store is our heartbeat, and they are all in one spot here,” says Southampton, Ontario’s Outlaw Brew Co.’s Andrew Woodley.  “With our brewery being a cornerstone location in the town, we are fortunate to have a very accessible store for visitors. Lots of people travel up to our area for summer vacation and work, and can take a piece of the nostalgia back home: t-shirts, long sleeves, hoodies, ball hats, trucker hats, mugs, everything.”

Located on the corner of Highway Twenty-One and High Street in Southampton, Outlaw is housed in a historic stone building that was originally the Southampton Hotel, established in 1867. By being centralized right in the town and on a major Ontario highway, Outlaw makes use of its local community and landmarks for its merchandising.

“We are fortunate to work with a impressive graphic designer, born and raised from the area, that helps embody and express our core values through the brands.” Woodley said. “My business partner, Deborah Leon, is the real mastermind behind the branding and we got our ideas literally right out our door. Our 21 Lagered Ale is named after Highway 21, but it can be astonishing how brands can take on their own identity in the public sphere—i.e. ‘I wish I was age 21’, the Blackjack in gambling, etc. The Outlaw spade is big and bold, and at the core of all our labeling.”

In the past, the big beer brands such as Molson or Labatt had their names across so much of the public landscape: light shades over pool tables, billboards at sport rinks or ball field, and various sizes of drink glasses. But now there are new artifacts from up-and-coming local breweries, from scarves to banners, many of them adorning public places and competing with the major brewery labels for space, notoriety, and even a few unconventional end products.

“You have to see these!” said Woodley, holding up a pair of Outlaw branded black booty shorts. “These are the hottest gift going around Valentine’s Day!”

Other breweries work hard to create associations to help push their branded merchandise by sourcing as much local talent as possible.

“Seventy percent of our merchandise is sourced locally,” said Cowbell Brewing Company’s merchandise manager Kathryn Peach. “Whether it’s our Canadian-Made garments, sourced from Redwood Classics in Toronto to our completely custom products like candles, coffee beans, and growler carriers, supporting local businesses has allowed us to build a unique and authentic experience for guests who visit the Cowbell General Store. Something to take home, too. But it’s not always easy either. Redwood is Toronto’s only t-shirt manufacturer left and they are high priced to order.”

When asked about their beer labels and designs, Cowbell’s guest service manager Amy Gibbings noted how much Cowbell insisted on delving into local history to help give each beer its own look.

“The Sparling Family started Cowbell and knew they wanted to both reflect Blyth’s rural roots and source out specialists,” said Gibbings. “For instance, our Doc Perdue’s Boxing Bruin India Pale Ale was named after a real veterinarian from Blyth that cared for all kinds of animals, including a bear cub named Bruin, and eventually had a full animal exhibit on his property. His great legacy and others gave great titles to our beers and we were able to get Arcane, our London, Ontario-based designer, to create the logos we wanted.”

Merchandise and branding has also entered into the digital medium for breweries as well. Clients that live outside of jurisdictions of their favourite beer distribution areas can now get all matters of merchandise across the World Wide Web.

“Our online website has been an awesome addition, being able to now sell beer and merchandise online and ship to our customer’s homes,” said Woodley. “We’re happy that people want to not just drink the beer but also proudly sport the logo.”

*Special thanks to Grant Sparling of Cowbell Brewery for additional information to this article.