Advanced Oak: Behind the Design

August 17th, 2018
By Brian Stechschulte, Director of Marketing

A New Identity for Drake’s Barrel-Aging Program

At the beginning of 2018, we decided to change the name, look, and feel of Drake’s barrel-aging program. Barrel Program Manager, Travis Camacho, and his team, have been consistently turning out beautifully delicious beers, but a new identity was needed. An identity that captures the complexity, creativity, and personality of each beer, but also embodies the spirit of the program and how it fits within Drake’s Brewing. More importantly, we wanted the label art to be engaging and tell a story.

The new Advanced Oak series will debut at our 29th Anniversary Party on August 25th. Tasting tickets and bottles can be pre-purchased in advance. In the meantime, learn more about the concept of the series and how it came to fruition.  

Story & Inspiration

Before we started pondering a new name for the barrel-aged series, or dreaming of imagery, we looked to our past, built a story, and found inspiration. Drake’s Brewing is currently housed in a complex that began its life as a Dodge car plant, and later became a Caterpillar tractor factory. Drake’s Dealership is located in a former Dodge showroom. Clearly our home and operations are industrial, and Drake’s has often embraced that visual identity with streamlined, yet gritty looking package designs.

With that history in mind, we started to think of the barrel-aging program as the company’s secret industrial science lab. The program currently occupies a nondescript, unmarked structure, which is often referred to as building #170. It’s filled with barrel-aging experiments, funky yeast, production equipment, oak foudres, barrels, and a few other things we can’t tell you about. The isolation prevents sour beer yeast, like brettanomyces, from contaminating our non-sour beers, and ensures that we never really know what the brewers are working on.

After mining history and building a story we looked for visual inspiration. We quickly focused on industrial science imagery. Textbook covers and educational posters from the 1950s and 1960s were particularly striking. We gravitated towards simple representations of abstract scientific processes, that were colorful, iconic, and elegant. They helped us establish a jumping off point with our design team.

The Name: Advanced Oak

Until now, the barrel-aging program at Drake’s was called the OAK Project, and each bottle was part of our Barrel House Reserve series. The goal for a new identity was establishing a single name that embodied company history, our story, inspiration, and ultimately the creativity of the brewers. We held a series of brainstorming sessions to tackle the name, pouring over countless options, which proved to be one of the more challenging tasks of the process.

The word “oak” was determined to be an essential component of the series name. It’s a key ingredient in the barrel-aging process. Both wine and spirit barrels are made of oak, and the word helps people identify the type of beer they’re looking at on the shelf. It’s why many breweries use barrel-aged or barrel reserve on bottles. Oak provides just a bit more specificity.

Choosing a word that worked well with Oak was the hard part. Whatever we picked needed to properly represent the barrel program, fit the overall theme, inspiration, and identity of Drake’s Brewing. We wanted a word that communicated experimentation, technical craftsmanship, purposeful development, and something that’s new and not generally accepted. After considering numerous options and word combinations, the word Advanced hit all the right notes.

Together, Advanced Oak sounds like the name of an experimental manufacturing company. It also captures the industrial spirit of the post war 1950s, and the space race of the 1960s, which we were already looking at for visual inspiration. Lastly, we’ve talked about opening a special tasting room inside the building that houses our barrel-aging program. It’s all talk for now, no solid plans, but thinking ahead, names like the Advanced Oak Cellar, Room, or Library, were appealing.

Design Phase

Once our vision for the series was solidified, which took several months to determine, we approached our design firm, Gamut, with the overall concept. Then they spent a few weeks digesting ideas and presented us with a mood board. A typical mood board contains a collection of images that could serve as inspiration for the designers. It was a key stage in the review process, helping us choose a specific style and direction for label artwork.

With the style defined, Gamut went to work on label designs for four beers: Headzo, Brette Davis Eyes, Unholy Alliance, and Cultured Chaos. The first round of revisions stayed very true to our inspiration. Scientific illustrations from the 1950s and 60s. The labels were colorful, beautiful, and iconic, but seemed trapped in the past. We needed to bring them into the 21st century and make them our own.

Gamut went on to modernize the aesthetic, adding rich details and dark undertones. They laid the groundwork for the entire series over two additional revisions. They designed the Advanced Oak font, series icon, created a set of barrel-aging symbols, refined the label template, and drafted illustrations for each beer. Besides artwork, text was also a major consideration. We determined what was important to communicate, and decided how it needed to appear on the bottle.

Six months after we started, the overall look and feel of the series was finalized, but we still have many bottles to go. This month we’ll release the first four beers in the newly branded Advanced Oak packaging. Between now and July of 2019, we’ll unveil designs for 10-14 more beers, so our design phase is ongoing.

Case Study: Quint

One of the first beers we’re releasing in the Advanced Oak series on August 25th is Quint. It’s a simple name for a very big beer. Quint is Belgian-style Quintuple. An even stronger version of the more common Belgian Dubbel and Tripel, created by Trappist Monks over the last few centuries. Quint weighs in at 14.5% ABV. It’s rich, tart, lightly spiced, and layered with coriander, honey, orange zest, and the juice of 10,000 cherries.

Quint refers to the style, but the beer’s name has another source of inspiration. The movie Jaws. Specifically, the character Quint, played by Robert Shaw, who’s the salty sea captain and shark hunter in the film. He has too many memorable lines to quote just one, so watch this clip to see how he was introduced to audiences.

For the label artwork, we decided to lean on Jaws for imagery. We wanted a simple scientific illustration of a Great White tooth, laid over a watery background. Then Gamut took it to the next level by adding a scrimshaw design of Quint’s boat from the film. It’s the perfect package for a strong beer. It’s iconic, simple, and loaded with narrative that’s tied to the beer, and the inspiration behind its name.

Moving Forward

Each beer will be treated in a similar manner, and the personality of the designs will be wide ranging, just like the character of the beers. Fruited sour beers will be packaged in 500 ml liter bottles with a cork and cage, while spirit barrel beers will be packaged in 375 ml bottles with a crown. The quality and flavor of the beer is of utmost importance, but we also hope the label artwork is engaging, fun, and compliments your experience with our barrel-aged beers.