Iron City Brewing Co.: Historic Brewery Gets Fresh Start
By Jennifer Zegler
Pittsburgh pride is one of
the hallmarks of the newly re-opened Iron City Brewing Co. On Sept. 19,
2007, Iron City Brewing Co. was brought out of the shadows of bankruptcy by
a new team led by Iron City President Timothy Hickman and Greenwich,
Conn.-based Unified Growth Partners. The new team brings with it a fresh
mission for Iron City, but does not forget the history that helped the
brewery become a Pittsburgh institution.
“Our core focus is on being a quality regional
brewery,” Hickman says. “We’re based in Western
Pennsylvania, and that area ties into certain sports teams, blue-collar
traditions and strict work ethic. We want to take Iron City brands back to
their roots and reflect the Pittsburgh quality and workmanship this city is
The brewery first opened in 1861, but has spent the
past two decades mired in financial troubles. Formerly known as Pittsburgh
Brewing Co., the brewery transferred ownership a few times in the late
1980s following financial troubles incurred by two sequential owners.
In 1995, Pittsburgh native Joseph Piccirilli purchased
the brewery with hopes of moving it into the 21st century. Under
Piccirilli’s ownership, Iron City introduced the aluminum beer
bottle, which was a first in the category. Despite attempts at innovation,
sales dropped and Pittsburgh Brewing Co. filed for bankruptcy in 2005.
Last fall, the new team of investors reclaimed the
Pittsburgh establishment with plans to get the brewery back on track. The
group honored tradition by changing the Pittsburgh Brewing Co. name back to
the brewery’s original name, Iron City Brewing Co. It also maintained
the brewery’s historic Liberty Avenue location in Pittsburgh, which
has housed its operations since 1866. The new team has invested $4.1
million in the brewery’s historic location.
In November, Iron City, IC Light and Augustiner beers
were re-introduced to the market.
Iron City’s new direction includes a focus on
its local area. So much so that “quality,
regional brewery” is the phrase Hickman and Tony Ferraro, vice
president sales and marketing, want used to identify Iron City Brewing Co.
Also new is a revived company slogan, “The Official Beer of the
Pittsburgh Nation.” The new slogan reflects Iron City’s core
area of consumption, which occupies the 80- to 120-mile radius around the
The people of the “Pittsburgh Nation” are
known for their loyalty, especially to local legends, Hickman explains.
While in the re-opening process, the new Iron City team wanted to find out
more about consumers’ opinions of its brands.
“We did focus groups on what the perception of
the brand was,” Ferraro says. “[Iron City] was perceived as
inconsistent because the quality of our packaging and bottles.”
The team set to work redesigning the packaging of IC
Light and Augustiner brands. The facelift for these brands was a long time
coming — IC Light had not received a packaging makeover since its
introduction in 1976, Ferraro says. The light beer’s yellow, silver
and black color scheme was reinvented in a new circular logo complemented
by golden beer tones on its six-packs, 12-packs and 24-packs.
For amber lager Augustiner, the previous packaging
embodied “Old World” heritage with a classic shape and Gothic
lettering. The new packaging uses earth tones that still honor its
traditions, but updates the brand for today. Furthering its history,
six-packs and 24-packs feature an exterior building shot of the Liberty
In contrast to its fellow brands, Iron City’s
logo was left untouched, but the packaging was upgraded. The newly designed
and upgraded packaging for all three brands is slated to be in the market
by March. These new looks also reflect the brands’ renewed focus on
quality, which it hopes will attract consumers.
“We want the upgraded packaging to look 2008 and
appeal to a younger demographic,” Ferraro says. “We’re in
the upper-premium price range. We want to control what we can do to create
a quality product to deliver to consumers who are willing to pay for
Iron City also has partnered with an ad agency and
public relations firm to get the word out about its products. The marketing
move is as important as the packaging changes, Hickman says.
“We’re also putting dollars into
advertising, TV, radio and viral campaigns to let people know it’s
the same Iron City they are used to with an upgraded look,” he says.
On the heels of the re-launch of its core lineup of
Iron City, IC Light and Augustiner, the company has plans to extend its
portfolio. The company intends to re-introduce a past offering, IC Golden
Lager. Also in the works are seasonal craft beers, which Ferraro hopes will
add some enthusiasm to the brand.
“We want to be able to rebuild the image of Iron
City, and by going into craft beers, we want a product that tastes great
and will get consumers excited about Iron City again,” Ferraro says.
“Consumers will recognize that the maker of traditional Iron City can
also produce a quality regional lager and light beer.”