On naming beers

By |2018-10-18T13:21:03+00:00July 27th, 2018|

With all the challenges of opening a brewery these days, coming up with names for beers is usually low on a brewer’s priority list. If anything, it may be viewed as one of the “fun” tasks. But it shouldn’t be taken lightly, as it’s an important part of a brewery’s brand. Choosing the wrong name could result in a costly trademark dispute or backlash from beer enthusiasts. On the other hand, choosing the right name could garner attention for your beer and help it stand out in the crowd.

Last year, the Brewers Association took a stand against sexist beer names, and since then, some breweries have faced scrutiny for a variety of offensive or insensitive beer names. Take the Lakeview Brew Crew, as one recent example, which was pressured to change its controversial beer names before the brewery even opened.

Offensive beer names aside, brewers must come up with unique and engaging beer names, which is more difficult than you might think. Now that there are more than 6,000 breweries in America, with each one cranking out a slew of beers every year, coming up with new and unique names has become increasingly difficult. Just about every rhyme or pun or word-play on a style name has probably been done before.

Though plagiarism is rarely intentional, lots of breweries get away with using duplicate names (or trademarked names of some sort) because most of these breweries are small, under-the-radar operations with limited distributions that rarely get noticed by trademark holders – especially if their beers do not overlap in the same market. Additionally, one-off beers often come and go too quickly for anyone to notice, and draft-only offerings can easily be renamed if a cease & desist letter were to show up.

Once a brewery invests in design, marketing, bottle labels or pre-printed cans, however, name changing can be costly. Not to mention, losses associated with having to rebrand a well-known beer.

Speaking of branding, beer names tell you more than just what’s inside the bottle/can. Great names give a beer personality, an image, and sometimes even an emotional connection. Ask any old-school craft beer enthusiast about their first experiences with Black Butte Porter, Fat Tire Amber Ale, Pete’s Wicked Ale, or Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and you’ll see what I mean.

To add, many of the most venerable and iconic beers often have legendary names to match. Think Two Hearted, The Abyss, Bigfoot, Pliny the Elder, Dark Lord, Heady Topper, and Hunahpu’s. Just hearing these words can cause some to salivate.

Beer names can help to form new bonds between a brewery and its fans. Names can be conversation starters, which lead to interesting stories or inside jokes related to the brewery. And on a deeper level, some names reflect a brewery’s commitment to community, causes, tributes, or charities.

Just for fun, I like to name some of my homebrews and make labels for them. I’m not hindered by TTB restrictions or litigation concerns, but I still try to come up with unique names that haven’t been done before.

I recently brewed a Belgian-style Dubbel, and I thought I’d give it some clever name. Since it is a relatively strong beer, I thought of Seeing Dubbel. Unfortunately, after a quick search online, I found at least three breweries using that same name. How about Dubbel Trouble, I thought? Nope. Turns out, there are more than two dozen breweries using that name. OK, then, what about Dubbel Down? You guessed it, at least eight breweries already thought of that one.

Being an abbey-style ale, it would be natural to use monk in the name. But every conceivable iteration has already been done. There are countless Mad Monks, Angry Monks, Drunk Monks, Grumpy Monks, Funky Monks, Punk Monks, Hoppy Monks, etc. You get the idea.

To avoid overlap, confusion, or cease-and-desist letters, modern breweries have to get creative – even abstract – in order to come up with unique names.

Beer names no longer tend to be just some type of noun, either. Some are adjectives, and some are even phrases or perplexing combinations of words.

This surge of extraordinary beer names isn’t just a trend. It was borne out of necessity and fueled by creativity.

The folks at Aslan Brewing are master namers, with intriguing beer names such as Alligator Suitcase, Disco Lemonade, Motorcycle Craig, and 10,000 Battle Axes.

Structures Brewing is another Bellingham brewery with creative and thought-provoking beer names, such as Fuzz, Who Goes There, Wave of Mutilation, Vivid, Solar Mist, Nameless Sun, Isle of Bones, Invisible Throne, and After You’re Gone.

Pop over to The North Fork Brewery in Deming and you’ll find some curiously wonderful beer names as well, such as Is She Weird, Disappearer, Mysterian, Son of Freud, I’ve Been Tired, and Where Is My Mind? Pixies fans may get some of these, but for the rest of us they’re no less attention-grabbing.

Of course, many breweries skip naming all or most of their beers and just “name” them with their beer styles, which is what Chuckanut Brewery does. This hassle-free, traditional method works well, especially if the brewery has a respected and established brand – such as Chuckanut.

I wouldn’t say I have an established homebrew brand, but I gave up on naming my beer. I decided to just do like Chuckanut and name my beer Dubbel. Besides, Unicorn Tears was taken.

About the Author:

Aubrey Laurence
Aubrey has been a craft beer fanatic since the mid '90s and he has written about beer for a wide variety of publications in Washington, Oregon, and Colorado for well over a decade. He has judged beer in multiple competitions, plus he has rated and taken notes on thousands of beers from all 50 states and 68 countries -- visiting 16 of those countries on 6 continents. He is also a Certified Beer Server with the Cicerone Certification Program, an avid homebrewer, and a hop grower. In 2013 & 2014, he spearheaded Bellingham Beer Week. When he’s not drinking beer, he’s probably climbing a mountain somewhere. He lives in Bellingham with his wife and three cats. Follow him on twitter @AubreyLaurence.