Naming Beers at 13 Top Craft Breweries

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Brewmaster California

Firestone Walker brewmaster Matt Brynildson fired up a century old Holt tractor at the FW Invitational Beer Fest.

On June 9 in Paso Robles, at the inaugural Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest, I asked participating craft beer pros, “How do you go about naming your beers?” Read their responses.

Tyson Arp (Nebraska Brewing Company)

That’s the worst part, actually. I’m terrible at names. It’s funny. I have a creative thing inside me, but it’s more for the flavor of the beer and the names are like, “Oh, god, now what are we going to call this awesome beer?” Our owner actually comes up with a lot of them, Paul [Kavulak]. He thinks he’s pretty witty, so he comes up with some of the names. Some of them just come to you. Our IPA for a long time didn’t have a name, and I was weighing out hops one day and for some reason, Romancing the Cone popped into my head and that just kind of stuck as the name for our IPA. You just never know. It’s kind of like a beer idea. Sometimes they just come to you. That’s what’s fun about the creative side.

Mikkel Borg Bjergso (Mikkeller)

We do so many different beers. In the beginning, we wanted to do names that kind of told a story about the beer, but today, it’s more random because we have so many different beers. For example, I was in Australia a couple months ago and I did a couple beers and I had to name them while I was in Australia. The brewer, he e-mailed me, so I thought I’d call it something Australian. Today, it’s pretty random. When we do a new beer in bottles, I want to tell a story about the beer when we name it.

Matt Brynildson (Firestone Walker Brewing Company)

I typically buy a ticket to a great rock show away from home and spend a weekend with good friends sharing beers and talking about what our next dream beer should be about. Something about live music and good beer inspires great names. Either that -or- head up into Big Sur for a weekend with my wife Alison and commune with the redwoods…that works too.

Jon Carpenter (Golden Road Brewing)

We don’t have a set way about naming our beers. Sometimes someone comes up with something. Sometimes it’s a collaboration. And sometimes we just call it what it is. Our Golden Road Hefeweizen. Our Golden Road Berliner Weisse. Naming things, we don’t have dialed in yet.

Phin DeMink Southern Tier Brewing

There are a group of us that kind of do it. They just kind of come to you once in awhile. 2X IPA, that was a pretty easy one. When we named other beers, like Pumking or Choklat, that name’s influenced by some of the materials that were put in the beer. Phin & Matt’s was a beer I brewed with Matt Robbins. We used to work together at Goose Island and he came and helped me start Southern Tier. That was our favorite beer to drink, so we named it after ourselves. It’s fun. I have as much fun creating the beers and packaging and the names. Sometimes we’ll develop that before we actually develop the beer.

Dave Engbers (Founders Brewing Company)

We usually sit down and have a bunch of beers and throw a bunch of things on the table, and somebody takes notes. Then we look at it a day or two later and see if any of them are good names. It’s not real scientific.

Grady Hull (New Belgium Brewing)

Luckily, I don’t. I’ve never named a beer. I don’t know how that process works. We have a creative team that comes up with the names, the labels, the imagery, artwork, all that kind of stuff.

Brian Hunt (Moonlight Brewing)

Names strike me very often with lyrics in a song, or I’ll hear spoken words that sound like they belong to a beer. Sometimes I’ll have a beer first and then comes the name. Sometimes I’ll have the name come to me. I write names down and then I’ll make the beer and I’ll go, “Yeah, I think that’s the name that goes on this beer.” And often times I’ll change the name of the beer if it just doesn’t seem quite right. I’ll deliver a keg and call the place back and say, “You know what? Before you sell that, change the name of it. I have a better one.”

I will tell you that Lunatic Lager’s had three different names over the years. Lunar Export was the second one. I don’t remember the first one off the top of my head because I’ve been drinking, or I’ve been in the sun. Lunar Export I thought was a great one. It was an export style and moon, Moonlight, and I thought it would be great, except someone came up to me and said, “Oh, yeah, those export styles, those are the ones that are not so good because they ship it somewhere else.” The beer didn’t seem to do as well as it ought to. I named it Lunatic instead and all of a sudden people liked it so much better. They could relate to it somehow, I think. Lunar Pale Lager I think was the name I first came up with. Pale Ale was popular, so I thought Pale Lager would work, and people just didn’t understand, but it was 1980, and there was a lot people didn’t understand back then.

Pat McIlhenny (Alpine Beer Company)

We try to have fun and play with names and be clever. Usually there’s something behind the name. For example, Duet: Simcoe and Amarillo hops in harmony. The Chez Monieux, a play on words, just something to have fun with. It just comes with different inspirations from different areas. Nothing simple. It’s always got to be something funny, or have some kind of story or play on words.

Masafumi “Mori” Morita (Yo-Ho Brewing Company)

In Japan, there are only two types of black beer. Guinness is the #1 black beer in Japan. Two or three years ago, we imported Guinness from another country, so it’s not fresh. So we want to brew a fresh black beer made in Japan, so we named it Tokyo Black. And Aooni means “blue monster.” Sometimes Japanese people don’t like bitterness, but some Japanese really like bitter beer, so want to brew a high bitterness beer. It’s very strong, so the image of the blue monster. Yona Yona means “every night.”

Victor Novak (TAPS Fish House & Brewery)

Often times it just depends on the styles, which is mostly what we do, classic European ales and lagers. It’s the style, like TAPS Cream Ale, but for the barrel aged stuff we like to do things a little different. For the barrel stuff, we often go by what we put it in. Blanche de Conundrum is aged in a Conundrum barrel.

Triple Monkey, actually my window cleaning guy named it. I couldn’t come up with a name for it. Then he figured, “Okay, Belgian Tripel.” He knew it was somewhat Trappist in origin, and he didn’t even know about Golden Monkey from Victory. He came up with Triple Monkey and then did the sign. [holds up sign] Basically we’ve got triple monks/monkeys in monk’s habits. Basically this guy owns his own business, he’s a guitar player, and now it turns out, a graphic artist. He went home for two hours and came up with the image. So sometimes it’s serendipity. We didn’t even come up with the name.

Like the Remy Ooh-La-La was named after a buddy of mine who’s a big bourbon drinker, and we aged it in bourbon, so I needed a name before we entered it in the Great American Beer Festival. So I just named it after my buddy Remy, who I travel around with, been all around the world, interesting personality. So it has nothing to do with Remy Martin. It’s just named after my buddy, who’s a good friend of mine. And then the Remy Ooh-La-La, we were originally going to do Remy with olallieberries because we wanted a dark fruit, but that’s such a narrow window that the fruit’s available for. An ex-girlfriend of mine, her father used to grow olallieberries. It’s essentially a large blackberry, so we used fresh blackberry puree but kept the name. When you look up olallieberry, one of the descriptions said, essentially, “How could you not love a berry that essentially says ooh-la-la?” So we kept that name, Remy Ooh-La-La.

So it often depends on whimsy, or what barrel did we put it in? For Hillbilly, one of my brewers named that because in Kentucky, it’s sort of a hillbilly type thing. That’s our barleywine aged in a bourbon barrel, and then Jive is our barleywine aged in a new French oak barrel. Honestly, when we were filling the barrel, Jive Talking was on the radio. Great name, great word, but honestly not a great connotation, so we just named it Jive. So a lot of it’s whimsy, and other times it depends on the barrel.

Noah Regnery (Hollister Brewing Company)

It’s usually random inspiration. Sometimes we’ll come up with a name and build a beer around it, or the much harder one is when you find a style that you want to work with and you start to get it ready to go and don’t have anything to call it. So it’s kind of a brainstorming session between me and the owner and Director of Brew Operations, Eric [Rose]. We sit around and try to come up with something that fits. We try to go either traditional or funny.

Clay Robinson (Sun King Brewing)

We just kind of go back and forth. Dave [Colt] and I have worked together for a really long time and have been friends for a long time. We share a lot of commonalities in music and beer and art and fun, and obviously we own a brewery together now. We’ll fire back and forth names. With the palindrome beers, we generally try to find something that’s fitting, and then other beers we name partly because of what the ingredients are. A handful of beers, we come up with a really good name and then design a beer backwards to fit the name. We just brewed a barleywine that’s called Big Iron that’s going to be a really fun beer that we’re going to cellar for awhile before we let out. We’ll brew that this summer and probably release it later in the winter. We have a tendency – 333, the Velvet Fog – it’s been released for beer dinners and other things, but the majority of the batch has been sitting in Indiana bourbon barrels for the last year while the flavors mellow. We’re very much into coming up with creative and fun names and doing interesting beers that we want to do and giving them as much time as they need to mature and be the beer that we want them to be.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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