Icicle Brewing Co. is a brand a long time in the making: over 140 years, in fact. That’s when founder Oliver Brulottes’ family started farming hops in Washington’s Yakima Valley. Now, in 2021, the brewery Oliver built in Leavenworth is growing its brand the way a farmer grows anything—with intense creativity and drive.
“There are multiple generations of farmers behind Icicle,” says Chris Danforth, Icicle Brewing’s VP of Marketing. “The history of hops in Washington can be traced back to just a few families.”
Danforth describes how Oliver and Pamela Brulotte founded the brewery in 2011. After moving to Leavenworth, Washington, they started making kettle corn for tourists. Then they started a popular Bavarian restaurant, München Haus, the proceeds of which he used to build his brewery and taproom.
“The brewery naturally grew over time. Then about two years ago, we opened a new facility to increase production and help with distribution. We also built a small pilot system to keep brewing at the taproom as well.”
Icicle, which by this time had collected hundreds of beer awards, was positioned to connect its beloved brews with many new craft beer lovers. But, of course, their uptick in capacity also occurred just before another—much more disruptive—development: the COVID-19 pandemic.
“During COVID, our model had to shift. We had mostly been selling draft before the pandemic, but we had to move to sell a lot more packaged beer. We did some innovative things, and Great Little Box Company/Ideon Packaging (GLBC) helped with that.”
Icicle Brewing’s biggest innovation was the creation of a rotating beer series. “Craft beer fans always want something new and exciting. This is a challenge for retailers because the SKUs are always changing. But our first series, which we called Enchantment, offered up a new hazy IPA every three months. There was a different hop profile each time, but the same SKU, which helped retailers and encouraged them to choose us.”
Key to developing Enchantment as a series worth following was branding that would make grocery and specialty bottle shop shoppers stop in their tracks. Icicle commissioned watercolour artwork—an aesthetic statement that wouldn’t allow for printing directly onto the cans.
“Printed cans are cheaper, but between our complicated artwork and the fact that COVID has backed things up so that printers won’t even deal with small buyers like us, we needed labels.”
This is where GLBC came in. “Their people in Everett provided us with a truly high-quality label with great pricing. They figured out so many ways to save costs: doing bulk runs, even warehousing our stock, and sending us product as we needed it. We could innovate without breaking the bank.”
The results were all Icicle could have hoped for and more. Craft beer drinkers loved the watercolour artwork and got hooked on the excitement of the series approach.
“We introduced this product at the right time, which propelled massive growth and generated a following for our series. Then, we did another series the same way: a west coast IPA called Peak Seeker featuring the same artist’s still life portraits of outdoor gear. It worked just as well. These labels allow us to be very nimble and work on short timelines, and that’s important for us. With printed cans, we’d be limited to 6 colours and 6-month lead times.”
Soon, Icicle looks forward to unveiling a new offering that grew out of the success of Enchantment: a 12 oz can targeted at grocery stores. This can will be sold at a lower price point, so GLBC’s cost-saving partnership is just as essential as ever.
“We want to spend money on ingredients, not labels and packaging. GLBC helps us to do that and we’re so grateful!”