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How To Find The Best Craft Beer Name
If you’ve ever had daydreams of naming dogs, babies, or hypothetical cover bands, you know the excitement of finding the perfect name that will make its mark for years to come. Naming beers can come with that same excited anticipation or be shrouded in anxiety as you search for the perfect words to represent your beer.
Not only are names a fun way to speak to your brand and product, but it’s also a requirement. In some states such as North Carolina individual beers must be registered with their “fanciful name” (which simply means the name of the specific beer being registered) in order for the beer to be distributed or for off-premise sales.
So how does one go about naming a beer that entices drinkers to choose you above the competition?
In this article, we will discuss:
How to Choose a Beer Name
Naming a beer can be somewhat of a chicken-egg process. Some will come up with a killer name and set out to craft a beer accordingly. More often than not, however, the recipe comes first followed by the name.
“When I started brewing beer, I thought naming beer would be a relatively simple process,” says Joe Connolly, Director of Framingham, Massachusetts’ Springdale Beer Company. “So much time goes into producing and brewing that you have this beautiful product you don’t exactly know how to communicate to the world. You want the name to reflect what you’re trying to convey.”
Intentionality goes a long way in the process to staying consistent with your brand and product while also being approachable to the consumer. And this can vary from brewery to brewery. But overall, naming beers falls into a few different categories.
Connolly says, “You want to make sure that whatever the name is is worthy of the time you’ve put into brewing.”
Tell your story
In a recent guide we published on how to design a brewery logo we stressed the importance of answering the questions of who you are as a brand. This is the best first step to naming your beers as well.
Take for example Birdsong Brewing in Charlotte, North Carolina, whose beer names subtly circulate around song titles and simple music terminology. In early 2011, just as Birdsong opened the doors of their fledgling taproom, owners Chris and Tara Goulet sat at home listening to music and conceptualizing their new brewery and first beer, an American Pale Ale.
“As we were talking, Freewill by RUSH (Chris’ favorite band) came on the CD player. I felt a connection to the song and how I was feeling about the business, be it the lyrics or Geddy Lee’s voice, and I said ‘We should name the pale ale Free Will!’ to which Chris responded, Hell yeah!,” says Tara.
(Photography courtesy of Birdsong Brewing Co.)
The team decided to name all their beers after songs that inspired them, like Lazy Bird Brown, based on a John Coltrane song, and West Coast style Higher Ground IPA named for a Stevie Wonder song.
“We try to find a song that is just the right match for the beer but also take into consideration how the name will translate to a can label and how it rolls off the tongue,” says Tara. “It’s important to enjoy saying the name of the beer when ordering, but also it’s a great conversation starter between us and our customers.”
Beers like Fake Plastic Trees IPA, Rain Fruited Sour, and Rewind Lager stay true to their brand identity. Together with branding and naming, the story of their brewery is told simply and concisely through their well-considering titling.
(Photography courtesy of Springdale Beer Co.)
While you certainly want the beer itself to be memorable, the name must follow suit. Humorous takes, like Against the Grain’s Citra Ass Down and Springdale Barrel Room’s Citrus Got Real, stick with consumers all while garnering a little chuckle.
With Springdale, names for their tart ale got kicked around the brewhouse quite a bit. Ultimately, a team member’s teenage daughter coined what would become Citrus Got Real.
“She is young and can’t drink yet,” says Connolly, “but this is quite emblematic of the process—we know where the challenges arise, with toeing the line of silly and the ‘right’ thing and regardless of the origin, we know it when we see it.”
You also want to consider the importance of brevity or in some cases the lack thereof. With a reputation for lengthy names, Evil Twin, named an imperial stout, “Long Beer Names Are Stupid, So We Tried Something New, To Make A Shorter More Approachable One.” While a consumer may not remember this name verbatim, the concept is certainly memorable. In most instances, however, sticking to up to 3-word names can keep your beer top-of-mind.
If you’re at a loss for words, there are several online name generators that will generate names at random. Consider these options when all creative energy has been spent in the brewing process. Some of these generators include:
- Beer & Brewing—Beer Name Generator - Upon my first few tries for the given “Hazy IPA” category, I was granted the names “Double Curious Ambrosia Dynamite” and “Citra Dry Hopped Lush Smooth Dose”
- Craft Beer Name Generator - This generator gives both style and name, allowing for endless possibilities. Plus, there is a Classic Generator as well as Trained Machine Learning Generator option. In my experimentation the Classic Generator concocted “Mainland Ale” Christmas Ale while the Trained Machine Learning Generator landed me with “Roughley Wheat” Bock.
- Magnificent Bastards—Craft Beer Name Generator - Here, you follow the “Flavoring/Preparation Technique + Yoga Pose/Bicycle Part + Beer Type” formula, type in your answer and click the Brew It! Icon. I chose Chocolate+Lotus+Stout and ended up with “Balsamic Sprocket Dortmunder”. While it’s not exactly on par with my vibe (or at all), the random nature makes the process fun and engaging. Dry Hopped + Downward Dog + Pale Ale left me with “Strawberry-Kiwi Front Basket Altbier”.
Other generators include Word Lab and Strange Brew, each with their own unique criteria for naming. Even if you don’t go with the exact name generated, these types of engines can get the ideas flowing, allowing for a quick jumping-off point.
(Photography courtesy of Springdale Beer Co.)
Don’t forget all of your fans! They’re additional brains that can do the work for you. Plus, they’ll feel invested by helping a brewery they love make a crucial business decision. And who doesn’t love to get folks talking on social media? Got a new beer coming up? Create a contest asking your followers for ideas. This can be done bracket-style, with followers voting on favorites or as a random draw. The winner can have bragging rights and the occasional free pint.
Springdale’s marketing team came up with the idea to produce a bracket for a slow fermentation barrel aged sour beer.
“I thought, Great, somebody else can name the beer!,” says Connolly.
Public Relations and Events Manager, Kat Leggett, says they received over 100 submissions, eventually whittling it down to 32 crowd-sourced names and creating a bracket for people to vote.
“The community was heavily involved and excited,” says Leggett.
Because of the eight month barrel-resting period, Springdale was able to take their time in the naming process, creating hype and community buy-in in the process. “Given the time, there were a lot of impeachment puns,” says Connolly, “The crowd ultimately landed on Do You Wanna Peach of Me?, the label for which features the signature of Rachel Dooley, the submission winner.”
Thing to Remember
(Photography courtesy of Avery Brewing)
If you’re thinking of a name, specifically a name that plays on nuance and hop varietals, odds are others have as well. In many instances, when breweries are not competing for the same market, beers with the same name pose no legal issues, though it may take away from individuality.
There are some breweries, typically the big-name players, who are quick to assert cease-and-desist orders for clear trademark infringement, which can lead to lengthy and costly legal battles. For the most part these sorts of litigations can be worked out collaboratively, Such as with Colorado’s Avery Brewing and California’s Russian River who settled their 2004 “dispute” over beers both breweries had unwittingly named “Salvation” by blending the beers together for the 2006 release of Collaboration Not Litigation Ale.
It’s fairly simple to see if a beer name exists— a simple Google search will do the trick. If you are set on a name that already exists, be sure the brewery does not distribute in your area (though be aware this could always change, causing potential legal woes down the road). Discussing the legalities of such a process with your brewery’s legal representative is a wise move.
Choosing a name that is risque or euphemistic can be a fun, adult spin on nuanced naming. But, it’s important to remember that just because you can name a beer with certain undertones doesn’t mean you should. Beers like Flying Dog’s Raging Bitch come up time and again on round-ups of offensive beer names. While this may get your name out there, you have to determine if this is the type of publicity that adheres to your brand’s values.
While we’ve all heard the phrase “sex sells”, the days of using objectifying sexuality for profit is a tactic being called out by many in the industry. This goes not just for sexism, but racism and other damaging and dangerous sentiments.
New Zealand The Bottleneck beer blogger, going by the name Dylan, posted in his 2016 piece How to Name a Beer, “Simple crassness aside, keeping it classy is a good principle to guide not only naming, but all sorts of branding and marketing decisions. I’m talking about controversy here. Stirring up controversy with a name that could be (or just is) sexist, racist, homophobic, etc. may be a cheap way to get media attention short term, but is a bad foundation for building a long-term customer base.”
Appropriation falls into this same cautionary tale, and breweries must be ready to take accountability for oversight. Charlotte’s Legion Brewing produced a margarita gose for a Cinco de Mayo release called Juan Direction. After community backlash, the company apologized and renamed the beer General Zara Gose, but not without offending part of their customer base and thus fighting to regain their reputation for community-centeredness.
Craft Beer Name Types and Favorites
Sometimes starting with a general category is the easiest way to develop a beer name. Here are a few popular beer naming buckets along with a few of our favorites in each.
(Photography courtesy of Coronado Brewing Co.)
Naming beers that are relatable to local consumers and that speak to your locale are fun ways to pay homage to your brewery’s home. Many in Michigan have named beers after cult classic “The Big Lebowski”, like Greenbush Brewing Company’s The Brew Abides Imperial White Russian stout. Coronado Brewing brings it close to home with Orange Ave. Wit, a nod to their flagship brewpub situated on Orange Ave in Coronado, CA.
(Photography courtesy of Humble Sea Brewing Co.)
Utilizing common phrases, popular pop culture references, or nostalgic notions attracts consumers. It’s just smart marketing. For example, Wooden Robot Brewery has two beers based on the old “I’ll have what he’s having” adage, titled simply, What He’s Having (an IPA) and What She’s Having (an Imperial IPA) as well as “Good Morning Vietnam” (a unique coffee vanilla blonde ale) referencing Robin Williams’ infamous 1987 film of the same name. And Humble Sea Brewing Co.’s Not Your Father’s Pale Ale is a nostalgic nod to the types of beers your dad grew up drinking.
(Photography courtesy of Oskar Blues Brewery)
An easy go-to is simply naming the style. A classic beer that nailed this approach is Oskar Blues’ Dale’s Pale Ale. Keeping it simple can make it easy on both yourself and the customer.
(Photography courtesy of RJ Rockers Brewing Co.)
We love a good pun. They are easy to remember and often garner a chuckle. Lots of breweries employ this device, like South Carolina brewery RJ Rocker’s Son of a Peach peach ale or Oskar Blues’ Mama’s Little Yella Pils. It keeps the style in the forefront while utilizing fun and simple plays-on-words.
Rhyming and Alliteration
(Photography courtesy of Rockford Brewing Co.)
Utilizing poetic and literary devices are an easy way to make your name memorable and fun. Rockford Brewing Company’s Peter Piper Peppered Pale is descriptive and expository, while also playing on a popular childhood tongue-twister.
(Photography courtesy of: Springdale Beer Co.)
Springdale has seen firsthand the importance of approachability in a name. Despite how intentional a product may be, if a customer can’t pronounce the name, the likelihood of ordering dwindles significantly, especially in an outside market.
According to Connolly, the brewery is located in a Brazilian neighborhood and has a large Brazilian kitchen staff who play a big role in influencing their beers.
For one beer in particular, Springdale was inspired by a common Brazilian dessert called Brigadeiros— a traditional chocolate candy similar to truffles. Using local ingredients, the brewery produced a mocha stout of the same name and presented it at a festival.
But, the beer didn’t hit home. Why? “Customers were in essence able to get beer for free, but were timid to order because they were unable to pronounce the name,” says Connolly. “If they were afraid to say it outloud to us, they certainly weren’t going to order it at another bar.”
Ultimately to appeal to their consumers, Springdale decided to change the moniker, shortening the name simply to Brig.
“Though we’d had a tie to the name, ultimately, if a customer can’t pronounce it the name has to shift, though it did land us with a unique origin story,” says Connolly.
(Photography courtesy of Weathered Souls Brewing Co.)
When choosing cultural names, make sure to avoid appropriation and speak to a culture with which you identify. Salud Cerveceria nods to owner Dairelyn Glunt’s Domincan heritage with names like Cafecito Con Leche (a Coffee Dessert Blonde Ale) and Ricura en Pote, a Imperial Pastry Stout with blueberry, maple and Charlotte-based Hex Coffee. Weathered Souls of San Antonio, Texas, began the Black is Beautiful collaboration to share a message of unity with proceeds going to various social justice oriented organizations nationwide. And most recently Brienne Allan whose simple question on Instagram: Have you ever experienced sexism in the beer industry kicked off a BEVOLUTION introduced Brave Noise, “a collaborative effort to provide inclusive and safe environments for women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ throughout the industry.”
Having a tribute beer lets customers feel connected to the brand. Salud Cerveceria’s Dairelynerweisse, a fruited berliner weisse, is an ode to owner Dairleyn Glunt, while Norton Brewing has honored owner Becky Norton (and Beyonce) with Becky With The Good Hair sour gose.
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