“Marketing’s job is to get people to do something,” says Portland-based graphic designer Hugh McCormick. “Branding’s job is to get people to feel something.”
In a crowded marketplace packed with great beer, an affective attachment to a brewery can be the difference between what comes home and what stays on the shelf.
Hugh McCormick Design Co. (HMDC, for short) has designed logos and branding for Maine breweries Austin Street Brewery, Bissell Brothers Three Rivers, Batson River Brewing & Distilling, and Kit Brewing – winning 21 national design awards in the process. Those awards have included “crushies” from the Craft Beer Marketing Awards competition, including a recent award for work done for Battery Steele Brewing, as well as Austin Street Brewery’s rebranding and the mural of Batson River Brewing & Distilling in Bayside in 2021. HDMC also won a number of awards from Graphic Design USA in 2021 and 2022 for specific beers like Kit Brewing’s On Your Mark and a number from Austin Street, including Anton Vienna Lager, Austin Street Lager, the Narrative Pilot Series, Marquee Moon Pale Ale, Bombtrack IPA and Bennu Black IPA.
According to McCormick, a beer label should not only draw attention to itself, but also “tell the story of the beer.” This isn’t about being loud, but being “present,” McCormick says. “You want to create something interesting that grabs people’s attention, but can also look handsome in a fridge, instill confidence while in someone’s hand, and answer the question, ‘Why did the brewery make this beer?’”
To be too literal is to “take an easy way out,” he explained. “For example, let’s imagine a brewery creates a Blood Orange IPA. Now, if the label is covered in oranges… and that’s the label, it would be like painting music notes on a guitar. The story ends fairly abruptly and that’s pretty disappointing.”
Rather, he said, the design should emerge not from what’s specifically in the can, but why the brewery chose to make that beer at that time. Were they inspired by an experience? Are they trying to reinvent a mundane style? Answers to such questions should fuel the label’s visual representation of the beer.
These considerations apply to the brewery as a whole as well. From beer to logo to tasting room to merchandise, a coherent branding strategy should evoke the brewery’s culture. If it doesn’t, “then it is time for a rebrand,” said McCormick. And as a brewery matures, it might want to reassess the association between culture and visual presentation. In McCormick’s mind, a brand is “a living, breathing organism that can always be refined.”
HMDC’s work with Austin Street illustrates this point. McCormick adapted the brewery’s old and familiar mash paddle logo so that it worked more as a “symbol than an image.” From there, he developed a typography system and