There are over 2,000 breweries in the United States with new ones opening each day. With each brewery producing several styles of beer it’s no wonder every week I seem to stumble upon an article about a lawsuit, or a cease and desist over a trademarked name of some beer. As the craft beer market swells with new beers it becomes vital to differentiate ones brand in the market place, but it’s becoming so much harder to come up with a creative name; and some of the names are getting out of hand. In many instances the name gives me no idea as to what to expect from the beer. In this dizzying array of beer names sometimes I can’t recall which beer from a brewer is which style and I simply start referring to them by their flavor profile instead, like, that hoppy amber beer from brewery x. The names, while sometimes creative (though often times downright useless), have lost their meaning.
The question then becomes this: what is the point of naming beers? In most breweries overseas the brewery is the name that people remember. You create your brand, your identity, and the beers are simply described by their styles. While this practical approach to calling a beer simply by its style doesn’t have the creative flair that has come to be the hallmark of the craft brewing industry, it does keep these wild names from getting out of hand; after all there are only so many hop puns out there. The consumer isn’t getting anything out of the name – and some of the untapped potential craft beer drinkers may be turned off by seemingly childish names and bizarre labelling. While craft beer is exploding it doesn’t seem like anyone seems to mind, but there are many who go in to their good craft beer bar and stare blankly at the beer menu, trying to figure out just what it is they may like. A good bartender or server goes a long way to helping the consumer know what they’re getting, but shouldn’t the beer itself help to set the consumers expectations?
There are some who contend that as brewers not only push the style boundaries, but outright defy them, that simply naming a beer by its style won’t work. But why does this mean that some marketing driven, or brainstormed session beer name will help the consumer to understand the beer better? True a lot of brewers will give some level of beer description on the bottle, but in a bottleshop filled with choices how many people are going to take the time to read each one? It’s also true that a lot of your better beer bars will have descriptions on their menu, blackboard, or some other location that will help to educate the consumer about what they’re ordering. But when you have dozens of tap handles I’d be willing to bet a lot of people will simply look for what is familiar, or what is new. In fact the information overload could serve to turn off those making their first forays in to the world of craft beer. When style names don’t apply to a brew that has defied all convention, giving it some kind of name that adequately conveys what the drinker can expect out of the beer is vital.
A brewery’s time is better spent working on their beer, not trying to find some name that no one has yet to use, or worse still, involved in a legal battle defending your trademarked name (or having to come up with an entirely new name for your beer because someone else got there first). Marketing time is better spent focusing on creating your brand as your identity. Your brewery name will be the reflection of what it is you are; that’s how the consumer is going to remember you and how you’re going begin to make yourself stand out in a crowded marketplace. There are certain breweries when they release something new I know I want to try it regardless of style because they have a track record of making beer that I absolutely love. They’ve built their reputation around their brand and I respect what they’re doing. Other times when I go to the bar I might be in the mood for a particular style – or perhaps I want the right style of beer to pair with my meal. Skimming a list of names that represent the style is a lot easier than reading a description of each, especially in a place that prides itself on its beer selection.
At the end of the day we all have to go our own way and are going to see things differently. Some brewers honestly feel that their creative name is a reflection of the beer and has a personal connection to them. Does this connection carry over to the consumer? After all it is ultimately the consumer for whom this beer is made. It’s good and well to say you only brew what you like and you don’t care what other people want; that’s a recipe for a short-lived brewery. Craft beer is a business; yes it’s a highly creative and artistic business, but at the end of the day you want to be successful, you want people to enjoy your beers, and sometimes you have to give them what they want to get them in the door. Consumer confusion hurts the craft brand as a whole.
Anyway, that’s my two cents on the whole craft beer naming game.