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What is in a name? Thoughts on bad brewery names

 

In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare wrote: “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” I get his point, but if you hold up a flower that looks like a rose and tell me it’s called Elephant Turd, I’m not going to smell it.

Recently, the Portland-based Beervana blog posted a story about breweries with bad names, imploring aspiring brewery owners to come up with better names for their breweries. Jeff Alworth, the author of the story, cited brewery names like 10 Barrel, Ass Clown, and Upright as being uninspired, off-putting, or just too obscure. He also called out several others breweries with unfortunate names. I’m sure you can, too. It’s an unfortunately common occurrence.

I recommend the story on Beervana. It’s a good read. I fully acknowledge that I’m borrowing the topic from them, but it’s something that’s been on my mind for a long time. Many of my friends and beer industry associates have heard me rail about bad brewery names for years, so I would just like to add a few thoughts of my own.

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First up, I want to acknowledge that it is not my business to tell someone else how to run their business, but before you decide to open Screaming Toddler Brewpub, Hermione & Anais Brewing, Douche Canoe Beer Company, or Rings of Uranus Brew Works, consider the following.

Get It?

A brewery’s name is like a joke. If you have to explain it, its a bad joke. Likewise, a brewery name might have some deep personal meaning to the owner but it’s just a brewery name to me. It’s okay that the name means something, that’s actually a good thing, but the name should stand on its own without people needing to know the backstory. There’s a story behind Holy Mountain Brewing’s name, but the name stands on its own too. Bloody Stump Brewing is not a compelling name and the backstory doesn’t sound very appetizing.

You’re Saying it Wrong

If a brewery’s name is impossible to pronounce, how are folks supposed to remember it? At best, they’ll remember that it’s not pronounced the way it seems. Maybe the brewery thinks explaining the pronunciation and meaning creates a valuable teaching moment. I don’t want a teaching moment. I just want a beer. You know, one that I can order without sounding like an idiot.

When a person mispronounces the name of a brewery and some smart ass like me corrects them, they feel stupid. People don’t like to feel stupid. Maybe they just won’t order that beer out of fear of mispronouncing the brewery name. The best the brewery can hope for is that the mispronunciation becomes the common, normal, accepted pronunciation. Like Obec Brewing, for instance. I’m sure the owners want people to pronounce it correctly — oh-betz. It’s the Czech word for community, or something like that. I sure hope the owners of Obec Brewing can live with the fact that people are going to pronounce it oh-beck, because that is what’s going to happen. Nothing wrong with the brewery name at all, but people will pronounce it as they will.

Nap Time Brewing

Super-boring, overly obvious, generic names do not inspire a lot of confidence in the minds of craft beer drinkers. There are two breweries here in Western Washington with the most boring names imaginable. I won’t call them out by their actual names and will instead refer to them as National Brewing and Normal Brewing.

When the former owner of National Brewing was in the process of opening his brewery, he asked me, “Can you believe that nobody was using that name?”

Yes, as a matter of fact, I can believe that nobody was using that name.

As for Normal Brewing, they know that I love ’em and I think they make great beer, but the name puts me to sleep.

I think it’s hard for people to expect interesting, creative beer from a brewery with an ultra-bland name. On a subconscious level I can’t help thinking of generic beer. The plain white box with black letters that simply said BEER always met my very low expectations and never failed to disappoint. I try not to judge a book by its cover, but when the cover says A Book About Stuff, I don’t exactly expect it to be a page-turner.

This is the Easy Part

All of that brings me to my main point. If you don’t put a lot of thought and consideration into the name you give your brewery, people might wonder how much thought and consideration you put into your beers. I know some great breweries with crappy names, that’s true, but one does not forgive the other.

If you are looking to open a brewery, one of the easiest things you’ll do is come up with a name. Just about every other part of the process is going to be so much more difficult. Do some crowd sourcing, host focus groups if you need, but please give it some serious thought. Try putting yourself in the shoes of the consumer who doesn’t get the joke, know the story, or recognize the unpronounceable Cyrillic word that means magic water from the center of the earth.

As Jeff Alworth suggested in his story on Beervana, it’s not entirely unacceptable to fall back on omnipresent geographic features (rivers, mountains, bodies of water, etc) and it’s not unacceptable to fall back on family names. Personally, I think those are both pretty solid approaches to naming a brewery.

If you are aiming to be more creative than that, please consider how the name will sound to your potential customers and how it will make them feel about drinking your beer. Nobody wants to drink beer from Toxic Sludge Brewing, regardless of how clever the backstory is.

That’s my opinion. What’s yours? To a certain extent, this topic is just for fun. Remember when beer was fun? We are definitely talking about first-world problems, but do brewery names ever impact your drinking decisions?

 

 


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5 comments

  1. Of course some brewery names conjure bad tastes before hand. I refuse to drink a Dirty Bucket beer on principle. Slippery Pig, Odd Otter, Charging Hippo, Mollusk and other animal names make me think of gamey animals.

    Sure, American Brewing and Standard are a little generic and don’t arouse curiosity and create extra work for engaging me customers but at least they aren’t named Lazy Boy or Bad Jimmys, which both invite easy criticism.

    1. Oh do they now? We actually like our name – thank you …signed Lazy Boy Brewing Co. , not to be confused with the furniture Company

  2. While I agree that a name is critical in that it is often the first impression a brewery gives visitors it can go both ways however, because there are places with decent/good names that have mediocre beer.
    Since Standard was mentioned, if their product is ‘standard’, they’re setting the bar pretty high!
    As for Obec, the brewer/owners are central european, the flagship beer is a delicious Czech pils and their Czech and Slovak culture is an important part of who they are as individuals. As a fellow eastern european, I’m sure they have a lot of patience and experience explaining the pronunciation and meaning of their own names that they will bring to sharing the meaning of Obec with their customers.

  3. Brewery names don’t bother me so much. What I can’t stand are absurd or juvenile names given to individual beers. I’ll order by the beer style rather than use the name if it’s just a little stupid. If it’s too ridiculous I won’t order it at all.

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