Familiar Creatures

Devils Backbone Celebrates Virginia with New Packaging


WASHINGTONIAN | October 18, 2018


Artists Joel Artz and Dustin Artz working on the new packages. Photograph by Jessica Humphreys, courtesy Devils Backbone. 



When Anheuser-Busch bought bought the Virginia brewery Devils Backbone in 2016, many beer fans feared the transaction would take the “local” out of what was then considered a craft brewery. Those qualms may have abated as time passed. The biggest effect, from your average beer enthusiast’s point of view, anyway, was that it got easier to find Devils Backbone beers at the supermarket.

Starting last month, those customers may have finally noticed a change to the company’s products: Now they show off more of their home state. The old packaging grew organically in the company’s first decade in business, says Marisa Black, Devils Backbone’s director of marketing. While most products hewed to Devils Backbone’s distinctive illustration style, things could get a bit eclectic. “When you put it all on the shelf together, it looked like packaging from six different breweries,” she says. 

There was another problem: The Mid-Atlantic provenance of the beer wasn’t always clear. The packaging for its seasonal Danzig porter, for instance, showed a wind-battered town on the Baltic Sea; the art on its popular Vienna Lager didn’t necessarily evoke Virginia’s beauty. “We wanted to tell less a story of Vienna in Austria and more of a story of where we’re from,” Black says.

So Devils Backbone engaged Charlottesville design firm Okay Yellow and Richmond agency Familiar Creatures to rethink its packaging. The result recalls travel posters from the 1930s and ’40s, all showing scenes from Virginia. “There isn’t that nationally known culture of Virginia that people can say, ‘Oh this is what’s in Virginia,'” Black says, adding that the company is hoping to help change that.

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