Pintful: With new beer branding, Lonerider Brewing looks to grow up

jfrank@newsobserver.comFebruary 19, 2013 


John Frank.


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— Take a look at the glowing beer cooler at the grocery store, or the high-stacked shelves at the local bottle shop, and the options available to craft beer drinkers can seem overwhelming at times. But amid the colorful and eclectic labels, one thing becomes clear: it takes more than good beer to catch the consumers’ attention.

“There are some great beers and great beer packaging out there,” said Sumit Vohra, the CEO at Lonerider Brewing Co. in Raleigh. “It’s a challenge to stand out.”

Soon Lonerider won’t have that problem. The Triangle’s largest brewer is embarking on an ambitious rebranding effort designed to add new life to the 4-year-old company.

The new packaging and labels – debuting on shelves in March – pop with bright, primary colors that correlate to the beer style and gritty Western characters that embody the brewery’s brand.

“We wanted to make sure it was bold and graphic enough, colorful enough, to stand out and get the attention of somebody who might like it,” Vohra said.

The rebranding also is a reaction to the raft of craft breweries flooding the scene. The new competition is making the veterans rethink their image. And in this mindset, Lonerider isn’t alone.

Carolina Brewery in Chapel Hill and Pittsboro spent years expanding its territory and now it’s “getting back to the basics,” as head brewer Jon Connolly put it, with new beer style offerings and food pairings as it marks its 18th anniversary. At a recent event co-sponsored by All About Beer magazine, the brewery’s Winter Wonder Schwarzbier matched deliciously with chocolate bread pudding.

“We are rebranding ourselves and doing something to keep people excited,” said Lauren Macaione, a brewery sales team leader.

Big and small changes

At Lonerider, the changes are big and small.

New tap handles will debut soon with a spur motif that will make them stand out on a bar’s tap wall. And the logo font changed, ever so slightly, to make the “R” in “rider” lower case to make sure people know it’s one word, not two.

“Like you check your beer every single time, you have to check your brand every single time,” Vohra said.

The biggest difference is the labels. The Western characters on the original glossy labels for Lonerider’s three trademark beers – Sweet Josie Brown Ale, Shotgun Betty Hefeweizen and Peacemaker Pale Ale – were drawn by three different illustrators and set against muted colors.

To make the new look, Vohra hired Clean Design, a Raleigh brand-marketing and design firm. Designer Jon Parker used an eye-catching wow-factor in the color scheme and illustrator Jeff Winstead upgraded the namesake characters to add a little more verve.

For instance, Shotgun Betty appears with a little more cowboy sex appeal and attitude on a bright yellow label that roughly matches the wheat beer’s color. (Matching coaster: “No, it doesn’t come with a piece of fruit” – a riff on other wheat beers like Blue Moon.)

“Even though we were making some pretty big changes graphically, the characters are still who they are,” said Scott Scaggs, Clean Design’s creative director. “It wasn’t a recasting of these characters.”

The redesign comes as the company looks to expand into the Atlanta market, its first major out-of-state venture. Lonerider began distributing kegs to the city in January and six-packs and seasonal 22-ounce bottles are next.

“North Carolina still has a lot of potential,” Vohra said. But “we think Atlanta is going to represent that next wave of growth in the craft beer market.”

Vohra sees the branding project as part of the company’s natural maturity, the next step after a major upgrade in 2012. The brewery produced 11,100 barrels in 2012 and expects to make between 17,000 and 20,000 this year.

“You have to grow up,” Vohra said. “I don’t know if we are there yet, but we are trying to.”

What I’m drinking

Like its brand, Lonerider is continually tweaking its beers – even its Great American Beer Festival 2010 gold medal winner, Sweet Josie Brown Ale.

The brewers recently adjusted the settings on the mill that crushes the grain for the brown ale, producing a much richer, roasted barley character that amps up the whole flavor of the beer.

Try it now on tap at the brewery – and in bottles soon.

Contact John at or 919-829-4698. On Twitter @ByJohnFrank.

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