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A Rose By Any Other Name - The Importance of Homebrew Names

(Most of this article originally appeared in BeerAdvocate the Magazine in March 2011. The reprint is inspired by the latest goofiness at SCHF. Read below for more.)

Nothing unsheathes the hipster claws of beerdom faster than anything that vaguely smacks of marketing. Never mind that breweries need to sell things to stay in business. Never mind that successful breweries, even small little mom and pop operations, craft their images with almost as much care as their beer. Nope, if it’s ’marketing’ then it deserves nothing less than full scorn. 

What does this have to do with homebrewing? You and I aren’t shiners dodging the revenuers, selling our beer. I don’t desire the intimate relationship with the ABC to make that happen.  While we may not be selling for cash money, we are selling a product, an idea, a piece of our creativity to our friends and families whenever we offer them a glass. We may not have the money or need for the Swedish Bikini Team, but a proper name creates a good first impression and can inspire your brewing.

I base all of this name foofooraw on years of observing which beers get the hype at festivals and which recipes stick in people’s minds the longest. Even wildly experimental beers catch the eye because we’re presented with either a great name or a grandiose list of ingredients. Back it up with a great beer and the stars will have aligned and history created. For that I point to two of my goofiest creations (with now lost to the cars, Jonny Lieberman). Ask yourself which of these names makes a stronger impression and stick in your mind – “Inaugural Double IPA” or “The Audacity of Aretha Franklin’s Hat DIPA”; “Bourbon Tequila Spiced Barleywine” or “Gonzo Hemp Poppy Spirit Wine”.

A great name should evoke something, a memory, a sensation, a feeling – even if that feeling is a hale “fuck you!” Witness the great success of “Arrogant Bastard”, think that beer would have sold nearly as well or cemented the Stone brand as “Stone Brewing American Strong Ale”? Most of my named beers, and I’ll admit I don’t name all of them, get names tied to the moment or thought behind the beer.  (See the “Mortgage Killer” I just wrote about)

But beyond giving a better post to hang your hat on than “Porter #5” or “Citra IPA”, a good name affects the perception of the beer. “Punkin Chunkin Ale” preps the drinker for the mélange of pumpkin pie spice. They’re expecting a certain flavor and can probably pick out every spice individually. That same beer, without the “Punkin” delivers no expectations. After all, what’s in a “Spiced Amber”?

I wrote that in January of 2011 and my thoughts on the subject haven't changed a single whit since then. Last weekend's Southern California Homebrewers Festival reinforced it even more. I brought 5 beers to fest. Three of the five were destroyed: Oceanside Rye IPA, Cookie Celebration Ale and One Night in Tijuana. Now, I admittedly think they were all fantastic beers, but the thing that made people gravitate to them in the first place was the name. It caught the eye, made them laugh (Tijuana), made them curious (Cookie) or evoked a feeling (Oceanside).

It doesn't take much to make a good name. I usually spiel these off faster than Don Draper. Sometimes it takes longer - Oceanside took a while because I wanted a name that communicated the fact that it used San Diego Ale yeast and the idea that it was tropical and refreshing. One Night in Tijuana was decided almost the second I put Tequila soaked Oak Cubes in it!

Now, of course, I have to figure out why the two others- the Yorkshire Lad RyePA and the Calypso Limbo Brown didn't sell as well!

But seriously, take a few minutes, think of a name for your beer. Have a glass while you're thinking. It's as good an excuse as any other. The name is another piece of the craftsmanship. (If you'd like, drop me an email and I'll help be your sounding board)

ETA - clarifying something based on discussions I've seen floating out there - There's nothing wrong with simple names that communicate (See Oceanside Rye IPA or my Limbo Citra Saison as example), but I do think you need to express something more than "Cream Ale".  You've put a lot of creativity in that beer, but they can't taste that until you get it in the glass.

Also, while I'm adding - can we layoff the scatalogical and sex references? Nothing makes the world of homebrew and craft beer more friendly and inclusive than beers with such refined names as Big Cock Block Stout and Cornhole Brown. At least if you're going to be offensive - be creative.


johnaitchison's picture

I'm going to differ with Drew on this.  Sure, a name makes a beer seem interesting; especially to new brewers or others who aren't familiar with styles.  And of course it allows one creativity.  And I can see you might want to honor someone by namimg a beer after them.

But I think a beer should speak for itself.  If it outstanding, let the beer do the talking.  I name all my Bohemian Pilsners "Bohemian Pilsner" and just change the month and year I brewed them to differentiate them.  Same thing at microbreweries.  I greatly prefer Sierra Nevada's emphasis of style and category to a brewery that gives it's beers cute names that don't mean anything. 


Drew Beechum's picture

But you see.. you already have a brand, John. People associate the name John Aitchison with good thoughts about great lagers - so for you, that's your brand  and it does the talking for you. (Sierra Nevada does the same thing to a certain extent, but even they have Celebration, Bigfoot, Torpedo, Ovila, Ruthless Rye, etc)

SalTheYounger's picture

I agree.  I'd certainly buy a John Aitchison lager, nevermind the month.

I like cool beer names.  "Old Horizontal".  "What the Gentleman on the Floor is Having."  Two of my favorites.  

Where I differ with Drew is on the IMPORTANCE of beer names.  Nothing about beer is important.  That's the whole point, or pint, as the case may be.  That's why we enjoy it.

As I see it, importance is the enemy of beer.



Señor Brew™'s picture

...for any of the Falcons competitions, including the most recent Mayfaire?  I thought my blue ribbon winning APA had a great name, "Mermaid Serenade", but unfortunately, it just said American Pale Ale in the listings.

Drew Beechum's picture

That would be because my scripts that generate the results don't pull the beer names! I should probably change that when I have a chance

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