As one of the biggest success stories to come out of Tampa’s craft beer scene, Cigar City Brewing is helping tell the city’s story on taps and store shelves around the world. But until a total brand refresh last year, that story was a little unclear.
Cigar City Brewing’s original logo, created to look like a watercolor painting, contained dozens of different colors and was difficult to print and nearly impossible to read from across a room. What’s more, the logo was represented differently on each of the brewery’s cans — an orange and yellow version on Jai Alai, a baby blue and cream version on Florida Cracker, and so on.
“The previous lineup wasn’t necessarily a cohesive look,” says Cigar City Brewing marketing manager Caitlin Gold. “On the shelf, you might not have known that Maduro was made by the same people who made Lager and Jai Alai. We absolutely kept cohesion in mind when working through the [design] refresh of each can.”
In late 2017, the brewery worked with the craft beer branding agency The Brandit to revamp the Cigar City Brewing logo. The company transitioned to a much simpler three-color mark (made up of the deeply Ybor shades Rich Tobacco Brown, Aged Brick Red and Antique Parchment) that still pays homage to Tampa’s cigar industry but is much more packaging-friendly. A two-color version of the logo is printed identically on each of the brewery’s cans to help establish brand continuity across all of its beers.
“We wanted to maintain the personality and history of the original logo while evolving it to be a cleaner and more recognizable image, regardless of scale or the medium it is applied to, from cans to shirts to pints,” Gold says.
The design of each beer can got a major overhaul as well. Cigar City Brewing enlisted the help of an artist to create unique line drawings that contain subtle allusions to both the liquid inside the can and the piece of Tampa culture the beer’s name references. For example, Cigar City’s most popular beer — the hop-forward Jai Alai — features illustrations of both hops and figures playing the traditional game of jai alai on the can; cans of Maduro, named for the style of cigar, are adorned with images of Ybor City’s iconic street lamps and factory workers hand-rolling cigars.
All of our art is really intricate and indicative of the liquid and history of each beer,” Gold says. “On a shelf, it pulls you in. It’s kind of like when people are quiet talkers. You have to lean in and listen to appreciate the whole story. To me, it’s a visual representation of that.”
Since its founding on Spruce Street in 2009, Cigar City Brewing has grown to have a distribution footprint in 32 states and a dozen international markets — totals that are growing constantly. Speeding that process along was the brewery’s 2016 acquisition by CANarchy, a craft beer collective funded in part by the Boston-based Fireman Capital. The new business model increased Cigar City’s brewing capacity from 65,000 barrels a year in 2016 to 140,000 barrels a year in 2018 and gave the company the ability to produce beer at CANarchy breweries around the country. Brands like Jai Alai, Maduro and Invasion are spreading bits of Tampa culture to each corner of the brewery’s distribution — even right here in the Bay area. Marketing manager Gold cites the beer Guayabera, named for the traditional Latin American men’s button-down shirt sometimes called a “Mexican wedding shirt,” as one that gives Cigar City the chance to teach consumers something new.
“With any of our beers, people might not automatically get the reference [of the beer’s name], but that’s the fun part for us — having that description on the side of the can and saying, this is why the beer is called what it is,” Gold says. “There are people outside of Tampa, and even within Tampa, who might not know what a guayabera is. That education piece is part of the fun.”
An inevitable part of change is resistance to it. While the brewery did receive some initial pushback to the new branding (complaints tended to center around the designs’ simplicity and perceived “corporate” feel), Gold says the refresh has been largely well-received. More than anything, it’s given Cigar City Brewing a second chance to tell its story on its own terms.
“When you compare the individual cans side by side, some changes can seem drastic, but looking at the overall picture it tells a better story of the cohesion we were looking to achieve, while still allowing each beer to tell its own story,” Gold says. “We wanted consumers to be able to look down the bar or at a grocery shelf and be able to identify right away that they were looking at a Cigar City Brewing beer.”