Case Studies

Austin Beerworks Branding


Designer: Christian Helms


Austin Ad Fed ADDY Awards, Gold(s) 2013
Communication Arts Design Annual
Communication Arts Typography Annual
Texas Show Winner 2013

Sparking national buzz for a local brand.

In its first year and a half, Austin Beerworks surpassed their year five goals, growing an unprecedented 400% and ranking as one of the nation’s fastest growing breweries. It started with four guys who could craft stellar beer, but needed a brand.

As a small startup brewery entering an increasingly-crowded marketplace, the potential to be swallowed up by the sea of craft beer competition was a real concern. Communicating to consumers that the brewery is both local and remarkable was crucial, and the need to stand out on the shelf was paramount.

By focusing on what makes the brewery unique, and bucking craft beer clichés, we built a comprehensive brand strategy and identity that catapulted Austin Beerworks into the market and sparked a spirited, sustained conversation with customers. Keeping that consumer pull fresh with seasonal ad campaigns grows sales – and the packaging generates requests from all over the world for cans of beer from a local Austin brewery.

Canned for quality, crafted for impact.

Striking color and proud iconography reference Austin Beerworks’ crisp, clean brewing profile and hell-bent commitment to making every drop of beer excellent. Quirky beer naming balances the iconic design with a bit of playful personality.

One of these things is not like the others.

Our work with Austin Beerworks began around a table with the founders, before they had a brewery or even a name. We worked from the ground up, developing the foundation of the brand and building a strategy to make big noise for the small group.

In naming the brewery, the city’s landscape provided a strategic opportunity. Austin was growing rapidly in size and national popularity, and no one had claimed the city’s name as part of their brewery. When you move to town or come for a visit, which beer are you going to order?

As our first step in crafting brand identity, we listened and learned. We stood at retail coolers with the brewers, and talked to consumers about what stood out. We had them list everything that craft beer is “supposed” to look like. One by one, we crossed those from the list of visual references.

Focusing on differentiators instead of clichés.

We challenged the brewery to shift their focus from traditionally cluttered and homogeneous beer packaging to an identity built around what makes them unique in the market: a distinctive brewing profile and company culture. The brewery’s “bold and clean” approach to flavor served as a primary driver for design exploration, and the team’s quirky personality fueled unconventional beer names that added a touch of humor to the iconic cans. That intersection spring-boarded a remarkably simple packaging solution. The sleek, confident cans are a stark contrast from the competition, and can be quickly recognized across a crowded bar or even a football field.

“We looked at other beer labels, and envisioned something similar for ours. Helms challenged us to go another direction. He challenged us to be ourselves, and distilled our philosophy into a brand that stood apart and let customers know what we’re about.”

Michael Graham, Co-Owner, Austin Beerworks

Creating bold and iconic brand language.

One challenge in extending the brand was to balance a strong, consistent identity system that jumps off the shelf with more insight into the quality of the beer and the personality of the brand.

We took the simple brand language and built-in elements that add flexibility and keep it from getting boring. The proprietary brand language allows the brewery to scale and stay playful for years to come without the need to ever update their core identity. We worked to find untapped opportunities to push the brewery’s brand into new touchpoints. The energetic, fresh approach to the category matches the beer itself and piques the interest of consumers.

Leveraging attention as opportunity.

Austin Beerworks’ product launch was met with an overwhelming consumer response— not just locally or regionally, but nationally. Media coverage grew exponentially over the first weeks, fueling calls from retailers as far away as New York and California and even Germany, asking to stock this regional beer that they had never even tasted.

The country cries, “show us your cans”.

Small brands are activated at the local level, for the brewery word spread fast and far. Austin Beerworks cans quickly began showing up on national television programs, publications and countless online media platforms. Suddenly the small local startup had a national audience.

Entertaining, informing and engaging beer drinkers.

Early attention offered an opportunity to tell more of a story, and to entertain and inform our new audience. The simplicity of the design system translated beautifully to digital devices. We created an interactive online diagram that teaches visitors about the brewer’s unique process, along with a few nods to their sense of humor. These guys take beer seriously, but not themselves. Believe it or not, “milking the unicorn” isn’t a step in making beer.

Demystifying the brewing process by adding a unicorn.

A parallax-scrolling brewing chart interacts with visitors to communicate both the brewery’s process and personality. Pictograms explain how each phase of making beer translates to the final product while tongue-in-cheek copy allows the brewery to have some fun with visitors.

Social media and unicorns.

What began as a small joke became a surprisingly big hit online, and spawned unexpected acts of brand loyalty: a cycling team, unsolicited tattoos, ABW-themed superheroes and more. That momentum meant a chance to engage consumers more directly, and to invite them into a conversation through social media.

As fans of the unicorn grew we gave it back in spades, launching a unicorn-themed summer seasonal and an advertising campaign letting everyone in on the secret.

A not-so-secret ingredient.

Pivoting on social media response, we worked with the brewery to create a robust conversation with the public. Brand merchandise, promotional collateral and online and print ad campaigns amplified the message that the brewery was doing something special, and let fans signify their alignment with the brewery’s sense of humor.

Real results and spirited brand management.

Austin Beerworks quickly (and quirkily) transitioned from an emerging brand to an iconic standard in Austin, growing by leaps and bounds with each passing year. As they grow, we continue to build and develop new campaigns, products and points of contact with consumers— using each as an opportunity to engage, amuse and to build loyalty.

See more projects with Austin Beerworks, including the Heavy Machinery IPA series and the world’s first 99-Pack, in our portfolio section.

“Engaging Christian during our planning stage was the luckiest thing that could have happened to us- and it worked. We immediately stood out in a sea of sameness- and since opening in 2011, our company has averaged 180% growth per year. We make badass beer, but the branding has helped."

"Aside from being uncannily talented designers, the folks at Helms Workshop are just a great group of people. After working together for over 4 years, we haven’t ever had so much as an argument.” 

Michael Graham, Co-Owner of Austin Beerworks
Helms Workshop®