It’s been almost 30 years since three friends, Rich Doyle, Dan Kenary and George Ligeti, launched the locally iconic and nationally recognized Harpoon Brewery, and a lot has changed since then, but one thing that has remained almost untouched since it launched in 1993 has been their flagship IPA. Until now. I spoke with Greg “Mooner” Moon, assistant vice president (AVP) at Harpoon Brewery (Full disclosure: Greg has been one of my best friends and craft beer confidant for over 30 years) and got the skinny on what’s behind this huge branding change and what’s next in 2016 for the Atlantic Avenue brewery.
Changing the look and branding of a flagship beer like Harpoon IPA is not an insignificant move. How and why did this happen?
This is the first major change since 1993, so it’s big. When Rich Doyle, one of our founders, decided to step down as CEO and put Harpoon Brewery on a course to become an employee-owned company, Dan Kenary, also a founder, moved into a more sales and marketing driven role, and one of the first things he did was hire Catapult Thinking, a local brand strategy and design firm. They’re pretty savvy brand guys so this put everything into motion. They sat us all down and asked us what we thought the brand stood for. Once they had a buy-in from the entire company, they helped us create a better way to talk to our customers, tell the story, and that starts with our IPA. What we ended up with was a package that is cleaner and more confident. That was a nice outcome because we’re not like Arrogant Bastard… we know we make great beer and it’s confident without being pretentious. A very Yankee mentality, I guess. We tested every little bit of what we had for imagery; the Harpoon man, “Henry” (people hated it or misunderstood it, so we dropped him), the harlequin pattern (it tested positive so we made it bigger), and the tiger lily flowers (again people hated it, so we removed them). From that, we made additional changes; we added the ABV, IBU, and the flavor descriptors: Floral, Hoppy, Crisp, to our packaging. Finally, we added an icon, the tiger. It’s a nod to the lily obviously but it’s stronger now, it draws the eye in. Now the consumer has a key image and all of the information they’re looking for in a craft beer, and that adds up to a better understanding of what the brand really stands for.
It’s definitely a new look! So what does all of this mean for the rest of your brands? Will you be introducing any new products and/or other redesigned packaging in 2016?
The brand initiative will expand to all other packaging next year. In addition, there will be at least one new full-year product launched and a few changes to our seasonal line up; we’re introducing Arctic Ale, a 14% barleywine, as part of the imperial series. It’s a deadly, pretty dark, mahogany-colored, chewy, malty, boozy offering… but it’s quite delicious and very drinkable. We also have the Kettle Cup winner, Thunder Foam. The crew at HDC [Harpoon Distribution Company] won the competition in 2015. It’s a coco/poblano porter and will be part of our 100 Barrel series. It’s a spicy, chocolate-flavored beer with more flavor than heat. We also just released our Hoppy Adventure, the 7.8% ABV Double IPA (draught only for now,) a big, juicy hop-bomb, and that will now be available in 16 oz. four-packs in 2016. There’s a lot more too, but I can’t tell you… I’d have to kill you… but hold onto your hats… Harpoon is going to blow consumers away in 2016.
I can’t wait! I’m assuming I’m still on the early-release list for product testing, but you should double check. It all sounds great… but I have one more question: Now that you’re an owner and have been with the company going on 21 years, what, if anything, has changed now that you’re an employee-owned company?
It’s awesome. It hasn’t really changed much for me because I’ve always acted like an owner [laughs], but I’ve also been here for over two decades. For the young guys though, this is huge; they’re all now owners and every single employee has a stake because they work here. That’s a major cultural and positive mindset shift, and with all of the acquisitions in the craft beer industry recently, everyone’s head is spinning as to what that could mean despite the fact that we’re all in this for life. We could make a lot of money if we eventually sold, but why would anyone want to sell? Everyone seems very happy with what we have and once you sell, you don’t have that anymore. We actually did have a few investor groups approach us recently, and I believe we did receive two offers … and we turned them down. We got to see what they valued us at though… it was very nice! The multiples were impressive but working for Harpoon has never been about the money, it’s been about the culture, the lifestyle… and now the principled belief that the people who make this beer should own the company and chart its future.
So, what did they offer you? Come on, I’m your bro! Tell me.
Nope. Not a chance.