How Lager Hats Became a Signifier of Beer Cool

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I was drinking at a Brooklyn bar last spring when I first saw the navy blue hat stitched with “LAGER LAGER LAGER LAGER” in a gold sans-serif font. “That brewery sells more hats than it does beer,” a knowledgeable friend told me as he pointed at a scruffy man wearing it. As I would continue to see the hat’s seeming ubiquity at various breweries, beer bars, beer festivals, and the like as I traveled the globe, it became easy to believe that was the case.

“When we came up with the branding, we wanted to make lager very cool. We wanted people to see it as something that has value versus something that is off to the side,” says Shawn Cooper, co-founder of Halfway Crooks Beer and the maker of the hat that has become part of a fashion trend within the industry.

When Halfway Crooks opened in the Summerhill neighborhood of Atlanta in the summer of 2019, its owners’ vision was to offer an homage to the Belgian beer cafés that co-founder Joran Van Ginderachter had grown up frequenting in his homeland.

“We wanted to create a bar environment where you could just come with your friends or meet strangers at the bar and just drink simple beers you don’t need to talk about,” explains Cooper.

Those sorts of beers would include drinkable pale ales, mixed fermentation beers that weren’t too fancy, expensive, or sour, and, of course, lagers, lagers, lagers, lagers. (The hat subtly references a line from “Born Slippy,” a song most famously used in Trainspotting.) These lagers, with names such as Active Low and Radix, are some of the best in the country, every bit as good as their legendary European antecedents.

From the beginning, Halfway Crooks was a hyper-local business, without any distribution for the first year or so before they began offering occasional drops within the perimeter created by Interstate 285. Of course, “community” took on a new meaning in March 2020 when COVID-19 restrictions took hold. Without any beer to buy, with interstate shipping of beer mostly forbidden, customers across the country began keeping their favorite breweries afloat by buying their merchandise.

“I specifically remember New York,” recalls Cooper. “There was someone who tweeted about our hat in New York. And then I remember seeing, all of a sudden, a bunch of orders coming in online going to New York.”

By the summer of 2020, Hop Culture had featured the LAGER LAGER LAGER LAGER hat first in a listicle of “The Best Beer Swag on the Internet Right Now.” This despite the fact—or perhaps because of the fact—that the Halfway Crooks brewery name or logo isn’t even visible on the hat.

“We wanted it to be more grassroots and spark a conversation,” says Cooper. “‘Hey, where’d you get that cool hat?’”

Leaning into Lager

Other emerging breweries have come to learn that, in a time when beer sales are struggling, it’s not only good marketing, but good economics, to turn the merch side of the business into its own small fashion brand, if you will. 

In Philadelphia, Human Robot has likewise leaned heavily into lager both on tap and on the merchandise wall. They have a Lager hat spoofing the university hats that were popular a generation ago. There are Pilsner Pirates shirts. A blue grandad hat with “Pilsner” written in the style of Formula One tire manufacturer Pirelli is one of their top sellers.

Again, the actual brewery branding on all their clothing is almost non-existent; it’s all about the lager, with nuanced styles that have likewise become a signifier of beer cool in an era of IPA oversaturation.

“A lot of people joke, ‘Did you start a brewery just so you could sell T-shirts?’” says Human Robot cofounder Jake Atkinson. “But it’s been an easy thing, with this lager resurgence, to kind of make that fun and cool and figure out ways to not just do the traditional bullshit brewery merchandise that says whatever stupid city and the brewery’s name. To make it more like a clothing line than just a brewery, but using beer.”

In fact, since Human Robot doesn’t distribute their actual lagers such as Hallertau Pils and Czech 10°, merch items are literally the only things that ship out from the brewery. 

It’s not only the smaller brewers, however. With this lager renaissance, even the O.G.s of the style are using it to get a boon in cool. Over the last two summers, Coors has partnered with popular apparel retailer Huckberry to release three different lines of clothing collabs; everything from retro ringer tees to cowboy snap shirts and, of course, hats, like a corduroy cap saluting Banquet beer, a golden lager brewed since before Colorado was a state. The collaboration has been well-covered by the press—the fashion press, that is.

These days for Halfway Crooks, it’s not just that original LAGER LAGER LAGER LAGER hat anymore. There’s a cycling cap and a soft pink “mom” hat. There’s a Ležák hat in black, a reference to the famed Czech dark lager. There are lager sweatshirts in a multitude of colors. Fans excitedly wait for new drops like haze boys used to wait for new canned IPA releases.

Nevertheless, my friend was wrong. No, Halfway Crooks doesn’t sell more hats than beer.

“I mean, the hat is like $25,” says Cooper. “So it would take quite a bit to really put a huge dent in our overall gross revenue.” is fully dedicated to small and independent U.S. breweries. We are published by the Brewers Association, the not-for-profit trade group dedicated to promoting and protecting America’s small and independent craft brewers. Stories and opinions shared on do not imply endorsement by or positions taken by the Brewers Association or its members.