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From “Billy Beer” to “Duff’s”: Licensed Beer Branding Comes of Age

Sales of food and beverage products based on licensed properties in the U.S. and Canada grew 6.0% in 2014, third highest of any product category behind only toys/games (7.0%) and apparel (6.5%). At just over $10.1 billion in sales, the food and beverage category now constitutes 10% of the total market. Frozen foods still rule the licensed food roost but adult beverages are coming on. And while many of the best known products are spirits and wines, beer may be growing the fastest.

Beer vs. Wine vs. Spirits

Spirits account for 45% of global alcohol consumption, according to the World Health Organization. Next comes beer at 36% and wine at 8%. But the numbers are skewed by disproportionately high spirit consumption in Asia. In Europe, beer consumption is ahead of spirits (35% v. 37%); beer’s advantage over spirits is even more pronounced in the Americas (55% v. 33%). Wine is a distant third in all markets. Two bottles of beer are consumed per capita for every glass of wine, according to recent studies.

The Evolution of Licensing for Beer Products

Historically, beer’s popularity made it a natural for celebrity endorsements—Frank Sinatra for Budweiser, Billy Dee Williams for Colt 45, athletes of all sports for Miller Lite, to name just a few vintage examples. But licensing took longer to develop. In 1977, Falls City Brewing Co. took the plunge by licensing presidential brother and “professional redneck” (in the AP’s words) Billy Carter for “Billy Beer.” In 1996, Rock group KISS became one of the first mainstream entertainment celebrities to license its name, logos and works for a beer brand.

Today, beer licensing is omnipresent. For one thing, beer is easier and cheaper to produce than wine and spirits. Beer licensing has also benefited from industry changes, especially the development of microbrewing. In addition to dramatically expanding the licensor pool the proliferation of microbreweries has brought beer to new consumers and created new product niches. It has also made it possible for celebrities like Andre Grenier and the Hanson brothers to launch their own breweries.

So Many Beers, So Many Brands

Today, dozens of rock groups, actors, athletes, artists and fictional characters have been licensed for beer products. And it’s not just celebrities. Licensors of beer products include clothing and sportswear companies like Carhartt and Lulu Lemon, museums, TV shows like “Games of Thrones,” fictional characters from TV shows like Klingons of “Star Trek” fame and even fictional beer brands from TV shows like “Simpsons”-inspired Duff Beer.

Leading License-Based Beers in the U.S.
Leading License-Based
Beers in the U.S.
Beer Product Brewer
KISS KISS Destroyer Krönleins Bryggeri (Sweden)
Grateful Dead American Beauty Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
Pearl Jam Faithfull Ale Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
Kid Rock Badass American Lager Michigan Brewing Company
AC/DC German Beer Australian Hard Rock Karlsberg Brauerei (Germany)
Iron Maiden Trooper Ale Robinsons
Hootie & the Blowfish Hootie’s Homegrown Ale Palmetto Brewing Co.
Hanson Mmmhops Hanson Brothers Brewing
Jimmy Buffett Landshark Lager Margaritaville Brewing Co.
Miles Davis Bitches Brew Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
Robert Johnson Hellhound on My Ale Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
Motörhead Bastards Lager Krönleins Bryggeri (Sweden)
GWAR GWAR Beer Cigar City Brewing
Pelican Immutable Dusk IPA 3 Floyds Brewing Co.
The Creeper
Toxic Revolution Municipal Waste Stout 3 Floyds Brewing Co.
Permanent Funeral Pig Destroyer 3 Floyds Brewing Co.
Razor Hoof High on Fire 3 Floyds Brewing Co.
Wil Wheaton Stone Farking Wheaton Stout Stone Brewing Co.
Lenny Bruce He’Brew Bittersweet Lenny’s R.I.P.A. Schmaltz Brewing Company
Tom Green The Tom Green Beer Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company
Frank Thomas Big Hurt Beer Big Hurt Brewing Co.
Game of Thrones Fire and Blood Red Ale Ommegang
Iron Throne Blonde Ale
Take the Black Stout
Three-Eyed Raven Dark
Valar Moghulis Dubbel
Star Trek Klingon Warnog Ale Tin Man Brewing Company
The Walking Dead Dock Street Walker Dock Street Brewing Co.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia Dayman Coffee IPA Stone Brewing Co.
Breaking Bad Heisenberg Dark IPA Marble Brewery
Lord of the Rings Gollum Precious Pils Fish Brewing Company
Smaug Stout
Bolg Belgian Tripel
The Simpsons Duff Beer City Brewing Company
Carhartt Carhartt Woodsman New Holland Brewing Co.
Mallard steam locomotive (owned by U.K. National Railway Museum) Mallard IPA Wold Top Brewery (U.K.)
Mallard Wold Top


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