Brewing up community spirit since 2014
Only a few years ago, Ottawa brewer and Dominion City co-founder Josh McJannett was commuting from his “real job” to his home brewery—in his backyard. It was an imperfect system and as his love for the project grew, so too did his need for a true brew location. Along with his business partners, McJannett began to search out real estate and in 2014 he rented a space within his modest budget. Realtors don’t trade in passion so the duo ended up in the back of an industrial park in the east end of the city. McJannett looked at his partner and said, “We’d better be good at selling kegs.”
Although the pair would have loved to operate a taproom, they doubted that they could entice Ottawa’s sudsy sippers to their out-of-the-way location no matter how thirsty they were. With this limitation in mind, they put into place a modest plan. Initially open for only 9 hours per week they hand-bottled their beer in growlers, the large glass jars designed for syrup, and brought their product to market.
The response was immediate and overwhelming: beer-drinkers loved the Dominion City brews and were willing to travel for it. “We’ve been kind of consistently shocked and blown away that people seem to want to come out here,” McJannett says, yet five years later their headquarters has been expanded and renovated to include a taproom. Nowadays they’re open seven days per week, with food, wines, ciders, and their own beers on offer.
Once they saw they could reach their customers in the way they wanted to, the people behind Dominion City made sure to keep their customers and community front and centre. “We don’t really exist without our city and without our community,” McJannett says. “We want to be as close to our customers as we can be. We never want to grow beyond the point where we can sell what we make over the bar, or sell it to someone else who will sell it over the bar. We don’t sell beer at the LCBO and we don’t sell at groceries or beer stores outside of Ottawa.” Their hyperlocal approach adds a new challenge to the project: they have to keep their customers engaged with interesting, delicious, and compelling beer, and the perfect package is a part of that.
McJannett wasn’t blind to the issue. He knew that some people might look at the Dominion City model and say ‘Why are you making 50 beers in a year?’ “All this product variability sounds very expensive,” he admits. “We needed a way to have brand-consistent, attractive quality packaging with a lot of variability.” That’s where, in 2016, Dominion City’s relationship with Lorpon Labels began.
Dominion City’s new business meant they needed a new packaging solution, one that was less manual than they’d had with the growlers. After some research, they decided to get into canning, and they hired Ottawa design agency Northern Army to create their signature look. The new labels were a hit with their customers but designed with a crispness that left little room for error. Add to the technical challenges of Dominion City’s vast and ever-changing product line, and you have a set of complicated requirements.
“The truth is, we keep it pretty loose here,” McJannett says. “One of the things that’s worked for us is that our brewers are very creative. And, sometimes leaving space for that creativity means you’re not always sure what you’re going to be doing a month from now. That’s tricky when you need a beautiful, consistent label every time.”
All of the artwork on the Northern Army labels is spot colour in really strong blocks. One of the primary requirements for making an outstanding label was that there wouldn’t be any trapping lines (where two colours overlap and create a third colour). Colour accuracy and consistency–making sure that every label in every batch is accurate to the Pantone colour as well as repeatable on every print run, was also a concern.
Lorpon’s approach was to create label templates that colour corrected into a 7-colour process expanded gamut (CMYK plus process orange, violet, or green) if a colour went outside the 4-colour process (CMYK) gamut by a certain value. In addition to eliminating any trapping issues, the colours on the labels are consistently accurate and vibrant. “I’ve stopped worrying about it when the boxes show up,” McJannett says. “They always look right.”
Early on, Dominion City discovered a real investment in community advocacy and wanted to bring this vision into every part of their production. When Lorpon Labels approached them about variable printing—the process of producing a series of different but related designs that, when together, creates a unified theme—the brewers developed creative ways to build community-based campaigns.
Their first foray aligned with the LGBTQ2+ Pride events in Ottawa. The 1971 can (so named in honour of the We Demand protest, the first public demonstration for LGBTQ2+ rights in Canada) was produced in eight different colours so that, when lined up, they created the rainbow Pride flag. It was a hit, and allowed the brewery to support children and youth from LGBTQ2+ families through the Ten Oaks Project.
Emboldened by this early success, Dominion City dreamed bigger. They reached out to an Algonquin First Nations community three hours outside of Ottawa for a collaboration. “We worked gathering ingredients for a beer and just getting to know each other,” McJannett recalls. The result was a beer called The Good Way. The cans were produced in alternating colour schemes, and in Anishinaabemowin and English. “It was probably one of the most rewarding and interesting things we’ve ever done as a brewery.”
It’s not often that brewers have occasion to delve into true premium labelling but another creative Dominion City project presented just such a challenge. The series of premium packaged brews, casually referred to as the Funk Series by McJannett, were fermented over time in retired oak wine barrels and bottled in 750mL champagne-style bottles. The process was risky, relying on the brewmaster’s sense of art as much as science, and the results were somewhat unknown. In the end, though, Dominion City had another winner on their hands. Now they just needed packaging that would communicate to their customers that they were consuming something totally unique and of a premium quality–something that showed the product was worth its $14 to $25 price point. “We wanted it to look like something that commanded value.”
Working again with Northern Army and using inspiration from Lorpon’s portfolio book, Dominion City came up with an idea. “What if the design and the lettering was consistent and the background looked like wallpaper?” The resulting labels, printed on a heavy weight bright white felt Aquashield label paper meant the bottles could be submerged in an ice bucket and shared like a bottle of wine.This was exactly the product image that Dominion was after. The head-turning labels also looked great on the shelf. “We wanted to present it in a way that was different, and consistent horizontally so that when you saw four of them together you understood there was a connection point.”
Collaboration, innovation and partnership
“Lorpon finds a way to get to a ‘yes’ when we have a problem or a question,” McJannet sums up. “I mean, I’m not just blowing smoke. I think you guys are genuinely innovative and you try to come up with a solution to meet our problem. I think the reason we’re still doing business together all these years later is because you listen and want to try to help us get to a solution.”