Chris Smith From The Virginia Beer Co. Talks Logo Design And How Craft Beer Can Create Community
Chris Smith is the Co-Founder at The Virginia Beer Company, which he started with Robby who he met at the College of William & Mary. Their time together at university in Williamsburg – along with a shared passion for philanthropy, adventure, and (of course) craft beer – led to a decade-long journey to start a business together in a community they cherished and a field they loved. Chris joined us to talk about how they brew their beer, how they give back to their community, and how they designed their unique logo.
Listen in to hear how Virginia Beer Co. got started and what's next for their latest release.
Below is an edited transcript from our conversation with Chris.
[00:00:36] Andrew: Hey, everybody. Welcome back to Stickers on the Mic. Andrew here with you again today, we're rounding the corner of May 2021, and I'm very excited to be dialing in Chris from Virginia Beer Co in Williamsburg, Virginia. Long-time fan of their stickers. We got a few really cool things to talk about today related to summer and the world opening back up. Chris, welcome.
[00:01:02] Chris Smith: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
[00:01:03] Andrew: This is great. I was talking to Chris before the show, everybody, and I was like I have loved the Virginia Beer Co logo and sticker for a long time and he's wearing it on his shirt, those of you can't see, those of you who are just listening. It is a cool geometric shape with the script in it. Chris, I feel like you were a little bit of a head of a trend in your design, and your whole team there perhaps on the rainbow motif and aesthetic. I remember that really jumping out to me early on, everybody's doing it now for different reasons. Before we get to that, I want to get into how did you start Virginia Beer Co.?
[00:01:46] Chris: Sure. It's actually, it was an idea way back in 2009, 2010. It took a long time to get here. I'd say maybe we're meticulous probably to a fault with how we run our business. That was certainly the case with how we opened our business. I met my co-founder at school here in Williamsburg, Virginia at the College of William & Mary and we eventually ended up coming back here. I came back at the end of 2012, thought we'd have a brewery opened in 2014, March 2016, so really nailed it. It was a long process to get open but what we really envisioned was what's summed up in our motto at this point, beer, people, purpose. Great beer top-notch beer, and then people being about our people that work with us and our community and the purpose, again, touching on that community and how we act.
[00:02:47] Andrew: That's awesome. You do it for a few years there and then you get to do a very interesting survival story to come to the other side of this past year. I work with somebody who owns a brewery here in Denver. I have some dear friends in the brewing industry and we've had other people who brew on the show here locally in Boulder. We do a huge amount of business in beer. I don't have many beer stickers behind me, which is sad. We love the beer stickers. How was that getting through this?
[00:03:32] Chris: It was a challenge, I think looking back now, it's been what, 14 months or so I'd say we generally feel pretty lucky. There were a lot of other businesses and people that had a much harder time than we did. Our sales channels are pretty diversified. Not only do we have a taproom, but we sell beer in cans to grocery stores and convenience stores, we sell beer draft beer to restaurants and bars. We have a lot of different ways to sell a lot of those disappeared, but not all of them. Whereas if you're a restaurant or bar, most of your opportunities to sell your products at least for a short time there disappeared completely and then came back slowly. It was certainly a challenge. Our main goal the entire time was to keep our entire team employed. That was it and we did it and once we got through the initial panic, it was more like, "Okay, everyone's still here. We didn't have to lay anybody off, all good. Now, how do we support our community?" We ended up supporting, I'd say, more than we ever have in 2020 in terms of time and money because there were so many people in need, so it was challenging but we're certainly on the luckier side.
[00:04:44] Andrew: That's awesome so you got to really like double down on that people, part of your mission, and keep the business going.
[00:04:53] Chris: I think we all saw it that we all know that there are plenty of issues in this country, but they came more and more to the forefront I'd say last year. A lot in our neighbors and communities struggle. The thought was just that that's part of our mission. We need to do it even more now that there are people that are in greater need.
[00:05:13] Andrew: Totally. I said I've always loved the aesthetic of your logo. Again, the show is business growth and marketing. Let's dig a little bit into the marketing side. I actually can't describe the shape. What is that shape? What do you call it?
[00:05:38] Chris: It's funny. I guess I can tell you the origin story of the logo, which explains the shape. We're the Virginia Beer Company. It's a very broad name. We didn't really want to pigeonhole ourselves. This is back in 2012 when we were deciding on the name.
[00:05:53] Andrew: Then you're like all of Virginia and then Delmarva and North Carolina. People, you go regional. You know what I mean. It's beer.
[00:06:02] Chris: From a geography perspective, it didn't pigeonhole us. From a branding perspective for our individual fears, it didn't pigeonhole either. Our actual one of our designers oddly enough, it's just a random thing, looked at the state symbols and the state vote of Virginia who knew there were state votes, it's called a Deadrise. If you put a deadrise and look at the whole deadrise, this is a stylized version of the whole.
[00:06:28] Andrew: That's like the side plan, cross-section view of the boat. I can see it now, there's the hole, the sides of the boat and then you just call it a dead-- what is it called?
[00:06:38] Chris: A deadrise.
[00:06:38] Andrew: Deadrise. That's awesome.
[00:06:40] Chris: Then that's how the shape came about and then there's some curvature to the letters in Virginia.
[00:06:47] Andrew: He's showing me folks, but I'm looking at it. I'm going to, of course, put a photo in the post.
[00:06:55] Chris: Back actually to I mentioned my co-founder and I met at William & Mary and the most famous thing on the campus of William & Mary is a bridge called the Crim Dell Bridge. If you think of the picture of the Bridge, you would see this exact curvature and the bridge itself was actually in an initial logo that we had. We ended up changing it. There's some personal touches in here that harken back to our past and the founding of the group.
[00:07:24] Andrew: Oh man, that's great. I love the intentional nature of that and then you do the Co. which is smaller and trendier, and also slims down all the way to like a point there in the hole, which, and then you got the script on the top, which I've always really grooved on. I like the nice mix of font styles without overdoing it. Very cool. Always been a fan. We're moving into our time and you talk about community and for folks on the show listening we already had a recent episode with some folks in Boulder who are doing a sticker project. Now talking to Chris about community and one giant community is going to be really our theme on the show. Get ready for our repeat listeners and I know there's a few of you out there. Chris, when you said community and we're talking about this next marketing and season. There's a few things happening, obviously, the country's opening up, and you're probably seeing foot traffic that is rising we'd hop. Then of course, we're coming onto a holiday week as well as Memorial Day. Then we go into June, which has now become like Rainbow month, Pride month and that's a positive thing too. Then we'll have June Teens as well. We have a few local events we're highlighting, but specific to you and I opened the show with this, I loved how early on you guys had that rainbow logo and just, can you like walk us through a little bit of that at the time? I feel like it's been years you've been doing this.
[00:08:52] Chris: Thanks for noticing it. It has been years. I think that was about 2016 the year we opened. So a long time ago. Part of it is actually we came back to Williamsburg, Virginia to open a brewery and a lot of people, this is the South. Williamsburg wasn't necessarily the most progressive place in the world. Especially back in 2012, 2013, and 2014 when we were opening the brewery, working on opening the brewery. One of our goals with our project at the brewery was to change that. We thought it could be better and there's a place for everybody here and it didn't necessarily feel that way, I think, for the LGBTQ community. That was one of our founding goals was to change that and be a place that's comfortable for everybody. A big part of that was supporting that community. Two members of our management team is part of that community. It's real and authentic. It doesn't just come from a bunch of people that aren't in that community. I think it just sums up who we are and who we want to be, and the fact that everyone should be comfortable here, not just in our brewery but in our community in this town.
[00:10:18] Andrew: That's super positive, man. I have to say, like I said, it's a trend now to market to and towards. I mean, Lego has a set right now. That's a big deal. Everyone is awesome. That's positive, that's this year. There's a whole history. There's a legacy of marginalization and oppression, and that I really appreciate that you all have done that and it's not a bandwagon thing. I've noticed, and I think for people who are in the beer world, it can be a very interesting type of community and people. It can be really positive but also every industry has its challenges.
[00:11:04] Chris: It's kind of funny. It's almost internal, in a way, too, because that first year, we actually put that logo on a shirt but just for our team. It was a gift to everybody that worked here.
[00:11:16] Andrew: That's awesome.
[00:11:21] Chris: People were so excited by it. This town has changed and this community has changed that people ask for shirts and tank tops, which we have now.
[00:11:31] Andrew: It turned into merch but it wasn't about that.
[00:11:35] Chris: It was nothing then. It really wasn't about that at all.
[00:11:41] Andrew: That's so positive. I'm glad to hear that because, like you said, the last year has been very interesting for business and culture. We've covered a little bit on the show. We don't dig too deep into politics, but I mean, it's important to call what is real and true out there in the world. Back to your side of the community in there, folks, when you go on the website, part of why, again I'm drawn to this, on your community page, everyone's wearing this shirt. You even have a beer with that logo on it. Let's get back. We've talked purpose. Let's talk beer really quick. Obviously, you're passionate about it. You have your favorite. What's the one with the rainbow on it? Then, I want to get into your favorite that you all are doing right now.
[00:12:25] Chris: Yes it's called Friends of Dorothy. We did it last year for the first time, actually. Again, obviously, Pride is coming up next week, Pride month. We just canned the 2021 version and it's going out across the state.
[00:12:49] Andrew: It's called Friends of Dorothy?
[00:12:52] Chris: It sure is. While its true origins are unknown, the phrase "a friend of Dorothy" dates back to at least World War II, when homosexual acts were illegal in the United States. Stating that, or asking if someone was a "friend of Dorothy" was a euphemism used for discussing orientation without others knowing its meaning. Some say the phrase was coined to reference the famous writer, Dorothy Parker, who was an early ally for the gay community and was married to an openly bisexual man who often referred to himself as "queer as a Billy goat." However most folks attribute this phrase to everyone's favorite storm chaser, Dorothy Gale, from The Wizard of Oz. Played by gay icon, Judy Garland, this character was surrounded by gay subtext throughout the Baum novels, which was only reinforced by the film. Thankfully we live in a time where phrases like "Friends of Dorothy" have become obsolete or only used as a nostalgic and respectful nod to a much tougher time for the LGBTQIA community.
[00:12:53] Andrew: There's a Pride IPA. I see what you're saying. I'm looking at it now on the site. That's awesome. You have to know what your customers like. You have to know what you like with beer. You have to know what tastes good and going to sell. It's competitive. What have you noticed as far as trends in the way the industry has evolved in your time in it?
[00:13:20] Chris: Yes, it certainly evolved. I'd say it's not necessarily changed for the better. I think it's become a little more homogeneous in terms of the styles of beers that people want. We all want to cater to the consumer in a way. So many IPAs, so many sours, so much more stuff in beer.
[00:13:44] Andrew: I personally only drink lagers, but that's because our local bar is a lager only place. We do our meetings there. That's it for me. That's where I'm at.
[00:13:55] Chris: I can respect that. I do enjoy those types of beers from time to time.
[00:14:00] Andrew: The IPA is what sells, right?
[00:14:04] Chris: If you look at what we send into the market, the wider market, into grocery stores, and online bottle shops, it tends to be IPAs and sours because those things sell. What I love about our model is that we have two growing systems. One is a pretty large scale and one that's a much smaller scale. One of our goals is variety, always. We have 16 taps here at the brewery. It's not just variety within IPAs or within sours. Last year, we canned 125 different beers. This year, we're on track for close to 150.
[00:14:41] Andrew: Wow. Limited stuff though, right? To build a buzz and get people in filling growlers, and just getting that beer out there.
[00:14:48] Chris: Yes. It allows us to do so many different styles of beer because you're a lager person. We do English-style beers, which are [unintelligible 00:14:56]. We'll do 3.5% per mile. We have an amber ale, classic American amber in the tank right now. You name it, we've probably tried it, which I think just keeps it interesting and gives us wide appeal. It doesn't put us down that narrow path of, "Everyone drinks that. Let's only brew that." We like other things that brew.
[00:15:18] Andrew: That's awesome. I have to look back at my notes so to speak, but I was talking to someone last year about how many beers they were doing. So many different ones last year and that year alone. Every year, the overall variety and volume of those has increased, which I think is interesting.
[00:15:40] Chris: I think it's part of the craft beer movement.
[00:15:43] Andrew: It's the way. It's just like if you're not doing it, you're not a craft brewer.
[00:15:48] Chris: People want to try something new. I get that. So do I, when it comes to food or whatever it might be. We're giving them something new three times a week pretty much.
[00:15:57] Andrew: That's pretty cool, right on, man. Well, like I said, the logo for this month's beer is awesome. I love it. You've got the full flag there actually all the way down with the pink and the white, the brown and the black, which is positive.
[00:16:16] Chris: It's funny. The sticker was always just the rainbow. When we got to this can design, it was last summer. A lot of things happening in our country.
[00:16:25] Andrew: Lots of things happening in the country.
[00:16:27] Chris: We wanted to be as inclusive as possible, hence the inclusion of new colors on the top and bottom.
[00:16:34] Andrew: This is the Friends of Dorothy pride IPA, it's 7.3 ABV, comes in 4 packs, 60 ml cans. Of course, you can get it there. It's a IPA. It's got the El Dorado, the Citra Hops. Like you even say in your site here, you got the whole flag on there, and that's very positive. Then, you got merch related to it, too. If folks are heading to Williamsburg, you got to get on the second street. Chris, you gave us a little bit where it came from. What's your favorite?
[00:17:03] Chris: Favorite beer?
[00:17:04] Andrew: Yes. Put you on the spot.
[00:17:09] Chris: My mom is English. When I got to drinking age, I was lucky enough to be able to drink in some English pubs. We pretty much always have one or two English beers on tap. If you're looking for me, I'm probably hitting at the bar, well when you get to the bar [crosstalk] of ESB.
[00:17:32] Andrew: The ESB? Oh, you have an ESB, cool. That's a fun style. That's a good one. Well, fantastic. Thank you for joining us. Good luck. Summertime is obviously people are on patios. They're having fun. They're trying to get outside. Where are you distributing in your neck of the woods?
[00:17:57] Chris: Of course. We sell beer across Virginia except for the eastern shore, but pretty much everywhere. Then, in New York City, in New York State. Then, if you happen to be in the UK or France or the Netherlands or Japan or Korea, you'll find our beer and including Friends of Dorothy in some of the stores.
[00:18:19] Andrew: How did you get distribution that way into those select countries?
[00:18:23] Chris: We've got an expo program since we opened. Those are just the countries that we're in right now.
[00:18:28] Andrew: That's pretty cool.
[00:18:30] Chris: International cans of Friends of Dorothy if you happen to be in any of those places.
[00:18:35] Andrew: What is popular there from your stuff that surprised you?
[00:18:41] Chris: It's funny. IPAs. Here I was thinking that when we go to Tokyo, customers would be asking for a different beer, but no, looking for that hazy juicy IPA.
[00:18:54] Andrew: Wow, that's so funny. Trends are fascinating. Well, folks everybody who's listening or watching even, it's @VirginiaBeerCo on all the social channels. You can definitely hit their page as well. It is Virginia Beer Co. They will take care of you. Chris, thank you and to your whole team for what you've been doing for a very long time. It's cool that you are so focused on those core pillars, those three that you have. Thanks for being a StickerGiant customer, too. [crosstalk] Go ahead.
[00:19:37] Chris: Thanks for all you guys do for us.
[00:19:40] Andrew: We say always, of course on the show, every sticker has a story, but this one is one of my favorite beer stickers, and beer stickers are one of my favorites of all of the stickers, not just because we do a lot of business in beer, folks, but when I moved to Colorado, I realized how big-- that was a long time ago, almost twenty years ago, but it was small, and getting big. The last two decades has shown that it's just a cool place to now do some good too. There's a lot that goes on now in your space, Chris, and I appreciate that you guys are so motivated by that, and you're of course making good beer.
[00:20:19] Chris: Thank you. Thanks for having me on, Andrew, I appreciate it.
[00:20:22] Andrew: All right. We'll see you next time, folks. One Giant Community continues. This has been a great focus on pride and LBGTQIA+ community, and as we know the entire community that is far more than rainbows. Chris, good luck this summer and we'll see you soon.
[00:20:44] Chris: Thanks. [END OF AUDIO]
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