beer column

here are my notes from yesterday's beer column
on cbc radio's on the coast with stephen quinn

What's in a name? Shakespeare tell us that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. But would a beer by any other name garner as much market share?

Naming a brewery is no small task, and its a different process for everyone. As Aaron Jonkheere says in his blog
I'm Starting a Brewery: "You see the name is always the first thing people ask about your brewery. So you want a name you are proud of and represents some aspect of what you are doing or what you stand for IMO [in my opinion]." And I think that is true for every brewery name.

Some people go with a geographical place name (Powell Street Brewing, Vancouver Island Brewing, Deep Cove Brewing), some with their own name (Russell, Hoyne, Phillips, R&B), some go with a theme that speaks to them (Green Leaf, Four Winds). Regardless of which way you choose to go though, when you are starting up a new brewery you have to have a marketable name. Especially now with so many new breweries opening up in the Lower Mainland the need to have a recognizable brand to help you stand out is integral to a successful operation - almost as important as the beer itself.

If you've never heard of the two beers in front of you before, odds are that the names of them will influence your choice between the two. The one with the less attractive name may be a much better beer, but if you have only the names to go on, it is less likely to be the beer you would choose. Without any other information, we do tend to judge books by their covers
I had the opportunity to lead a couple of focus groups for a soon-to-be-opened brewery in Vancouver. More than just helping narrow down a list of possible names, the focus groups gave the owners insight into what people were looking for behind a brewery name. Sure it's great to have a brewery named after your neighbourhood. But more important than that people said, was that they wanted authenticity behind choosing that name. In addition to locating the brewery in the neighbourhood, do the owners have a connection to that neighbourhood? Do they give back to the neighbourhood? Who are they and what are they about? It's all well and good to find a catchy name and build a brand around it, but beer drinkers want to know that there is substance behind that name and branding.

It was very interesting to see how people's reactions to certain names changed from their first impression on just hearing the name to learning the story behind choosing that name and what it meant to the owners. Some back story can go a long way in making a top ten name jump to top two on a list of potential names. I think the same is true to having a beer bottle on the shelf of a store catch your eye and then reading a mission statement on a website that gives you insight into the people who made that beer. I know I become more invested in the whole beer drinking experience the more I can feel a connection to the beer. You can hook me with the name, but you'll only keep me with a quality product and a connection to the people behind it.

So a name has to be catchy and authentic. AND no one else has to have trademarked it or anything similar yet. It's a tall order, but obviously one that is not slowing down the rapid growth of breweries in British Columbia!

about naming the beers?  Do breweries need to put as much thought into those as they do naming the brewery?  It certainly helps with branding if your beer names are deliberate and closely follow the brewery name. There is a lot more wiggle room here than there is in naming a brewery though. I think brewers have a lot more fun naming their beers than they do their breweries. You can be playful in naming a beer in a way that might come off as too flippant when naming a brewery. Which is not to say that naming a beer is all fun and games. A lot of thought still has to go into the process.
Naming beers can be straightforward, like 33 Acres naming their beers 33 Acres of something (Life, Ocean, Darkness, Sunshine). Other breweries aren't so literal but still keep a theme going, like Granville Island Brewing whose regular beers are all named after local places: Robson Street Hefeweisen, Brockton IPA, Cypress Honey Lager, Kitsilano Maple Cream, English Bay Pale Ale. Yet others go for a more eclectic approach, but keep their beer names in tune with the personality of the brewery, like Brassneck with their Passive Aggressive, Attention Seeker, One Trick Pony and The Geezer.

Then there are others like Parallel 49 that go all out in the fun department with puns for many of their beer names. It has become their schtick and they're getting quite a lot of attention over it. Unfortunately, not all of it is good. They got a cease and desist letter about one of their beers that trod a little too closely on the trademark of a certain very popular movie trilogy.
There are also more and more cease and desist letters being written between breweries as beer names start to tread on each others' trademarks. One beer writer (in Beer Advocate magazine) has called for a return to style names to combat this issue. So instead of it being, say, "33 Acres of Life", the name would be "33 Acres California Common"; instead of Crannog's "Backhand of God", it would be "Crannog Stout". Some breweries such as Four Winds and Central City already follow this model for naming most of their beers.  
I can see Andy Crouch's point, it sure would clear up a lot of confusion for the consumer and preclude a lot of lawsuits, not to mention being a whole lot easier to keep track of who brewed which beer. Going with style names for beer would also remove the chance that consumers could find your beer name offensive. 
But, but, but I think life would be just a little less fun if my beers all just had style names. I love a good beer pun - and a bad one! And clever names do make me more likely to try that beer over the one next to it on the shelf if I haven't heard of either of them. However, where will brewers go to name their beers as more product floods the market and they try to stand out? I keep saying that I think we're still a ways off from hitting the saturation in the local beer market, but I think we're much closer to reaching a very awkward point of just too many beer names. I am already having trouble keeping track of them all. I am interested to see how the situation develops over the next couple of years. And in the meantime I look forward to hearing Parallel 49's next beer pun.

Beer Picks:
Before all the Spring seasonals hit the market, I suggest taking the opportunity to drink winter seasonals before they're gone.
Like 33 Acres of Darkness, available in bottles at the liquor store or on tap at the brewery
Granville Island Cloak & Dagger Cascadian Dark Ale, available in 650ml bombers at the liquor store and the Granville Island retail store
East Side Beer Fest at the WISE Hall, Wednesday March 5, 2014
this event is now sold out
Hot Glass Cold Beer at the Terminal City Glass Coop, Friday March 7, 2014
there are still tickets available for this event, but only with a logo glass
blown glass stein tickets are sold out
Alibi 500 Beer List at the Alibi Room
Sunday March 9, 2014 2:00 - close
Monday March 10 - Thursday March 13 5:00 - close
No tickets. First come, first sat.
12oz Sleeves of ALL beers will be 500cents 9th-13th.
They will be donating $500 per day to the food bank for the 5 days.
Brassneck Brewing has brewed 4 collaboration beers w/ Gigantic Brewing Company , Four Winds Brewing Co. , Occidental Brewing Company, Parallel 49 Brewing Company specially for the event! Plus 8 casks filled with Portland's finest and a very special cask from Driftwood.


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