By Bates Creative
Getting to the Atlas Brew Works brewery can be tricky from the non-descript storefront, but the 18-wheeler hauling beer pallets in and out of the loading dock is the equivalent of a floral welcome doormat for thirsty beer patrons. Sure it might have felt like a sauna on the inside, and sure you could get a workout from watching Head Brewer Will Durgin and Lead Brewer Daniel Vilarrubi fill kegs manually, but the beer was cold and the brewery team was ready to chat with us about the growth of the Atlas brand.
We met with Founder and CEO Justin Cox who was balancing work calls and emails from his desk wearing the typical brewery business attire — an Atlas original baseball t-shirt. As we chatted with Justin, he pulled us in with his eloquent storytelling that is directly reflective from his years at Vanderbilt and corporate day-jobs that drove him to ferment his passion for beer brewing at home.
Justin has come a long way from using at-home brewing kits in college to now managing a business that is present in nearly 200 locations in the Washington, D.C., and Virginia area. Over the past two years, the men behind the Atlas brand have graduated to new potential markets and have even outgrown personal milestones. The original website Bates Creative designed for Atlas was developed to be easily managed by the small start-up team. Now, Bates Creative, a Capitol Communicator sponsor, has redesigned the website to reflect the maturity of the Atlas brand and the look and feel of what the brand embodies – steampunk aesthetics, a bold personality and custom art that people have come to know.
Bates: What fueled the inspiration behind the Steampunk brand identity?
Justin: The original steampunk idea was that brewing was very much a combination of art and science. And the steampunk genre really captures that. So we’re beholden to our yeast at the end of the day, and no matter how much engineering we do on the recipe side of things or technical side, you’re dealing with a live organism. Then, of course, the beer is an experiential product so everyone’s taste a little different.
Bates: How does the flavor profile of each beer reflect the design of its branded Steampunk icon?
Justin: So each beer has its own icon that’s supposed to reflect the essence of the beer. For instance, District Common, which is our California common style lager, is a very nuance, approachable, quaffable lager that’s meant to be somewhat elegant in the mouth field. The icon for that is the John Hancock pen, which is a nice, old-school plume pen that’s meant to signify elegance as well.
On the other side of that spectrum, Rowdy is our hoppy rye ale. So there’s a lot going on, it’s a little bit more aggressive, a little bitterer with a nice hop aroma to it. And as the name says, it’s a little bit more of an aggressive, rowdy beer and so the Hailwood motorcycle is the icon for that. That was a tough one to come up with, some kind of icon that still signified the rowdy name and essence, but not be so aggressive as we didn’t want to put guns or something like that on the beer.
Bates: How do you work with Bates Creative to communicate design ideas until you achieve the desired look?
Justin: When we come up with an idea for a new beer for instance, our process is to come up with the style and the flavor profile we’re going for…Then we see what kind of inspiration that gives us in terms of coming up with the name. Once we come up with the name, we turn it over to Bates and say, “hey we’re making a new beer. This is the name of it.”
But we work together. It’s a nice relationship where they throw out a few ideas and we come back with our comments on that. We go back-and-forth tweaking ideas until we come up with the final product.
Bates: How long have you been working with Bates and how is the working relationship you have both established?
Justin: We’ve been working with Bates since February of 2013, and it has been a wonderful relationship. The working relationship is great and everyone is very friendly and listens to the feedback we have and tries to integrate it as much as possible without sacrificing the essence of the design.
One thing is that we get comments all the time. People really love our branding. They think it’s very interesting. They like looking at all of our icons on the cans and its very strong graphic presence. The people really appreciate it and we get a lot of great comments on it.
Bates: So what’s the feedback you’re getting on the designs?
Justin: Everyone really has their own favorite. I know that in the tasting room when people look at the t-shirts, the NSFW scorpion seems to be a big hit. I think that’s really one of the more cool and intricate designs. But everyone has their own relationship with the icons that are there. Some really like the pen, like writers for instance, gravitate toward that. And of course anybody with a motorcycle is all over the Rowdy.
I love all of them and a favorite is a really hard thing to pick out. Right now I’m really in love with the Ponzi icon—the stamp press. I think that the icon goes really well with the name and backstory of the Ponzi and the actual visual impression of that logo with the colors and the stamp press is just very striking.
Bates: What caused you guys to take the next step into translating your branding into your website?
Justin: Originally Bates put together a website for us on short notice when we were first launching and it was a really cool concept of a conglomeration of all of our social media feeds. Their thinking was at that point, there were only three of us in the business so we were doing everything, but didn’t have much time to update a website, but wanted to get as much current information out to folks as we could.
But now that we have been in business for a little while, it was time for us to get another website that’s a little bit more intricate with a lot more information. And so we sat down with Bates and went through some design samples about what we wanted on the website with all the sections and information that we wanted and they sort of came up with the idea and plan to put that all together in a very user friendly format and then just really laid on our design aesthetic throughout the entire website.
There’s so much going on the website—and this goes for all the designs too—to the untrained eye, you don’t really pick them all out at first blush, but once you’ve been looking at it for a little while, you start to notice new little nuances in the background or some play-on-words, or some smaller details in the graphics. It always surprises me how that happens constantly.
Bates: What is your favorite little nuance on the website?
Justin: I think one thing that I really like on the website is on the page with our beers, you can pick out each individual beer. We have a lot of information on the flavor profile and the different stats we use in the brewing world to describe the beer, as well as the picture of the beer. But then there’s also a place for the icon of the actual art, and you click on that and it expands the story of the icon and how it relates to the beer within that.
One of the requests we get all the time from people is where they can find our beer around town, or where they are, and so on one part of the website we have a beer Atlas. So you can get on the atlas and it will show you where all of our accounts are around town, broken down by grocery stores versus bars and restaurants. So depending on what you’re in the mood for and where you are, it automatically geo-locates where you are, it pops up within a 5-mile radius where all the locations of Atlas are around you.
Bates: How is the public responding to the Atlas website?
Justin: People really love the branding and the website. The second website launched as we were expanding our distribution as well so there’s a whole set of people who have only seen the new website. But those who have seen both are really excited about the new website and all the information. They’ve been asking us for the information for a while and now they have a centralized and beautiful location they can go to find that information.
But people have loved the brand since day one. They love it just as much as we do—it’s interesting and unique and very strong and bold and people really relate to that.
The fact that Atlas Brew Works celebrated its second birthday on September 2, 2015, is amazing given the extent of the breweries accomplishments in such a short period of time — word of Atlas’s signature design has even reached ears in Colorado! The hard work of the Atlas team from handling the business of beer to cooking up a plan to introduce a District Common Beer Brat while launching a new website on top of it all is something that we’d like to raise a pint to. It’s always rewarding to watch a client’s business grow, but the achievements are that much more refreshing when you can celebrate with a cold can of Rowdy and toast with the Atlas team.
Whether you’re an Atlas brew veteran or just learning about this local DC brewery, Atlas’s redesigned website is a one-stop-shop information hub of everything Atlas.
As always, we want to hear your feedback.