How Craft Brewers Market Themselves

How Craft Brewers Market Themselves
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How Craft Brewers Market Themselves

No craft brewer can afford the $3.8 million it takes to make an appearance during the Super Bowl. For that matter, few of them can even afford a national TV ad buy.

But that doesn't mean that they steer clear of marketing altogether. Craft brewers make the most of their limited budgets by relying on everything from creative names to beautiful labels to high-profile celebrity partnerships. Here are a few ways that small brewers grab your attention without spending big bucks on traditional advertising.

Stone Brewing Co. consistently produces critically acclaimed beers, and it's a favorite of beer snobs. So the brewery had a little fun with its reputation, calling one beer "Arrogant Bastard" and another "Sublimely Self-Righteous."

Photo by: Bruno Dul7,

Another brewery, High & Mighty, picks appropriately hyperbolic names: Its signature brew is "Beer of the Gods." Another of its offerings is "Purity of Essence."

Photo: Bernt Rostad,

And sometimes, the beers are named with a bit of controversy as the goal. Such was the case with Canadian brewery Shaftebury, which decided to dub one of its beers "Four Twenty Brilliant Lager," a reference to marijuana.

If you're trying to stand out from the crowd on the shelf, why not give your beer an eye-catching label?

That's what Maryland's Flying Dog did. All of its labels are illustrated by Ralph Steadman, the artist best known for illustrating the works of gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. The elaborate, beautiful and occasionally grotesque art compliments the beers' off-color, dog-themed names, including "Raging Bitch" and "In-Heat Wheat."

Another favorite is San Francisco's 21st Amendment, whose beer cans are illustrated by British artist Joe Wilson. The brewery's Bitter American ale, for instance, bears an image of Ham the Chimp, a chimpanzee launched into outer space during the early days of the space program. While Ham survived the flight, Wilson decided that the ordeal had left him rather bitter.

Ommegang made major headlines in December when it announced a partnership with HBO to produce Iron Throne Blonde Ale, a tribute to the hit series "Game of Thrones." The beer will launch on March 31 to coincide with the debut of the show's third season, and the Cooperstown, N.Y.-based brewer of Belgian ales will also concoct new brews for subsequent seasons of the show.

Last month San Diego-based Stone Brewing Co. said it would put out Dayman Coffee IPA, a beer named for a recurring joke on the FX sitcom "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia." But this was more of an unauthorized homage than a collaboration. The beer was actually concocted and named by a homebrewer and chosen in a contest run by Stone and another brewer, Two Brothers; Stone will brew and distribute it.

It's still pretty rare to see a TV commercial for a craft beer; Samuel Adams of the Boston Beer Company is advertised on TV, but it's the exception rather than the rule.

However, Delaware-based Dogfish Head managed to break out in a big way by getting its own TV show on the Discovery Channel.

Sure, the show, "Brewmasters," ran for only a season, with just five episodes actually making it to air. But it nicely complimented the brewery's range of other marketing efforts, which included opening a beer garden/restaurant in New York City on the roof of Mario Batali's Eataly.

Craft brewing and fine dining go hand-in-hand, so it was natural that many brewers would choose to team up with celebrity chefs. Dogfish Head's team-up with Mario Batali was one such collaboration: Batali's beer garden got the cachet of one of the heavy hitters of the craft scene, while Dogfish Head got to be affiliated with a celebrity chef who has mainstream appeal.

Rogue Ales of Oregon teamed up with another "Iron Chef," Masaharu Morimoto, to develop a line of specialty ales bearing the chef's name, including Morimoto Soba Ale and Morimoto Black Obi.