Iron Horse is rebranding. Here’s what it’s gonna look like.
BUT WE’VE ALWAYS DONE IT THIS WAY– the only known quote from the Status Quo Coalition
Those seven words, arranged in that specific order, represent a mindset I have railed against for as long as I can remember. I guess, I’ve always thought that way. Hmm. Irony?
A person, a business, a project, an idea should either be moving forward (positive traction) or moving backward (learning lessons). The former is always preferred but there is a great value derived from the latter. Please don’t confuse this with intentional reflection. That’s totally different.
Here’s my rationale:
The status quo is not only boring but indicates an aversion to risk ;
an aversion to risk indicates an unwillingness to improve;
an unwillingness to improve indicates a lack of intentionality;
a lack of intentionality leads to complacency
and complacency is what leads people/companies to say
“But we’ve always done it this way”.
Nobody benefits when this happens, least of all our customers.
Yes, yes, one could argue that familiarity leads to reliability. But that’s a tactical view, we’re talking high-level stuff here. Don’t ruin my argument.
So, we caught ourselves saying that phrase a few times over the last year.
BUT FIRST, A LITTLE HISTORY
When Gary and Greg Parker purchased the brewery in 2007, (read their story here) there were approximately 1,400 breweries in the US and 96 in Washington State. There are now over 7,500 breweries nationwide and over 400 breweries in the state of Washington. Two things about this.
One, Iron Horse was lucky to get in on this at the right time.
And two, The. Market. Has. Changed.
Over the last 12 years, Iron Horse Brewery has employed over 100 people. We relocated and expanded production facilities, moved tasting rooms – twice, purchased state of the art brewing equipment, added 12oz cans, expanded our distribution footprint, implemented a new organizational management philosophy, opened and then closed a coffee stand and a few dozen other things that are worthy of mentioning, but I won’t because of time.
But, do you know what has stayed the same that entire time?
Hint: It’s not Greg’s hairstyle.
The Iron Horse Brand.
The last time Iron Horse Brewery rebranded itself was in 2007-ish..
Here’s what Greg said about that effort back then.
“I’m not sure where the first branding came from, but it is suspiciously close to the Master Brewers Association of America branding. When it comes to changing the design, I basically took a backseat as Kyle and Brad of Signdog and R.C. had their way with the brand. Brad was a pretty big fan of Adler at that time so it was no surprise. You will see the presence of it around town as a result.-Gregory D. Parker
And here’s what Ross remembers from that time of year.
Greg’s reply is pretty spot on. If you want I can add the story about my friend noticing the middle of the IHB logo had been directly lifted off of a (I think) NE brewer’s association logo. In addition, we wanted to change it because it was so basic and tired and most importantly, not us. How much more do you want me to expand?– Ross Chalstrom, Interloper of Blog Posts
That’s probably good enough, Ross. Thanks.
The Iron Horse Brewery “look and feel” has not evolved at the same pace as all of the other aspects of our company. While there have been quite a few incredibly talented people – this person in particular – helping to realize the creative vision of Iron Horse, we haven’t rebranded Iron Horse Brewery and Irish Death to accurately reflect the core principles of why we’re here and how we want to better serve customers.
Of course, building a brand identity and reputation requires patience and care and is something one cultivates over time. Brand is a long game. Some of you may have noticed how we evolved the logo from a simple stacked font to including the Irish Death Skull to adding more circles around it. We did this intentionally, but it was a stopgap. We knew that in order to do things right, it would take quite a bit of time, effort and brainpower. Well, the time is NOW.
And by now, I mean 8 months ago.
Btw, what does this mean to our fans and customers? Why should you care that we are rebranding and what value are you going to derive from it?
You tell us, but our ultimate goal is to make it easier to find iron horse products, so you can get what you need, faster. We are here to spread the magic of independent craft beer. Ultimately, beer is a social fuel designed to build camaraderie and community within your own circle. We want to help you do that.
IT ALL STARTED WITH A CONVERSATION, OH AND SOME DATA
Dane, our enthusiastic, gap-toothed redhead with business savvy that is only outmatched by his love for noodles, decided one fortuitous day to have a conversation with Oceania Eagan at Blind Tiger Design while they were both at the Craft Brewers Conference in Denver. That was a long sentence.
Dane sent me this text.
Dane: Blind Tiger is here. Shall I reach out to them?
Jared: Follow your instinct.
Dane: ?? Cryptic.
Jared: you’re welcome.
If CBC is good for one thing, it is for remembering how many badass services are out there.
It’s also kind of ironic that their conversation kicked off in Denver when our two companies are only 115 miles apart.
If you haven’t checked out Blind Tiger’s work, you should take a moment to see how they have helped shape the industry.
So, why did we choose, Blind Tiger Design? In Dane’s owns words
“Blind Tiger Design brought more than just design expertise to the project but an understanding of the ever-complicated space of Craft Beer. Sure, being able to clean up our complex design with a more streamlined approach and distinct separation of Irish Death and Iron Horse Brewery was important…but having a partner that could explain the “why” was even more reassuring. BTD looks at the business in the same light as IHB, how can we positively impact all levels of our customer base (wholesaler, retailer, and consumer) and do it in a way that leaves them wanting more?”Dane Williams
REBRANDING IS HUMBLING, EXCITING AND KINDA AWKWARD
And to add to the challenge, it must be purpose-driven.
When you spend a decade helping to build one brand – voice, packaging, design, calendars, events, and overall communication – it is hard to release those things you cherish most. I have an irrational disdain for humans who make decisions based on their ego. Not gonna lie, I had to check mine several times during this process. Word of advice for those pursuing a rebrand: Put your ego in lockbox, dig a 9-foot hole, and bury it in concrete.
We started this thing with questions.
So many questions. A plethora of questions.
How are we serving customers, now? What is the brand experience like? How do our customers feel about the iron horse? How do they feel about Irish Death? How do they make decisions in the grocery store? How are we helping them? How are making it harder for them? What are IHB’s goals? What is our story? How are helping our customers?
Iron Horse actually thrives on this part of the process. So much is discovered by simply, and continually asking questions. Especially when those questions are without judgment. What made this different and infinitely harder was, we weren’t asking the questions of ourselves, but Blind Tiger was asking it of us.
We gathered at Blind Tiger’s super rad office in Seattle. Let me tell you if you want inspiration on how to set up an uber-creative workspace, you should peek your head into their office. You might want to call ahead though – tell them Dane sent you.
Our first meeting was exciting and challenging. Shiny new projects are super fun and engaging and right where I like to live. Also, communicating one’s work for the sake of clarity WITHOUT being defensive is harder than it sounds.
Blind Tiger presented Iron Horse Brewery with an audit of our brand as they perceived it from a customer point of view. Below are a couple of slides from that initial presentation.
My response > Yeah that looks about right. A little fractured, varying degrees of roughness, deliberate lack of visual consistency, with the only throughline being irreverence and randomness. I will admit right now, this is kind of how my brain works, which is a huge red flag.
After a few rounds of meetings tons of jovial banter, and thoughtful exploration three things became clear.
IN ORDER TO BE SUCCESSFUL…
We must preserve the core DNA of Iron Horse.
( Authentic & Irreverent)
Irish Death needs to live on its own.
Iron Horse Brewery brands should tell our other story.
ON BEING AUTHENTIC & IRREVERENT
If you have ever had the pleasure of meeting Greg Parker, Ross Chalstrom, or Gary Parker, you will know that Authentic and Irreverent are exactly who they are to their core. Who they are as people, is what guided Iron Horse’s brand direction The distribution of these two qualities varies based on the person. While it is perhaps irresponsible to build a brand around individual personalities, it is kinda what happened, accidentally on purpose. If you search for “authentic brands” or “authentic marketing” you will quickly realize it is one of the most overused buzz words in the last 3-5 years. Sorry about that.
For Iron Horse, authentic means – telling the truth, stating our intentions clearly, owning failures, celebrating wins and embracing uncertainty head-on.
Irreverence means – not taking ourselves seriously or much else that isn’t of qualitative scientific value, remembering we have a role to play but we’re not solving global hunger or saving lives, and allowing authenticity to manifest itself from a humorous point of view.
IRISH DEATH & IRON HORSE BREWERY ARE THE SAME. OR ARE THEY?
Despite years of our selfish desire and effort to help customers better connect iron horse brewery to Irish Death, we have finally come to the conclusion everyone was screaming at us. Irish Death is its own brand.
You were right. More on that in a second. We’re almost to the exciting part.
On the other hand, what about the 5,000 bbl brewery that is Iron Horse?
We decided very early on that each brand should have its own marks, its own distinct story allowing them to stand on their own. The way, ahem, Irish Death did. Weird that we took that approach, right? This approach may have continued to work if it wasn’t for those dang market dynamics. We knew we had to rethink how IHB was represented out in the world.
If Irish Death and Iron Horse Brewery really were to become two distinct brands, then we had to double down on clarifying our purpose, how we exist and what are the distinguishing features between Irish Death and Iron Horse Brewery.
Funny enough it came down to two words, with the order being the differentiator.
Irish Death (death family series) = Irreverent & Authentic
Iron Horse Brewery = Authentic & Irreverent
I’ll try to be brief in the explanation because hopefully, it is obvious.
Irish Death has a skull and the word death in it. We don’t want people/beer to die; quite the opposite actually, we genuinely want people to thrive and be merry. It is through irreverence, we are authentically wanting people to enjoy themselves.
Iron Horse Brewery has been quite lucky – timing, location, a great product, amazing humans that work in this small, central Washington town. It is these humans who genuinely love what they do that has helped propel Iron Horse to where it is today. Authentic human beings, loving their work, committed to making a product that customers love. It hasn’t always been easy, but with grit and humor, they/we get it done. Authentic & Irreverent.
Okay, this is the moment 3 of you have patiently been waiting for.
NEW LOOK, STILL DEAD
That is the theme for the next 6 months. Irish Death is not an entirely new look, although we pursued that early on. We decided the skull and crossbones had enough distinction and familiarity that it wasn’t worth replacing. Instead, what Blind Tiger focused on here was a super clean design system to allow Irish Death to tell its story. ADLER IS GONE. Font nerds will love that. In fact, the BTD team created a custom type just for the Death Family.
What is the Death Family you ask? Great question. In addition to reworking Irish Death, Blind Tiger also helped us put together a series of Irish Death inspired beers, now known as the Death Family.
PB & Death, Aloha Death & your favorite, Mocha Death.
We are really excited to see these packages and brands hit the market. Yes, some of my personal faves have been removed (square root of 36 pack, a few little content easter eggs, etc), but the trade-off for a tighter design that makes it easier for you to find our product seems like the way to go.
What do you think? What’s your first impression when you see this? email me or text me – 310 259 9290. We’d love to hear from you on this.
As previously mentioned, Iron Horse Brewery is made up of some incredible humans, who are determined to make kick-ass products. Even more so, our most avid fans reflect this “thing” we admire most. Grit.
This was by far the hardest portion of the rebranding effort. We had to remove everything we thought we knew about Iron Horse, to get to the heart of what we actually knew. Dane and I had quite a few different ideas and approaches we’d like to see pursued; Blind Tiger had their versions of what we talked about. At one point, after a few different rounds of designs and concepts, we decided to pause and dig into what problem we were solving. This led to uncovering stories, common and distinct about the landscape surrounding Iron Horse Brewery – literally and metaphorically.
The Manashtash Ridge – a semi rigorous hike familiar to locals and travelers alike; Smiley Cliffs on the Yakima river; Barns, barns, barns. Central Washington University. The place that people stop to get petrol. (I just couldn’t say gas). Locals who will vehemently argue with each other over bike lanes, and then show up at a fundraiser and bond over the common cause. Long, enduring roots. Determination. Grit.
We kept coming back to that word. Grit. Kittitas County residents value this in spades. And it is exactly that attribute which propelled Iron Horse Brewery to where we are today.
The typeface is new. The color scheme is inspired by retro, vintage signs. Imagery will consist of halftone photography and hand-drawn overlays. We will be introducing physical landscapes into this look. Once the packaging is ready for prime time, we will update this post with it below.
SO, WHEN IS THIS REBRAND ACTUALLY HAPPENING?
The short answer. Over the next 6 months. The long answer. Systematically, based on existing brand inventory, depletion rates, and as new designs get produced.
In the meantime, below is a draft of our 2020 Brand Calendar, which tells you roughly when each beer will be released.
And here’s a screenshot of our project related to when certain packages will be rebranded.
Whewww! You made it to the end. Bravo, Bravo.
Here’s what we know. We won’t get this 100% right. There will be some existing brands that will be out in the market when the new packages are released. Outdated logos and posters and tap handles will continue to live along these refreshed and inspiring designs.
A huge thanks to Blind Tiger Design for their great work. More importantly, thanks to you, our fans, customers and future craft beer drinkers for joining in on the fun while we see what the next 10 years look like for Iron Horse Brewery.
Also, Good Riddance, Adler.