Monday, March 12, 2007

Oregon Beer Grows Up

We’re not the new kids on the block anymore.

By “we” I mean Portland brewers, and as such, the “we” is a bit of a stretch. I’m a mere homebrewer, not a pro. The ones with mortgages on the line are the ones I really mean here.

What brings this about is a press release and accompanying graphics for an old friend. An old friend, that is, with a new name, and a new face. MacTarnahan’s Brewing Company, née Portland Brewing, who will celebrate their coming of legal age - 21 years – with a party (“Mac’s Madness”) this Wednesday at 5 PM in the taproom.

At the party, they’ll “reintroduce” MacTarnahan’s Amber Ale (also born with a different name – it was a “Scottish Ale” in its youth). If you find this old sawhorse in the stores, you’ll notice it has a new label. Gone are the green tartans of yesteryear. Here today is a crisp, clean, modern look – market-researched to connote maturity, combined with a sense of modernity. We’re big boys now, the label says, not those upstarts brewing out of the back of a basement. You can rely on us now.

Indeed, you can. Mac’s is a reliably decent beer, one that will provide a full-bodied, nutty caramel flavor and a gentle dose of hops. Not a tongue-ripping Northwest IPA, nor a body-building bock; just a nice, clean, reliable amber. Good for a cookout, or a cool-down on a spring afternoon once the gardening’s done.

The new image is consistent with the trend of its companions around the state. Take, for example, Full Sail and Deschutes. I pulled a couple of bottles from my stash recently. Here’s what they used to look like:

And now, the current packaging:

Apologies for the Mercator-to-Amber switch on Full Sail... I don’t have a direct comparable label, but the old ones were as similar to each other as the new ones are, so I think you get the picture.

And that picture is: We’re serious about brewing in Oregon now. We’re not the brash kids, decorating our labels with cute graphics that make you curious. We’re presentable. We want to be served at the symphony as well as the barbecue.

So, to whom goeth the job of the brash, young brewer, yearning to stand amongst the crowded shelves?

Is that not Oregon’s place in the beer firmament any longer?


PDXBeer said...

Great piece. I wish you had written it for Guest on Tap. As a marketing guy, I find the tread to product packaging marketing a sign of increased pressure for sales at the off-premises locations/grocery stores. With the increased accountability being put on the chains i.e. Safeway, Kroeger(I mean Fred Meyer), and Albertson's, the breweries have to get their products noticed on the shelves. If you want to see the extreme of this business, look at the money put into labeling and packaging in the wine industry. Over 70 percent of most wine companies marketing budgets go into packaging. This of course does not include trade/distribution marketing fees i.e. slotting allowances at the grocery store level.

This tread in Beer packaging could be seen a couple of years ago even more. Gary, if you were to look at what happened with Widmer and BridgePort's packaging, you would see some really expensive changeds to the packaging. They both poured extensive amounts of dollars into bottle, logo, and label design.

More recently, Rogue's packaging has taken it to an extreme. As noted in your Guest on Tap story on the New Beers.
In any case, great story keep up the great blog work.
Cheers, Respect Beer!
Guest on Tap
The Beer Advocate

Portermaker said...

Thanks for the kind words. I wasn't sure that GOT would be interested in an opinion piece like this and it also came about rather quickly, but I'll keep that in mind for future, similar articles.

Jeff Alworth said...

I dunno, I think breweries went "mature" about a decade ago. When I first started writing about beer, an interesting thing was happening at the breweries--instead of brewers interacting with media, they sent you to marketers, who tried to get you to talk about the "brand."

Portland Brewing has always been as they are--a brand seeking to gain affection through "maturity" rather than brazen brewing chops. Ironically, the two breweries you cite as having grown up are two of the most innovative--Full Sail has gone in an interesting direction with its lagers, but remains a free spirit, and Deschutes is the standard-bearer for experimentation. Look at the new beers they released last year ALONE--it was stunning.

So yeah, they gotta compete in the marketplace, but except in the case of the erstwhile PBCo (no longer an "Oregon" brewery), I don't see any evidence of overt seriousness. There are tattoes and pierceings under the business suits....

(Plus, there are brewpubs, if you want to get really radical.)