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Fullsteam’s ‘Packaging Agnostic’ Philosophy

In the second leg of Brewbound’s Brew Talks Southeast Tour, Sean Wilson, the founder and CEO of Fullsteam Brewery, shared his company’s philosophy on packaging decisions, which he described as “agnostic,” believing that package variety is required from one beer to the next.

Based in Durham, N.C., Fullsteam was founded in August of 2010, and at the time, Wilson said that its packaging strategy was simply “anything but the glass 6-pack.” Wilson felt that beer belonged in “different vessels.”

“I think for us it works to be packaging agnostic just because we’re so diverse in what we’re trying to do. We may rein that in [or] it might stay that way,” he said. “We’ve toyed around with 750 [mL bottles], 22 [oz. bottles], and now with cans.”

Despite his reluctance to sell a 6-pack of glass bottles, Wilson said that there’s a reason the offering is so prevalent on retail shelves. Simply put, consumers want it.

Nevertheless, there’s a line, he said, that brewers must navigate between meeting consumer demand and being novel in order to differentiate their beer from the herd.

Wilson said that the liquid plays an important role in Fullsteam’s choice of the package type and size — as well as the accompanying price tag — in that the brewery attempts to pair taste and the drinking experience with the vessel itself.

“Beers for conversation,” said Wilson, “are beers that kind of sit in the background.”

For Wilson, the conversation beers are the familiar brands and styles for which consumers already have an established taste. They’re in 12 oz. cans or bottles. They are there to be enjoyed, but intended to be complementary to your surroundings as opposed to being the focal point.

Beers for introspection, however, are a bit different, Wilson said. Those are for the big bottles, the 22 oz. bombers. They aren’t complementary to the moment; they are the moment.

“It’s a little bit more focused on the table,” said Wilson. “You’re pouring and you’re like, ‘Wow,’ you know, ‘What are persimmons? How does the coffee balance with the pecan?’”

Wilson believes that consumers are often able to get a good sense of a beer before they taste it, in large part because of the package.

“Price and packaging, that’s the key,” he said. “The American IPA is just an American IPA. Those are cues that customers pick up on. Combined with the price and the packaging where the customers pick it up and say, I don’t know, ‘We’re going to hit the golf course,’ or something like that. It sends those cues. Customers are smart. They’ll select it for you.”