A Rose By Any Other Name, Would It Truly Smell as Sweet?
4,144 breweries in the United States in December of 2015, each with an average of say, six-year round beers, another four seasonal beers, and maybe eight one-off releases. Many have far more than that. Now imagine you are charged with providing a unique name for each one. The closest job to this might be a municipal street namer, where (like the beers), names eventually get re-used because of appeal, descriptive accuracy, environment or other reasons. The difference is that street namers don’t get legal cease and desist orders when too many Maple Streets show up around Vermont. Breweries do.
As an Untappd user, I find myself having to enter the brewery name with the beer name more and more often because let’s face it, Mosaic IPA is a popular name for a tasty mosaic forward IPA. Questions already arise on whether first use claims rights, or if using the name of the hop and style transcends ownership rights. What if there was a better way to standardize beer naming conventions while still encouraging the sometimes wacky creativity we all love?
Let me break down my thoughts for you in short sips:
• What if the brewery name became the primary identifier for what I will call the Core set of beers (the year round staples at the taproom, canned, or bottled)? Each of these beers becomes a flagship like IPA at Stone, Avery, Lagunitas, Milk Stout at Left Hand, or Altbier at Prost. They already fall into this format – brewery plus style. So Lone Tree’s Acres O Green Irish Red becomes Lone Tree Irish Red for the sake of the example. Before you start spluttering like Yosemite Sam, let’s keep working through the model.
• Seasonal releases are often unique beers, unrelated for the most part to the year round staples. Some breweries have traditional seasonal style releases like Prost Maibock or Oktoberfest and simply use that style name. Others apply some marketing mojo like The Kaiser from Avery or Old School from Mother’s. It seems adhering to the brewery plus style, while less entertaining, is more straightforward *on average*. Hang with me here.
• Brewery specific seasonal releases refers to beers that have evolved as unique to an individual brewery over time and are now released annually. These might be a specific recipe (Lone Tree Hop Zombie), a fresh hop IPA (Pliny the Younger), a traditional experimental release (Lips of Faith series from New Belgium). Here is where names really shine, and are essential to the branding, the beer lore, the fun of tracking down the release each year. The brewery can almost become secondary to the beer name (how many people heard of Pliny before Russian River, anyone?) and these can be trademarked (or acknowledged sole use) individual names without too much debate.
• Stone’s Enjoy By series is a unique example already somewhat following this idea. All that changes on the bottle is the date (except for the Brett release which changed to a yellow label). Everyone knows each date is a different beer than the previous version in some way, yet each does not require a new name.
So far so good, pretty straightforward, not too radical. Now is where we run into the area where most of the naming disputes occur, and the effort to consistently find clever new ideas exists. The struggle is real, my friends.
• Variations on a Core beer is the first target. If the recipe is essentially the same as IPA, Milk Stout, Porter, Amber with a hop change, a malt change, a fruit added, a spice or yeast change, it is the same beer but not the same beer. Here is where I suggest the creation of a standard alphanumeric naming convention. I won’t go as far as to suggest this be an industry standard, because that’s, well, boring and not craft. Each brewery can come up with their own, like a car maker without the repetitive S, SL, SLT,SLT-S labels.
An easy and popular one-off release is the change of a classic IPA to a single hop version. For sake of example, let’s pretend it is Avery IPA. This is going to be a single hop Galaxy release, with any understandable tiny variances in the process or recipe to balance the flavor as desired. As things currently stand, Avery would come out with a cool name like Galileo or The Astronomer if it is an IIPA but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It is Avery Single Hop Galaxy IPA rolling out to your taproom.
What if Avery had devised an attractive and clever set of color coded, design coded, alphanumeric symbols by which you could identify quickly what was different about your beer? It is still called Avery IPA, but visually stands out because it has a tiny milky way on the bottle with appropriate labelling explaining the Galaxy hop, and a really cool graphic design on the carton or case. You would not visually get the two confused, despite the name being the same. Next time out, Avery wants to do a Hatch chile porter. Obviously chile symbol on bottle, etc.
A little symbol for any ingredient, aging, imperialization, tripling, or fermenting change, all designed by the brewery. Breweries can agree to share or standardize across regions or partnerships, or even the entire industry if they want, or not. If ingredients are secret, be creative on a representation that does not give away what’s in there. All it has to do is differentiate a small change to a standard release visually. Many beer drinkers don’t really look too closely at ingredients, just want to easily identify something new or limited release. A wholly new name is not required.
Regularly producing variants, as Sculpin from Ballast Point is well known to do, shows this can work. Sculpin GF, Sculpin PA, Sculpin H could have been used, but the names already describe the ingredients and adhere to the idea of one standard Core beer name with ingredient change called out. Secondly, the box coloration differentiates itself from the other variants, again adhering to the idea of a brewery’s own artistic scheme differentiating versus a different name. Imagine if Grapefruit Sculpin was called Clownfish. Seems silly to us after years of Sculpin, but some breweries name every beer something completely different.
One addition to beer geekdom this could produce is an easier way for more casual drinkers less inclined to dig through Beer Advocate for information to start identifying what they like about different beers, and for bartenders to more easily recommend new beers to try.
• We have a Stone WOOT Stout release. A Brewery specific special seasonal release. Obviously symbols could be used for ingredient variations as above, but the intent of this individual beer is marketing. It has an individual name, artwork, and a cult following now. There is no need to revert to symbology or alphanumeric appendages. This is another case where naming can be freely used to the full extent of creativity.
Heck, there are millions of racehorse names in the Thoroughbred Registry (there’s an idea to mine, brewer friends), but do you really want to show up at a new taproom faced with 20 IPA variants all named something like Ballerina Diapers only to find they really were variants on the same beer. Of course not – brewery taprooms already do this for the most part. You’ll see an experimental hop ipa, or a vanilla bean stout variant called exactly that.
Let’s leave the funky and fantastic names to the truly unique beers (or marketing brand flagships) and just enjoy drinking a Mumbledy Brewing Company Brown (yellow sun, grinning hop, barrel marked with a 1)