Carolina Beer Guy: Highland Brewing unveils dramatic label and logo redesign

BRAND NEW: After extensive research, Highland Brewing Co. has ditched its mascot, Scotty, for a fresh look. The rebrand, which officially launches Friday, Feb. 23, includes new packaging, merchandise, tap handles and a revamped website.
BRAND NEW: After extensive research, Highland Brewing Co. has ditched its mascot, Scotty, for a fresh look. The rebrand, which officially launches Friday, Feb. 23, includes new packaging, merchandise, tap handles and a revamped website. Images courtesy of Highland Brewing Co.

Rule No. 1 for a brewery’s success is to offer an appealing product. But making a tasty brew isn’t the only consideration in winning customers. With numerous artisan beers sold in Asheville and around the mountains, the packaging for bottles and cans as well as brewery logos must also catch a shopper’s eye.

In order to stay competitive on the presentation side, Highland Brewing Co., the area’s oldest craft brand, is making a dramatic design change this month. Gone is the brewery’s mascot, Scotty, the bagpipe-playing Scotsman, who has been used since the company began in 1994. In his place, Highland’s new look features bright colors, a mountain vista and a new circular logo that includes a compass.

The change was considered for a long time, says Highland President Leah Wong Ashburn. The brewery commissioned Nielsen, the same company that rates the popularity of television shows, to survey people who had no knowledge of Highland. In addition, the brewery itself reached out to loyal customers. “And we talked with people who know us the best — our own staff,” Ashburn says.

The results from Nielsen and Highland’s own findings were surprising. “We learned that the group that doesn’t know us at all thought it was a Scottish name, but [wondered,] ‘Where [is] the Scottish beer?'” Ashburn says. “And the people who know us and like us, 49 percent of them said our logos, fonts and packaging were dated. That was a huge number. And another 24 percent said we should change something. So, almost 75 percent of the people who like us said we should change our packaging.”

Ashburn adds that, in describing their feelings about Highland, no one who was surveyed associated Highland with its Scottish logo. While it was meant to convey Western North Carolina’s Scottish and Irish pioneer settlers, she says that intention was lost on consumers. In turn, the decision was made to move away from Scotty.

Helms Workshop of Austin, Texas, provided direction and expertise in creating the bold new Highland design. The branding company has created packaging for Fullsteam Brewery of Durham, New Belgium Brewing Co.’s cider, Boulevard Brewing Co. of Kansas City, Mo., Jack Daniel’s Distillery and Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, among many others.

Helping matters was Helms founder Christian Helms‘ long-standing familiarity with Highland beers. “My whole family is in the Asheville area,” he says. “This was a dream project for me.”

Helms says Highland was looking to develop a visual language that addresses its history and future trajectory. “They knew they wanted change but weren’t sure where they wanted to go,” he says. “A lot of the decisions about the Scotsman were made before we came on board, but we certainly agreed with that.”

The redesign took about six months, and the rebrand will also include new merchandise and tap handles plus an overhauled website. “You need packaging that differentiates you on the shelf,” he says. “The follow-through is delivery. That’s brewing exceptional beer.”

The name game

Highland isn’t the only Asheville brewery to change its look. When John Cochran took over the old Altamont Brewing Co. in West Asheville 18 months ago, he changed its name to UpCountry Brewing Co., a switch that required a new logo.

“I felt it was important to create something new,” Cochran says. He came up with the UpCountry name on his own but sought outside input on the design. “I am not an artist myself, so we needed help with that,” he says.

Now Cochran is in the process of another redesign, this one involving new labels that will be unveiled in a few months. “It’s key that everything ties together and tells your story, and I feel like what we have now could do a better job of that,” he says. “We are going with something more relevant with the idea of being in the outdoors and in the mountains.”

Asheville’s French Broad River Brewery made a redesign after it was sold by founder Andy Dahm to Paul and Sarah Casey of Chapel Hill. “When I started looking at the brewery, one of my first questions was, ‘Where did the name come from?'” Paul Casey says. At the time, the word “river,” which had been part of the name when the business first opened, had been dropped, adding to confusion among drinkers outside Asheville.

He restored “river” to the name and decided the packaging needed a new look. He hired Trone Brand Energy of High Point to create the redesign, which incorporates river rocks and watery imagery. “I think it ended up very successful,” Casey says.

Catawba Brewing Co. made a redesign in 2013, changing its original name of Catawba Valley Brewing. “This put more emphasis on the word Catawba — which is a river, a town, a county, a college and a federally recognized Native American tribe,” says brewery marketing director Brian Ivey. Catawba also redesigned its labels to have a cohesive look. The current logo depicts mountains, rivers and the Blue Ridge Parkway, and, when flipped upside down, shows the geographic outline of North and South Carolina.

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About Tony Kiss
Tony Kiss covers brewing news for the Xpress. He has been reporting on the Carolina beer scene since 1994. He's also covered distilling and cider making and spent 30 years reporting on area entertainment. Follow me @BeerguyTK

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17 thoughts on “Carolina Beer Guy: Highland Brewing unveils dramatic label and logo redesign

  1. Beer Lover

    About like Budweiser getting rid of the Clydesdales.

    Not that I drink any bud product. Highland makes some great beer, but what the heck were they thinking.

    • Bright

      They need to quit making what they call beer, and get into the sauerkraut business.

  2. luther blissett

    “You need packaging that differentiates you on the shelf”

    And yet Highland now comes across as Another Craft Brewery. I get that the old logo/font/etc probably looked old-fashioned, especially to those outside the area, and it’s a nice clean rebrand, but it feels designed to fit in with other bottles and cans on that part of the shelf.

  3. Tim Singleton

    Very odd choice, indeed. Looks a bit Russian and incredibly plain but maybe the goal was to be generic. While people will continue drinking their beer because it’s exceptional, the new look misses the mark and will be even tougher to distinguish from other brands. Hate that they went from mountains to sea since the compass(?) resembles that of a coastal brewery more than it does a mountain brewery. It also shows that they went to an out of state firm to handle. Unfortunate that a brewery that prides itself on local had zero faith in using one from here. We have a handful of capable firms that would have done this better and probably cheaper. 2nd package rebranding in only 4 years, too.

  4. Beer Lover

    I think the real marketing was done by the ad agency or design company that sold Highland on this design.

  5. Patrick

    While the most important thing is what’s in the bottle, what’s on the bottle is (unfortunately) as important in the exploding craft beer market. I will say that Highland’s beer has become exponentially better in the last 3-4 years but I am not a fan of the new logo. The colorful mountain vista is super cool but the physical logo seems unnecessarily plain. Fortunately, I love Highland beer and really don’t care what the outside says. Maybe enough people will protest that the meadow won’t be as overrun on a Friday night!

    • Bright

      “Meadow” sounds nice, if you like warm “beer” in a plastic cup, and children providing the obstacle course to the cruddy outhouses.

    • Tothedogs

      Jason of Carolina Brewery? Will look you up next time I’m in Chapel Hill.

  6. Tothedogs

    As a local designer I think it would’ve been a great idea to hold a contest and let an Asheville-area firm have the honor of re-branding Highland Brewing. But, since they didn’t ask, I just spent 30 minutes on my own treatment of their logo.

    You can view it here:
    https://imgur.com/a/uecYC

    This is just a treatment, not intended for commercial use. Link is only to this board.
    Would love to hear thoughts though, that was kinda fun!

  7. Don

    Their new label/logo/re-branded look whatever is a perfect metaphor for their beer…… which is mediocre at best. Oh, and their beer…. it’s not just me…… read some/any national craft beer reviews and rankings….. even broken down by state…. not only are they not noteworthy ….. they’re basically never mentioned. Anyway…. got to keep it honest…. their Clawhammer this past fall was by far the best batch of beer they have ever made and was actually palatable…… go figure….. lol ;)

    • luther blissett

      “read some/any national craft beer reviews and rankings”

      Limited Release Imperial Dangleberry Hopmageddon IPA: A++ ($23 a bottle)
      Barrel-Aged Gymsock Sour: A+ ($19 a bottle)

  8. jason

    The scotsman logo was lame. I’m glad it’s gone. Most of their beers are named after local geographical locations. The new logo makes perfect sense. People are making a big deal about nothing. It’s freaking packaging. If you like the beer, buy it, if not don’t…it’s really pretty simple.

    Oh yea, I also hate all the freaking kids at Asheville breweries. Leave them at home.

  9. Victor

    Is it possible the owners thought they were making a politically incorrect “cultural appropriation”? Did someone get offended? Love their beer and purchase (and drink) it weekly. Something doesn’t ‘smell’ right about this though. The new logo (admittedly an opinion) could have been designed by a child compared to the old one.

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