29 May Fountain Square Brewing Refreshes It’s Brand on the Way to Building Something Bigger
The sale of brewery can result in many things. Perhaps everything will change, heck, they could close for gosh sakes. But more likely there will be some range of changes, from a significant overhaul to practically no visible differences at all. One things is for sure, regardless of the number of changes, there’s almost no immediate way of telling if an ownership switch will be a good thing or a bad thing. You have to let things play out.
Fountain Square Brewing in Indianapolis went through an ownership change early this year, but the changes are just now becoming apparent. I think it’s quite possible that these changes will be for the much better – not just the plain old better. The new owners are an investment group from Lafayette, and they have put Brad Smith (lately of Brokerage Brewing in West Lafayette) in charge as the president and general manager. Brad’s both a beer guy and a marketing guy, and my conversation with him last month hinted that Fountain Square is in good hands.
I’m not a business guy by any stretch of the imagination, but talking with Brad gave me a sense of the vision and enthusiasm he has for Fountain Square. What he is undertaking is technically called a rebranding, but that’s just jargon to me; my take is that he’s trying to re-establish Fountain Square’s relationship to their drinkers, both in the taproom and out in the bars and liquor stores.
In both cases, Fountain Square has determined that it is the experience that connects craft beer to the craft beer drinker. They know that craft beer is a communal experience; you associate it with an experience or a memory, and Brad wants Fountain Square want to help you reconnect that memory with your beer. Smell and taste are the senses tied most closely to memory, so a good beer is an amazing trigger for memories as well as a fantastic catalyst to make new ones. In short, Fountain Square wants to be the beer for life’s greatest moments.
Using this as an underlying theme, Fountain Square is undertaking a refresh of their brand across all platforms. The rebranding is being carried out in three steps. Step 1 was a reworking of the taproom and to make their beers more accessible and to massage how people see and think of Fountain Square. The taproom has been redone and simplified. Food is out and the dogs are back in. New art is on the walls, and that art reflects the philosophy of the refresh. The changes to the taproom make it more accessible to the patrons, as does the other part of the first step – the beer packaging.
The second step will be to loose the chains on head brewer Mike Grap. He hasn’t been held back to this point per se, but innovation in small batches and seasonals are going to play more prominent roles as they move forward. Step 3……well, let’s just say that the final portion will be barrels of fun, but we’ll talk about that last.
New packing is a large part of brand refresh. Brad says that Fountain Square will continue to bottle beer in distribution for the time being, but will eventually move toward cans, as most everyone is. On those new bottles and the future cans, Fountain Square is using both the text and visual aspects to get the experiential message across at the purchaser both explicitly and implicitly. The packaging and text is all about two things: connecting Ftn. Sq. beer to great events in your life; and being accessible enough that you don’t have to be a beer geek to understand what they’re going for in their beer.
The implicit part of that formula is addressed by some brilliantly subtle aspects on the packaging. Fountain Square beer is already great; what Brad and his team want to do now is raise the packaging up to the level of the beer. Each beer package will have small background images that evoke certain experiences (see images at left and below). The Workingman’s Pilsner has icons of fun activities – things to do with friends – active and reflective items that bring specific memories to mind. The idea is that you will then connect that beer to the good memories – and then Fountain Square beer is a part of your experiences.
Also on the packaging is text to be more explicit with Fountain Square’s messages. Each package expresses the theme of the brewery: 1) Identify the life moment, 2) Bring the perfect beer, 3) Be the hero. Those are pretty simple instructions. This will reinforce the iconography of the packaging, complemented by the simplification of the Fountain Square logo itself. But beyond that, the packaging will convey the essence of the beer in a way that is inviting, not one that makes people believe they need some special vocabulary to get along.
Describing beers should be at a level that everyone can understand, and that people with more knowledge can expand on. You can talk about the hops and the nose and mid-fermentation versus post fermentation dry hopping, but perhaps it’s time to build a description to which everyone can relate. For the new pilsner packaging, the description is quite apt, “Fresh bread aromas proceed a subtle malty sweetness & crisp refreshing finish.” Yep, that’s a pilsner.
Look for the new packaging in stores from the last part of May to mid-June – sleek lines, simplified logo, bold colors, and good iconography/text will really make them stand out on the shelves. But that isn’t the end of the changes for Fountain Square. There will also be small tweaks to the beer lineup.
Head brewer Mike Grap has some things that he has been wanting to do for a while, including a quarterly SMaSH (single malt, single hop) series, with a variation of hops and malts that will provide a refreshing change of flavors but also a bit of beer education about the attributes of specific ingredients for the beer geeks amongst us. These might go out for distribution or might be taproom only beers, but regardless, look for more seasonal and one off beers from Mike.
It’s a certainty that some seasonals will stay, like the Count Nibula Milk Stout and the Hop Your Face Imperial IPA, they’re just to good to let go away, but look for more to come. Mike has had freedom to do things in the past, but look for innovation on steroids in the near future.
Step three of the changes at Fountain Square is a secret – so keep this under your hat. Brad has an old college friend who happens to own a distillery in Indiana. And not just any distillery, the only one who has broken the code to making a great sweet corn bourbon. Old 55 Distillery in Newtown, IN (~20 miles SW of Lafayette) makes a 100% sweet corn bourbon, the first of its kind and quite a step forward in bourbon production. It’s sweeter, light, and a straight Indiana product. What’s more important is that the barrels are making their way to Fountain Square Brewing.
Ten barrels which used to be home to Old 55 100% sweet corn bourbon are holding the Fountain Square Backyard Porter as we speak. Give it a few months on wood and that’s going to be one fine BBA porter. This is the direction that Fountain Square is moving; with one offs, bourbon barrel brews, and taproom or package releases that will build the reputation and mystique of the brewery.
We have spoken of four aspects of the brand refresh at Fountain Square: restoration of a good old-fashioned taproom, new packaging to highlight the philosophy of the brewery, increasing the range and variety of beers produced, and using a unique Indiana product to enhance their own uniquely Indiana product. Singly, they represent nice additions/changes. Taken together, they make for a new Fountain Square. But none of it would matter if they didn’t have the right people.
Brad told me, “The people and beer are your foundation. At Fountain Square the people are stellar and the beer is solid, now we want to build it and take the brewery in a new direction, tying our foundations to new experiences for the patron.” The primary goal is to build the message that Fountain Square produces “phenomenal occasion-specific beer that is simple to understand and easy to enjoy.” If they happen to expand to statewide and then regional distribution as a result of the brand refresh – all the better.