My mother (who is the single greatest host in the history of humanity) always makes sure her house is stocked with the proper foodstuffs to meet the dietary restrictions of any incoming guests. Cognizant of my strictly Beeratarian diet, she often asks me what to buy so that her fridge is full of the proper bottles to sustain me over a long weekend.
While she encourages my hobbies, she is not a craft beer person. I’m pretty sure her favorite beer is Woodbridge Chardonnay.
Our latest beer-buying phone call went like this (read my mom’s lines with a northern British accent):
Mom: “OK, I’m at the beer store.”
Mom: “What do you want? They have so many.”
Oliver: “Something new. What looks good?”
Mom: “Hmmm, here’s one with a Union Jack. Eye, pea, aye. Want that one?”
Oliver: “Is it Yards? That one is good, but I’ve had it.”
Mom: “Yea! Yards! OK. How about…Raging Bitch? ::laughs:: Belgian?”
Oliver: “Yep, Flying Dog, that’s good, but I’ve had it. What else?”
Mom: “Hmmm…Pearl…Pearl Necklace? Oh my. ::laughs:: Oysters? Ew.”
Oliver: ::laughs:: “Yep, had that one too.”
Mom: “You’ve had all of them. OK, what about this one. Arrogant Bastard?”
She turns to apologize to someone in the store, which I hear through the phone, slightly muffled: “Oh no, sorry. I’m telling my son about the different beers.”
Mom: “It says oak. Oaked. Is that good?”
Oliver: “Yea, that means they age it in wood.”
Mom: “Wood? Like from trees? Ugh. So you want that one? The Arrogant Bastards? Not the Raging Bitches or the Pearl Necklaces?”
Oliver: “Yea, the Arrogant Bastard, thanks!”
Mom: “Fits you well.”
That my mom was basically NSFW and a verbal menace to nearby children while listing off beer names made me wonder how and why we name beers the way we do.
Some names are clearly the result of marketing so ham-fisted that it would be illegal in a Kosher butcher (I’m looking at you, Bud Light Lime Straw-Ber-Rita). Others are clever plays on larger themes that span an entire brewery’s line-up, like the Flying Dog brews (posthumously approved by Hunter S. Thompson): In-Heat, Doggie Style, and Horn-Dog.
Some (a lot) are deliciously bad puns using the word “hop”, others a brewery specific piece of history. Some are overstated to the point of punching you in the face with descriptors, others barely catching a wandering drunken eye with their simplicity. Many don’t have anything to do with beer at all. Most don’t reflect the quality of the beer trapped behind a thin layer of glass and even thinner piece of paper.
So, beyond introducing taster to tastee and putting on display style and flavor, what purpose does a name serve? Is it just a way for a brewery to identify themselves as a company? To pop, with alarm and surprise, into the eyes of a potential drinker like a mean-drunk jack-in-the-box who really enjoys scaring people because he got beat up a lot as a kid?
Or is it something more? Is it a cultural IV tapped into the vein of society, pumping in charm and whimsy and wit where such things have clearly become deficient? Are breweries, with nothing but an enthusiastic marketing team and a label printer, reviving the drollery of Shakespeare and Donne that used to roll so delightfully from ours tongues?
Recent legal spats over logos and branding suggest, at least to me, that there is some serious pride attached to a brewery’s image; some deep, emotional connection of man to beer that is woven into artistic and omnastic design. I think it sinks deeper into craft beer culture than a widget into a can of Boddingtons. Without a name, the beer has no identity. Without an identity, the beer has no soul.
If you woke up tomorrow, head brewmaster of a national craft beer company, what would you name your beer? Would it be something eye-ball-burning or embarrassing to say out loud, or would it be something simple and timeless, like an homage to the Olympian gods? Would you aim to entertain, or offend, or extoll?
Because really, what’s in a name? That which we call a beer by any other name would taste as great.
Tagged: arrogant bastard, beer, beer labels, beer names, beertography, craft beer, donne, flying dog, humor, label, labels, mom, moms, mother, mothers, name, names, naming, photography, raging bitch, shakespeare, stone brewing
i love the title and conversation with your mom the best. my mom always kept whatever leftover beer we’d had at our family celebrations until the next time she had someone over to her place, which could be a year or so. never knew what it would actually be like, a roll of the dice )
I like the idea of mystery beer, but I worry that a year later it would be of questionable freshness 🙂
oliver – i agree, i was not only worried about the taste, but about surviving it )
I wouldn’t have made it past Pearl Necklace–it gets me every time!
Also, we’ve already discussed my favorite cringe-worthy beer title suggestion. YEAST INFECTION fo’ life!
We have occasionally been left scratching our heads after tasting a beer and trying to make the connection between how it tastes or smells and why it was given a certain name. This mostly happens with the hoppy beers, i.e. Hop Stoopid wasn’t stupid at all, Palate Wrecker did not wreck my palate, and lord knows there was no hairy pelt on or in my bottle of the Wookey Jack. Perhaps we’re just reading in to things too much.
And as far as Union Jack Eye Pea Aye, I only know of the Firestone Walker version (delicious stuff!). Does Yards make one too?
I don’t know that there really *needs* to be a connection, but maybe it’d be nice? Maybe I’m just a sucker for a clever turn of phrase?
Yes, Yards IPA has a Union Jack on the bottle, but not in the title. My mom is a visual learner.
Your mom is a saint to even consider stocking something special. If you are ever in Houston Texas you must try Karbach Brewing Company’s Rodeo Clown Double IPA. Hops, punch and downright great taste. Yeah I love beer.
Yea, my mom is champion of the parenting arts.
I will add Karbach to my list. I look for regional stuff all the time, so thanks for the suggestion!
Great post! I frankly find the names a bit childish- but maybe I’m missing the whimsy. My favourite are the ones named by style. Keep it simple. Much easier for me to remember I liked the Pisgah Imperial Stout than to remember I liked the Vortex. But if they all did that, I imagine they would have more difficulty standing out from the pack…
Haha yea. And this is America, where everything has a ridiculous/clever name. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that beer follows the same trends. But I’m with you; some are a bit too childish to be taken seriously.
Wow, in Australia we seem to be missing out! Our home-grown beers are nearly all named after places (Matilda Bay, FNQ – far north Queensland, the vile VB – Victorian Bitters), people (James Squire) or animals (Blue Tongue Lizard). Then there are the Asian beers we consume by the bucketload… Tiger, Kingfisher, Chang, Singha, Beer Laos, Tsingtao… even our European imports have similarly staid names. I’m having a serious case of pun-envy! 😀
I like the idea of formulaic names, but at the same time, our beer aisles are hilariously entertaining.
I meant to say – your mum sounds great! Mine doesn’t drink at all, so picks wine or beer for guests based on whether or not the label / bottle looks nice… am guessing she’d never buy Pearl Necklace!
Hahaha, label-buying isn’t always a bad thing! I’ve had some great beers just from picking random names I liked 🙂
Found you through Journey to Ithaca and so pleased I did. My wife and I are both hop-heads, really nuts for pale ales and IPAs. When combined with such clever and amusing writing, it makes your site simply irresistible. John H makes an excellent point about Karbach. I prefer the Hopadillo IPA (there’s your horrible hop pun), but I have yet to be displeased with a Karbach beer. Looking forward to reading more, Oliver!
Sweet! What is Journey to Ithica? I feel like I should always check out a blog if they had the decency to mention/link me!
I’m a hop-head too, but I’m also so in love with beer that I can’t confine myself to one “favorite” style. And thanks so much for the praise of my writing; I just try to have fun with it.
Glad to have you here and I hope you enjoy some of my other posts. Let me know if you’ve got questions or comments!
I happened to read this the day that I am naming/making labels for my first successful batch of homebrew and now I’m seriously doubting everything I ever considered! Hahaha Oh well- there’s always the next batch 🙂 P.S. I don’t know a lot of background on you, but if you haven’t visited Montana (mainly Missoula/Flathead area) you are missing out on a lot of awesome taprooms!