A smaller canvas

Warped Wing’s new can designs

Warped Wing’s stand-out can designs. Photo: Tara Michel

By David Nilsen

Most local drinkers can instantly recognize a Warped Wing Brewing Company can on a store shelf. The largest brewery in Dayton has sold its beers in tall 16 oz. cans since it opened in January 2014, and their Trotwood Lager can design has been praised by prestigious design publication, The Dieline. So when Warped Wing announced this fall they would be replacing their iconic pint cans with more traditional 12 oz. cans, a lot of the brewery’s fans were surprised. Why mess with a good thing?

According to co-founder and V.P. of sales and marketing, Nick Bowman, it was the fans who prompted the change. “Last year we engaged in a fairly extensive customer brand survey,” says Bowman. “What we learned from our customers was that even though they liked our 16 oz. canned beer offerings and thought they were unique, they ultimately prefer 12 oz. 6-pack portioning.”

It seems that while drinkers enjoyed the taller cans from a visual standpoint, they found being able to buy six smaller cans to be more practical. Additionally, the smaller can design will allow Warped Wing beers to be included in mixed-six-pack offerings at area supermarkets, a sector the tall cans were often priced out of.

Many will miss the tall cans, which stood out on shelves and helped cement the brewery’s brand identity. With fanciful, steam-punk inspired graphics and often elaborate backstories, cans for Warped Wing flagship beers like Ermal’s, Flyin’ Rye, and 10 Ton Oatmeal Stout have lured many drinkers to visit the brewery’s industrial taproom in the old Buckeye Iron and Brass Works foundry on Wyandot Street. With the increased flexibility of the smaller size, Bowman hopes the new cans will do the same.

With the switch to a smaller size, the Warped Wing design team has also taken the opportunity to simplify and sharpen the can designs for their core beers, creating a more cohesive brand story. Noticing an industry shift toward more minimalist can and bottle designs, the team of Bowman, marketing coordinator Tara Michel, and designer John Pattison, cleaned up their can designs, adding more negative space and eliminating distracting elements.

“The cans have been redesigned to a more simplistic form without undermining consumer recall,” Bowman says. “Having the luxury of redesigning all the cans at once gave us the opportunity to look at them more holistically as a group.”

So how does a new Warped Wing can design go from vague idea to shiny finished package? It turns out the process begins well before the beer itself is ever brewed for the first time.

When the Warped Wing team starts eyeing their upcoming production schedule for the opportunity to debut a beer, Bowman, Michel, and Pattison sit down and look at possible names for the new brew, typically looking to Dayton’s past for inspiration. Ermal’s, for example, was inspired by Ermal Fraze, a Dayton native who invented the pop-top can, and Trotwood Lager was named for the Trotwood Trailer company, a business that manufactured camping trailers in Trotwood for decades before closing in 1980. Once they’ve picked a name and a backstory, Pattison begins sketching out simple designs for the can itself before handing it to an outside illustrator. Pattison will oversee the design and the typography and copy (the descriptive or narrative text on the can) to make sure the finished print tells the story Warped Wing wants its drinkers to hear.

You’ve probably seen pictures on social media of Warped Wing’s cans lined up in a set of three, and this triptych marketing style shows off the wrap-around design of the cans. The new Ermal’s can, for example, features a brightly colored retro-style rocket ship. Bowman explains how all of the design choices plays into the story they want to tell about Fraze and his pop-top patent:

“Since we consider Ermal to be a hero for this invention, we used primary colors similar to what you might see in a 1950s era super-hero comic book or on a classic tin toy of that period. The open can/thrust rocket in the background with the pop-top open explodes and projects the mother ship up into space. The pilot inside will use the pop-top on the side of the rocket as an escape hatch once the destination is reached. The angular execution of the design, action lines, and typographical elements add to an already dynamic feel to the can.”

Sticking with the retro scheme and aerospace theme, Warped Wing also debuted a new lager in cans in October. Flyer Red American Lager is named in honor of Ohio’s rich heritage at the forefront of flight and space innovation. The can design is very similar to the Trotwood design, but features a bright red color scheme. With the popularity of Trotwood, Bowman says to expect more lagers from Warped Wing in the future.

While the unique tall cans are a thing of the past, the folks at Warped Wing are still having fun with their designs. The canvases might be smaller now, but the eye-catching artwork is here to stay.

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David Nilsen is a beer writer living with his wife and daughter in Greenville. He is a Certified Cicerone and National Book Critics Circle member. You can follow him at DavidNilsenBeer.com and reach him at DavidNilsen@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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