Branding, Bylaws, and the Business of Beer

In this cultural shift toward artisan and regional products, there is no greater reflection of the push for local than the rising movement of craft breweries. Local companies are disrupting the industry with an average of two new breweries opening every day, and Boston is no exception to the thriving scene.

In light of this booming beer craze, Branchfood teamed up with some of Boston's breweries to chat about the past, present, and future of this bubbling business. No craft beer event would be complete without a class of thirst-quenching beer in hand. The event kicked off with Chipotle catering and an array of flavorful samples from six of Boston’s most innovative craft breweries.

Down the Road Beer Company brings a uniqueness to the Craft Beer market. Rather than focus on the newest, craziest innovation, they celebrate crafting high quality beer, brewed locally in MA using fresh ingredients and inspired by traditional brewing techniques and styles. Drink local, and taste the difference freshness can make.

Mighty Squirrel Brewing started from the co-founders love of tennis and enjoying celebratory beers afterwards. They wanted a brew that would fit in better at the finish line so they developed Mighty Squirrel. With the addition of 4 grams of protein, every bottle is packed with friendship, sports, innovation, and fun.

Aeronaut Brewing Company is bringing a new atmosphere to the beer scene. More than a taproom, their bar house includes food from neighboring food trucks, artisanal chocolatiers, arcade games, and a uniquely fresh atmosphere.

Samuel Adams Brewery is America’s leading brewer of handcrafted, full-flavored craft beers. Founder and Brewer, Jim Koch, brews Samuel Adams® craft beers using traditional family methods passed down from generation to generation. With over 30 distinctive, award-winning styles of craft beer, Samuel Adams offers discerning beer drinkers a variety of quality brews.

Culinary Innovation is the focus of Night Shift Brewing. Offering a wide array of unique, complex flavors, Night Shift strives to share a world class culture. In addition unique craft brews, they are mindfully crafting a new beer culture.

Clown Shoes Brewing started with just the name and grew from there. According to their founder, Gregg Berman, clowns are questionable, but the shoes make people laugh. Clown Shoes Brewing reminds us of humility and to find humor in life by producing quality beer without pretension while being free and a little crazy.

Many samples later, four of those breweries joined moderator, Alex Weaver from Bostinno for a panel discussion. With a mix of representation, it was the perfect blend of New England tradition and Boston tech and innovation on the panel.

We had Aeronaut Brewing Company, which just launched two years ago, side by side with the grandfather of the craft beer movement, Samuel Adams Brewery. To their right sat Night Shift Brewing, selling 90% of their products within a 25 mile radius, right beside Clown Shoes Beer, which has reached international distribution.

Highlighting issues such as space, distribution, and branding, here are some snippets from the conversation:

Moderator: Alex Weaver, Managing Editor for Bostinno


  • Sean Geary, VP of Business Development, Clown Shoes Brewing               

  • Jennifer Glanville, Director of Brewery Programs, Samuel Adams Brewery    

  • Michael Oxton, Owner and Co-Founder, Night Shift Brewing  

  • Ronn Friedlander, Co-Founder, Aeronaut Brewing Co. 

Alex: Given the number of breweries popping up, do you think there is enough loyalty to your beers in the industry? How much is branding and logo a part of that and how important is the design?

Sean: 100% of our marketing budget is our labels. We have a full-time artist on staff who does comic book art. You’ll see that everything kind of flows like comic book. We have a space theme with different characters that enter in. It’s a cool story and we add as much detail into the art as possible. Sometimes, you might see a label that you absolutely hate but that’s something that we do because it gets the name out there.

Michael: Making sure that people see our logo is my biggest priority. Our owl logo is huge for us, and so is giving it some sort of a platform background that expresses each individual beer. We strive for simple but expressive; a customer sees it and gets what will be in that can but also knows the brand immediately because they see our logo. But I sometimes wonder how much logo really matters. I will buy beer with terrible logos if there's high quality beer inside.

Jennifer: We changed the label of our Boston Lager once and people were calling us adamant that we had changed the recipe, which had not changed- so we have to work to adapt and yet maintain the tradition. We do have a lot of customer loyalty so the Samuel Adams logo is important, but we don’t want it to be too big and turn people off either.

Ronn:  We also have a designer who was once a comic book artist, and we debated over more graphic versus hand drawn for a long time. We ended up simplistic with block letters but it's a good concept. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it. Aeronaut's signature is the letter O, which is also a beer tab, and also a a hot air balloon over the horizon. And we have some crazy stories hidden within the our labels too.

Alex: How do you change your product from what made you where you are to what’s keeping you where you are?

Jennifer: Keeping with the times is key. We are in an exciting time where people are willing to try almost anything, but of course we have to balance exciting beer demands with making the best beer possible.

Ronn: Integrity, every beer we make is a beer we want to drink, and that we think is the best it can be. And if not, we dump it. We do end up making a lot of hoppy beers, but I like drinking a lot of hoppy beers. 

Alex: Let’s talk about distribution. We have more breweries now then ever before, but it’s nearly impossible to leave a distributor once you establish it. What do you think of the current Massachusetts law regarding distributors?

Sean:  We started out self distributed and that was a lot of fun but it just didn’t work for us as we were growing. We signed on with Horizon as our distributor, which is mainly a wine and liquor brand, but it works for us. They know what to do with a high end product and we are one of a select few craft beers competing for shelf space. But they don’t always visit with craft beer buyers the way we would like, and I think there does need to be a more balanced approach in general.

Michael: We still self-distribute so we don’t have any of these issues. I see the benefits, but we’re maintaining such a local focus that is hasn’t made sense for us. I am super concerned for the future though. It’s a system that was originally made to the protect the small guys, but now it seems to be the reverse. We’re not eager to lock into anything soon because it’s a scary proposition.

In lieu of the discussion around beer legislation, especially laws in Massachusetts, we would be remiss to talk about the business of beer without mentioning the hot topic of MA happy hours. This final question, answered with a resounding "Bring it on" from all 4 panelists, serves as a strong reminder of the juxtaposition of tradition and innovation. Boston excels at preserving the essence of old world tradition with a new, creative twist, but when it comes to alcohol, many agree that it is an antiquated system with a lot of room for growth.

In this rising craft beer movement, do you think the laws will or should change? Share your thoughts with us on Branchfood’s twitter page (@Branchfood, #BusinessofBeer). 


Special thanks to Mighty Squirrel Brewing, Down the Road Brewery, Aeronaut Brewing Company , Night Shift Brewing, Clown Shoes Brewing, and Samuel Adams Brewery for the fresh and flavorful samples, to Chipotle for catering, and to everyone who attended! It was a great night!