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Monday, February 15, 2010

Brand Dissection: Hopworks Urban Brewery

This is the second part of what I hope will be an ongoing series of brand dissections. For an introduction to the idea behind the series, have a look at this post. Last time, I looked at Rogue Ales, and one of the consistent comments was "I hope you look at smaller breweries, too." So this time I thought I'd look at one of the most distinctively branded brewpubs in Portland, Hopworks Urban Brewery.

Christian Ettinger founded Hopworks just about two years ago. He had already logged over a decade in the brewing business, though, and so he'd put a lot of thought into what the new place would look like.
"Being the son of an architect, a German architect at that, who was very image-oriented in terms of quality and design and the function that follows—so it was never good or better, it was always 'best.' I spent my childhood touring architectural wonders around the country. That was our vacations, going to see the Guggenheim and Taliesin. So a heavy design influence early on. And also the German, anal-retentiveness, where you always seek for that perfection; knowing you never quite get there, but knowing that there is something better than what everyone else is doing, you just gotta find it."
There's a big difference between a production brewery and a brewpub. Brewpubs have a physical presence that anchors the brand. When you walk into hopworks, the sense of an architecturally intentional identity is obvious instantly. For me, structural design underscores everything Hopworks does. (It's instructive that the beer was ready long before the building. Brewpubs often emphasize the dining space, focusing on the diners' experience. Hopworks reverses that; diners are put in the brewery's space--you feel the sense of the whole no matter where you are in the building.)

Other elements of the physical space jump out, too: the bicycle frames that extend like ribwork (or buttresses) above the bar; a large round window in a corner of the pub; pony kegs sliced in half to create planters. The pub boasts of a green, organic ethos and yet is in an entirely industrial context.

Elements of the Brand
These disparate elements are not random. Ettinger had a series of influences he was trying to incorporate into the design. Working with a graphic artist, they decided that the three elements of the brand would be colors, font, and a logo. They should all be distinctive so that if you used one in isolation, it would still instantly communicate the Hopworks brand.

The element Ettinger calls the logo is the sun/target circle image behind the name. Although it's the least distinctive of the three elements, in many ways, it is the thing that for Ettinger most represents the brewery. What you see in the physical pub Ettinger sees in the circles:
"You have all these circular things which are very literally translated into: the cycle of life, oxygen-nitrogen cycle, all these different things that are responsible for life and the health of those different systems we all rely on. Agriculture. So the circle just kept popping up—the bicycle wheel, the cog, all these industrial things, a keg of beer on its side. You’re always returning to the same point, but it’s the journey.
For me, most memorable element is the font. I always related to it as an echo of the architectural themes. It's blocky, like wood or buildings. The lines are square rather than round, which suggested the German influence. But in fact, the font is--like Rogue's symbolism--from the iconic socialist era.
"We were looking at these Russian Constructivist design books. I like the working-class elements that are present, and the bold use of colors and the very angular and industrial [lines]. Living in Germany in ’93 just after the wall came down and being able to walk through East Berlin and seeing just what it looked like. That drab, post-communist look. I guess it spoke to me."
Hopworks has a brand that works in contrasts--a reflection of Ettinger's style. You see it through the brewery, and you see it in the circle logo and the square font. Small breweries have an advantage over large ones: they are free to communicate specific identities that will appeal to some people and leave others cold. Hopworks' font is a great example. It's bold and memorable. It's not the kind of font that appeals to me, but it's effective at communicating brand and sticking in my memory. I can see a row of 22s and spot Hopworks from 20 feet--just because I can see that font.

Another element of the Hopworks brand is the 1970s. That large circular window, the banana bicycle seats in the men's bathroom (I can't speak for the women's!), and the colors. I find all of these suggestive of the colors and shapes that surrounded me growing up. I think Ettinger is roughly my same age, and I wonder if this isn't a bit of Gen X influence. Here's Christian describing the color palette:
"The colors are very warm and sunny, you’ve got orange and red—or how you look at it, kind of marigold, kind of yellow-orange and reddish orange as well. And also high-contrast; you’ve got that black to anchor you. I love high contrast"
I forgot to ask Christian about the name, but at this point it seems self-evident. "Hopworks" was almost an inevitable name--it's so good that eventually some brewery was going to run with it. But Ettinger added the "Urban Brewery" which stand as useful qualifiers, but also--and this is ultimately the point--allow him to use the acronym "HUB." The idea of the hub is perfectly in keeping with the idea of circularity, of integration, and of community that Ettinger mentioned as we started. HUB is mainly used in visual representation. Verbally, "HUB" pitches you into confusion; Hopworks is far better as a communication of location.

Brand Success
Brewpubs don't always have the same level of attention to brand that production breweries necessarily must. I started with Hopworks because I find it to be such a strange and potent cocktail of brand elements. With a strong brand, you are actually influenced in the way your relate to not only the pub, but the beer. "Brand" has a negative connotation with some folks, but if you think of it as "personality" instead, you get a sense of its effect. Hopworks communicates its personality on a number of levels, some subtle, some obvious, and I was pleased to learn that the intention behind the brand is consonant with how I relate to the brewery. That seems like the final mark of success: does the brand communicate what you want it to? (It's slightly different from "does the brand make you like the product?"--which is almost impossible to engineer.) By this definition, Hopworks nailed it.

PHOTO: HUB cap by Drinks with Nathan. | Share


  1. Hopworks did nail it. Once opened... I have never seen a Brewpub explode quite like Hopworks. Full bottling almost immediately.. branding, logos... marketing tools.. and lots of them right down to the bottle opener key chains.

    A few months into their opening, it is almost as if they had been open for many years. Success was known while HUB was still just in the brainstorming phases.

    A favorite of mine for sure.

  2. Very impressive branding and marketing right out of the box, like DOSiR said. And excellent beer.

    They're logo and font are excellent in my opinion. But I think their 22-oz bottles are a mess. Too much stuff crammed on there.

    Every time I've read quotes from Ettinger he sounds pretty full of himself, and a bit self-righteous about the organic/sustainability angle. But he's obvioulsy a heck of a brewer and businessman, so what can one say....

  3. This paper, dated 06/01/2007, was taped to the wall during HUB construction. An early glimpse into the brand?

    Nice article Jeff!

  4. Maybe I'm confused?

    Unlike Rogue which in known throughout the USA and even abroad, Hopworks is primarily known in Oregon and maybe a trickle out of state. To successfully "brand" oneself or product wouldn't they need to have wide spread recognition? Local success verses nationally known BRANDING is reaching. 7/11 is known across the country as a highly branded name, but few have ever heard of Plaid Pantry. Lucky for them. :-)

    It would be easy to say Rogue has been successful at branding themselves just by taking a pole around our country. How would Hopworks fare?

  5. Brand communication can occur locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. The strength of a brand is not whether it has national reach. It is whether it communicates successfully to the intended target, in this case primarily Portland, i.e. "Urban."
    I think it is worth mentioning the very intentional use of bicycles and active transportation as part of HUB's brand. As an aside, their "beer bike" has been seen all over the country, at least online. Ettinger and HUB are very closely aligned with bicycling, almost as much as New Belgium, though on a more local scale.
    It is interesting that these first two brand reviews feature breweries who have planned their brand long before the beer was brewed. It will be interesting to see how other, less well-planned brands stack up. Nicely done, Jeff.

  6. Hopworks has done an excellent job with branding. A person can easily pick out a a Hopworks t-shirt on someone long before they are close enough to read it. Helping the branding is the amazing brews that come out of that building.

    I will be interested to see if Hopworks has the national/international brand recognition Rogue currently enjoys after it has been around for 20 more years. I have a feeling they will be doing well. They won a gold and silver metal in the World Beer Cup in 2008. Not bad for an international competition their rookie year.

  7. Thanks for the comments, folks. These posts take a fair amount of time, so it's nice to see them generate some discussion. (Time well spent, though--so far the research has been fascinating.)

  8. for some reason, HUB's logo - font and coloring - causes a strongly adverse, almost painfully visceral, reaction in me. whenever i drive by, i'm utterly appalled by their logo.

    i know i'm in the minority, but it's true. i'm not entirely sure why either, but the reaction is so strong, i never want to go in.

  9. hub: a center around which other things revolve or from which they radiate; a focus of activity, authority, commerce, transportation, etc.: Chicago is a railroad hub.

    I personally don't think there is a more appropreate word than hub to verbally communicate location, importance and center of activity. I certainly wish there was a beer hub like this in my town.

  10. Anon - In my interactions with Christian I've found him humble and gracious. He is clearly passionate about what he does and why he does it. I don't think that makes him full of himself to get excited to talk about the realization of his life's dream.

    Mark - The brand didn't come before the beer. Christian was an accomplished and well known brewer in his previous life at Laurelwood. The beer was in place, it was the brand that needed to be made.

    In a crowded beer market such as Portland, competent brewing is not enough to ensure success when opening a new brewery. The brand is important and Hopworks nailed it.

  11. Joe,

    Your point is important. Certainly, Ettinger was brewing and was successful at that trade before HUB came along. The point I am trying to make is that brand considerations were paramount, it seems, long before HUB opened its doors, much like what has been reported about Rogue.

    Whether a person is a homebrewer chasing a dream or an accomplished brewer looking for his own niche, most in the business have beer making in their portfolio before they open their doors. Success is rarely determined in the beer business, in my opinion, by accomplished brewing skills absent fundamental marketing considerations. On that point, we agree completely. I can think of several highly skilled brewers and their breweries who have wandered in the brand wilderness.
    (There seem to be two Marks commenting here. I'm the one with comment #5)

  12. These two dissections have been excellent. You have a keen understanding of what makes brands work, or at least you seem to from where I read. And I like that you are able to separate discussion of beer quality from discussion of brand quality. Please keep these up.

    I do wonder however, if you haven't misidentified the artistic roots of the brand graphics/fonts in both.

    Socialist realism is normally defined by stark lighting choices and exaggerated physical characteristics of strength: broad shoulders, well defined muscles, uplifted gazes or people actually working. Obviously present in Nazi Germany and communist Russia, especially under Stalin, but also present in the works of the three big Mexican muralists of the same era (Rivera, Orozco, and Siquieros).

    The Rogue lables are clearly (to me) more in line with Rosie the Riveter, We Can Do it! and the Uncle Sam posters, with a more balanced and realistic lighting, a generally softer palette, and more realistic (less expressionist) features. Norman Rockwellian... Workers are featured, but not necessarily while working and not necessarily physically impressive.

    Please know I'm not reacting to the phrase "socialist" here. I love socialist realist art. One of our Indiana breweries (New Albanian Brewing Company) uses a very strict and clear socialist realist branding apparatus and I love it.

    As far as font is concerned, merely being blocky isn't quite good enough. It lends an industrial air, but not necessarily a socialist realist one. While some very socialist realist posters use san serif font, the official font of the nazi regime was Fraktur a serif font like HUB's but not a particularly blocky one.

    I know this comment is mostly semantic in nature and beside the point. Your analysis of intent and effect remain absolutely correct. But the dissections are so good I would like to see a more refined approach to the specific stylistic genres at work. If I am wrong and you have a different understanding of the socialist realist genre and what characterizes it then I apologize in advance.

    Again, great work.

  13. Jim, thanks for the comments.

    On the Rogue thing, it is a slight melange of styles, but I think that, with the clear emphasis on work, the bulging muscles and broad shoulders (not to mention the socialist salute), there are a lot of socialist realism in the Rogue art. There is a related style known as "heroic" realism, which was used by both the communists and the Nazis (and arguably Americans). So it's all in the mix.

    As for Hopworks' font, I plead ignorance. I quote Christian here, who is in a position to know. And in the FWIW category, he believes it was called "Red October."

  14. Heroic realism is a catchall genre that definitely includes the Rogue and New Albanian graphics but, without proper care, could be extended all the way back to the nationalist art of the late 18th/early 19th centuries...which is related in theme but not in style. I can't believe that my art history classes (and Wikipedia) have let me down like this! There must be a named genre for that post-socialist realism moment in American iconography that includes Uncle Sam posters but not Ayn Rand book covers.

    Thanks for the reply. It is hard to argue with the inclusion of the upraised fist, that much is certain.

  15. Keep up these posts, Jeff. Well done and interesting....

  16. Me needs to go to art school and biz school to read beer blogs. Wow! Some of those comments are like blog posts. Interesting stuff.

  17. I too am enjoying this series, Jeff. Your posts are well written and have certainly given me some food for thought.

    HUB has certainly nailed an image and style that is visually simplistic yet immediately recognizable and familiar. It's also consistent through the organization. All good qualities, the way I see it.

  18. Jeff -

    As a PR dork who's attempting to steer his agency into the craft beer industry (mostly out of the hope that retainer fees will be paid entirely in beer), I can't tell you how invaluable these brand dissection posts are.

    Please consider this a hearty endorsement and by all means, keep 'em coming!

  19. Chris, thanks much. As a guy who's NOT a PR guy--and finds the science mystifying--I'm glad to hear I'm not too far off in the weeds. I'll keep posting these every couple three weeks or so until they start to seem redundant.

  20. Thanks to all the folks, who said nice words about the font used in Hopworks signage and labels. yes, I can confirm that this is my own Red October font. I have been contacted long time ago by a local (to Hopworks) designer and she asked me if she can use it for a limited series of beer labels. While I would never imagine my font on a beer label, I said what I usually say - okay, if you intend to use it in a commercial project, I wont mind few bucks donated to my Paypal account, that's all - whatever you decide. After all, Beck's that I drink here also costs money :) And I forgot about that. Few months ago she contacted me, excited to inform me that Hopworks has been featured on a national TV, on some daily show, in an article about small breweries in the States. She also said she will do what's needed so I receive my well deserved donation. So far - nothing. And Red October is not only used on their labels, but extensively on their site too. Ah, whatever - it has also been used on REPO- The Genetic Opera website, and I doesn't brought me even a dime : ) At least Rihanna's designer contacted me AFTER they used it for a cover of one of her singles.

    Thanks for your time. I hope I haven't been overly boring.

    Ivan Philipov