AleSmith’s new brand refresh debuts with the low calorie, gluten reduced, raspberry flavored Forgeberry Ale.
As recently as ten years ago, you couldn’t browse a beer section in San Diego without spotting 22-ounce bombers of AleSmith Brewing’s eponymous flagship beers. Subtly featuring the brand’s anvil logo, the labels’ design placed the focus on each monogrammed beer style, naming them in bold, capital letters: X (extra pale ale), ESB (extra special bitter), IPA. Today, you couldn’t find a single one of them. Not only has the 22-ounce bottle format has all but died out, but AleSmith X and AleSmith ESB have been discontinued. Even AleSmith IPA, which boasts a perfect 100 score on RateBeer.com, was taken out of the lineup last year.
Their disappearance doesn’t signify any decline on the part of the brewery. By virtually every metric, AleSmith has grown exponentially over the past decade, and remains one of San Diego’s best known, most highly regarded beer brand. They ship beer to twelve states, five foreign countries, and throughout California. In fact, just this week, RateBeer named AleSmith California’s top brewery in 2019.
The beer changes merely reflect a beer industry that has become far more competitive. The renown of AleSmith, a 2008 national champion, once held a clear qualitative advantage over other fledgling brands. But as the number of breweries in the U.S. now hovers around 8,000 (more than a thousand of those in California), beer fans in other localities are more likely to find quality breweries in their own backyard.
“Local business has become our largest competition across California,” reports Brandon Richards, the beer industry vet named president of AleSmith late last year. He points to the emergence of highly rated breweries in Northern California and Los Angeles, as well as hype surrounding new-to-the-scene brands, as some of the brewery’s biggest challenges toward continued growth. “2019 was a little slower than we would have liked,” he concedes, “but we’re still keeping up… AleSmith is still recognized around the world as one of the best.”
A pair of its older core beers, Nut Brown Ale and Speedway Stout, remain the brewery's top sellers outside of California, Richards reveals. However, the past couple years in particular, the brand has made more of an effort to supplement legacy beers with more frequent new releases, embracing consumer demand for trending beer styles and high-profile collaborations. For example, its Sublime Mexican lager, released in 2017 in collaboration with the 90s alt-rock band, and Juice Stand, its first regular hazy IPA release, introduced just last year, count among its top three movers within California. And one morning last month, customers formed a line around the brewery for a chance to buy a barrel of aged stout collaboration with hard-to-get Oceanside phenom, Horus Aged Ales.
The surest sign AleSmith has embraced contemporary brewery status may be its next release: the low calorie, reduced gluten tart ale dubbed Forgeberry, its first year round fruited beer, flavored with real raspberries. It’s the first to feature a brand refresh, which replaces outdated typography, modernizes the anvil, and brings a two-tone color structure to make it more visible on shelves. Richards notes the refresh is a nod to industry changes brought by a new breweries. “We were inspired by the good packaging and branding by local brewing partners and friends,” he says, “local brands like Pure Project, Modern Times, and Eppig doing great things.”
The new labeling brings a previously unofficial brewery slogan to the top of the label, “hand-forged ales,” to reaffirm AleSmith’s beermaking craft. Even with its renewed marketing push, that aspect hasn’t changed for a brewery looking to straddle the line between being a sort of Mount Rushmore brewer, and remaining relevant to a fickle craft beer market. Still, it’s ironic that the brand’s top-selling beer adopts the craft beer style that jump-started the industry: a pale ale. The brand refreshed packaging of .394 Pale Ale will be revealed in time for the start of the Padres’ baseball season, Richard pledges.
And not to be forgotten, AleSmith will likely regenerate hype in May, when it reintroduces AleSmith IPA to its lineup, releasing the classic brew in, more appropriate to 2020, 16-ounce cans.