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December 23, 2009

The skinny on Clipper City Brewing's redesign

clipper city founder hugh sissonClipper City Brewing is undergoing some noticeable changes in the new year. Here is Happy Drinker Rob, with the run-down:

Clipper City Brewing will be changing labels, and that means the guy on the "MarzHon" label wearing long black knee socks will disappear.

Founder Hugh Sisson (pictured) says that starting in February, his Pale Ale, Gold Ale, McHenry and MarzHon will lose their Clipper City look and moniker. They will be called Heavy Seas brews and get new labels.

Instead of Clipper City MarzHon, the beer will be known as Heavy Seas Marzen ...

The Heavy Seas Marzen label will lose the cartoon-like caricature of the MarzHon guy sitting on his front porch, in his undershirt and black socks.

That image and the whole Clipper City image does not register with beer drinkers who live outside the Baltimore area, Sisson said.

Too bad. I still will drink the beer, but I will miss the Hon guy.

(Baltimore Sun photo by Kim Hairston)

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 2:34 PM | | Comments (18)
Categories: Bars & Clubs


Don't quite understand why. Their current "Clipper City" image doesn't have to register with beer drinkers outside of the area as long as it is interesting enough to make someone want to pick it up to have a closer look. I'll still drink it though, as long as I know what to look for.

Maybe we can grab a few cases and host a funeral for the MarzHon guy. Start drafting your eulogies now ...

What, have all the good "name" people been kidnapped by the OPI nail polish company? Another weird, unpleasant name.. Heavy Seas? Does that conjure up anything positive or snappy? At least Clipper City had some snazz to it..


Clipper City seems like a much better name than Heavy Seas, which has negative connotations and is not as euphonious.

i love that beer but god that label is awful. i would rather lose the local touch than have that out there....

I actually think "Clipper City" is a better moniker than "Heavy Seas" and is (obviously) a better representation of the local area. If I didn't know better, I would think all "Heavy Seas" beers are heavy and strong (thus where the name came from). So it's now going to be a "[Heavy] Gold Ale"? Ugh...

But Hugh's a smart guy and I think I read somewhere that the Heavy Seas distribution outside of Balto makes it easier to just merge the CC beers into that label.

Too bad.. I wish it was the other way around.

Full details (complete with label art and addt'l changes) coming soon!

But Hugh's a smart guy...

I like his beers and would like to think he's a smart guy, but this blog post makes me think otherwise:

I think they should have kept the name Marz-Hon and put the skull and crossbones with the beehive hairdo. I get branding and I buy craft beer from all over the country. There is nothing wrong with a little local flair.

BA, why would you think less of Hugh because of that blog post? Hugh is smart enough to realize that, in his strategic position, the three-tier system works to his benefit by affording him wider distribution and marketing than he could otherwise manage and afford. To any brewery the size of Clipper City, the three-tier system is a "necessary evil," and debating its pros and cons would take up several entire blogs (and does, as a matter of fact). We're NOT talking state control of booze sales like Pennsylvania or county control like Montgomery County, which really shows no positive value except as a graft source and union payoff.

But I know Hugh realizes that he's caught in a somewhat difficult position: too small to be an effective regional on a national scale like Yuengling, Sierra Nevada, or Flying Dog; and too big to be a "tiny" microbrewery serving only a local market.

Dumb idea! Clipper is hard to find in the Annapolis area, but worth looking for it. I'll forget the name "Heavy Seas" as soon as I finish this article. So will many others. Prediction: w/i 3 years, the brewery will be out of business due to the unwarranted name change. Pity: great brew!

Clipper's Heavy Seas line is currently only for high-alcohol (>6%) brews. Might that confuse some consumers by putting their 'weak' brews out with that label?

Mista T, I'm willing to take that bet. $100?


Everyone just loves it when you get "serious".


ADM4 - People who "attack" the 3 tier system are actually attacking the stupid laws which make the system mandatory. To argue that the 3 tier system provides benefits to some breweries - as you and Hugh do - completely misses the point. Beer, wine, and spirits wholesalers would still exist if these laws were repealed. But their profit margins - which are disproportionately larger than those of wholesalers and distributors in similar supply chains - would be smaller. I'm ok with that as it would likely mean lower prices and more beverage options for consumers.

BA: Not necessarily. We could blather for hours over this topic, but the reality is that the primary target of the elimination of the three-tier system being mandatory is to allow the smallest of the small--places like Olivers, Brewers Art, and the "Buzz Beer" Brewery on the "Drew Carey Show"--the ability to self-distribute, or for example, allowing a bar to drive up to said brewery and load up a keg or two, or for you the consumer to buy six-packs or kegs directly from the brewery. As much as we may often loathe the middlemen in the trade, they are often the ONLY reason that we can get our hands on many beers, or even know they exist. Those distributors are often engaged in ferocious competition to bring you the most distinctive beers and sell them to your retailers or bars. I've seen states that had good beer selections only because three or more distributors were engaged in "I've got more/better than you" duels.

Yes, we could argue the details and specifics. Maybe a guild of small breweries should start their own distributor or something. But the fact remains that Clipper/Heavy--and Flying Dog, and Fordham, and Stoudt's--can only keep their breweries running with the help of distributors.

ADM4 - I think you're still missing the point. Distributors do provide value-added in many cases. I'm not arguing that. The problem is that the law mandates their inclusion in the system. The mandate reduces product availability and raises costs (higher costs are reflected by disproportionately high profit margins for alcohol distributors). That's basic economics.

Take away the mandate and the distributors would still exist (they exist in other similar product distribution chains, albeit with smaller profit margins).

Ask yourself this: if the distributors are really providing as much value as you and Sisson assert, why would eliminating the mandate force them out of business? (Answer: it wouldn't.) Flying Dog, Fordham, Heavy Seas, etc. could all keep their relationship with their current distributor in absence of a law forcing them to do so.

However, eliminating the mandate would give consumers access to more products. Marylanders could, for instance, join wine of the month clubs without committing felonies. A bar in Baltimore could contract directly with a brewery in Oregon that may or may not have an existing relationship with the bar's normal distributor(s).

Further, it would open up new markets for breweries. It would basically be a win for consumer and producers. The only loser would be distributors - and even they would still be doing just fine.

You won't get any argument from this Libertarian over whether the market should be less regulated or not. I'm all for complete freedom in the marketplace.

However, I am also acutely aware of the fickleness of the marketplace, and how beer geeks and snobs have an altered perception of that marketplace. Right now, two segments of the craft beer marketplace are doing quite fine, thank you: the big, regional brewery (Sierra Nevada, Yuengling, Anchor, New Belgium, Goose Island, Magic Hat, etc.) and the tiny local brewpub (Brewers Art, Olivers, etc.). It's the mid-sized microbreweries--big enough to bottle and contract, but too small to be a regional name brand, such as Clipper/Heavy Seas, Flying Dog, Stoudt's, Troeg's, Flying Fish, and the like--that are struggling and competing neck-and-neck with one another. For every Dogfish Head, there's a Fordham and Old Dominion. For every "cult" beer like Russian River or New Belgium Fat Tire, there are a dozen or more perfectly wonderful beers that are gathering dust on the racks at the retailer or bar. In our lust and race to "have it all," we could actually end up with far less in the end.

The Scots have a saying: "Be careful what you wish for, for you may certainly get it."

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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