Real Ale Brewing Company, based in Blanco, Texas, has been a mainstay of the Texas craft beer scene since it opened in 1996. Longtime craft beer drinkers will recognize the familiar old-timey photos on the labels of Real Ale's oldest brews, or the red, silver, and gold of the Fireman's 4 label.
I should say "recognize the old labels," because in conjunction with the opening of a new taproom, Real Ale has completely redesigned its logo-- for the first time, the entire Real Ale lineup will have a consistent logo across styles.
Real Ale's tap room opened March 7, with 14 beers on tap. The taproom will feature the first opportunity to try many specialty brews by Real Ale. The label re-design coincided with the tap room's opening, and now the new label brews are finally making their way to Houston.
Real Ale founder Brad Farbstein explained the biggest reason for the rebranding was to end buyer confusion. According to Real Ale's research, many fans of a particular style of beer didn't realize Real Ale made many others as well. ("We had Fireman's #4 fans who didn't realize we made Devil's Backbone or Hans Pils; we had Pils fans who didn't know about our other beers...")
When Real Ale initially rolled out in 1996, it only made Full Moon Pale Rye Ale and Brewhouse Brown. Not long after, the company began producing Rio Blanco Pale Ale and Fireman's #4. The first three had a consistent logo and style, but the Fireman's #4 logo and label was unique to that beer. As Real Ale pressed on, each new release or line or releases got its own logo -- whether they were a full line of releases like the Brewer's Cut series, or individual beers like the Lost Gold IPA. Eventually, Real Ale was left with a "house of brands" rather than a "branded house," terms Farbstein credits to Paul Evers of TBD Agency, the first design team Real Ale consulted on their rebrand.
Ultimately, Real Ale worked with Marty and Adam Butler, The Butler Bros., an Austin-based design and marketing firm, to create the new look for real ale. The new style will be used across cans, bottles, and taps.
Initial reaction to the re-designed was mixed, but Farbstein quoted Greg Owsley of The Storied Brand, another consultant he'd sought advice from on the rollout, on that reaction: "If you don't upset enough people, you didn't try hard enough." Farbstein had some entertaining stories about reactions to the redesign, the best of all coming from a fan of the Devil's Backbone who left a "pretty funny" 30-minute voicemail in which he eventually explained he would boycott Real Ale for "about two days" in response.
The labels aren't the only changes coming to Real Ale's in-store line. Twelve-packs of Hans Pils and Fireman's #4 cans should be available soon, if they aren't already. And for the first time, the brewery will release 22-ounce bombers, a move spurred on by a new bottling machine the brewery acquired last year. Farbstein wasn't confident the old one could handle 22-ounce bottles properly, saying "We don't do anything we can't do 110 percent."
This week or next, the first of those bombers will arrive in Houston: The Real Heavy, a Scottish-style wee heavy; the Commissar, a Russian Imperial Stout that was originally the Anniversary Ale XV, and the Red King, an imperial red ale that originally appeared in the Brewer's Cut series.
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Farbstein also previewed some up-and-coming releases from Real Ale. On April 15, Real Ale will release its 19th Anniversary beer, a Baltic porter that will come in 22-ounce bombers with silk-screened labels. Later in September, the Black Quad and Double IPA, two beers from the Brewer's Cut series, will be released in bombers as well.
Eventually, Farbstein hopes to release 750 ml bottles of their barrel-aged and sour beers, though he says this will likely not happen until next year. (This should be particularly encouraging to fans of sours, as Real Ale's Benedictum won the gold medal in the "Belgian-Style Lambic or Sour Ale" category at the Great American Beer Festival last year.)
Real Ale's 19th Anniversary Party is taking place at the tap room Saturday, April 11. If you're interested, you may want to look into getting tickets now: Farbstein estimates between 3,000 and 5,000 people will attend the party.
One more note: If you really like the old labels or think they might become a collector's item, now is the time to stock up-- Farbstein says the old labels will probably be gone for good from Houston shelves within the next couple of weeks.