buying beer Generalisations about beer culture marketing

What’s in a name?

There’s a common stereotype that real ales have silly names. You can see this stereotype in action in Viz‘s “Real Ale Twats” sketches kindly uploaded by Stonch back in September.

Actually, this isn’t as true today as it used to be — I was looking through a couple of festival programmes recently, and the truly daft names were few and far between.

But look hard enough and you can still find the Old StoatWobblers, Tiddly Vicars, and the famous Piddle in the Wind. You can groan at terrible puns like “Santa’s Claws”, and “Smoking – then they bandit”. Then there are the “ha-ha, aren’t we being politically incorrect” names such as “Dry hopped Naked Ladies” and “Top Totty”, usually with a highly amusing pump clip too. Very seaside postcard.

Why do brewers go to all that effort to produce what might be a good brew and then cheapen it with a lousy name? I’ve thought of three possible reasons;

  1. they think it appeals to the sense of humour of the average real ale fan
  2. it’s a way of catching the eye at a beer festival, when there are hundreds of others to choose from
  3. actually, the beer isn’t very good, but they’re hoping to sell it on its novelty value.

There might be something in (1) but it’s based on a generalisation which doesn’t hold true. I’m sure I’m not the only real ale fan to find silly names a bit tacky and an insult to my sense of humour. So, by extension, (2) doesn’t work for me either. It’s not that I won’t drink a beer such as “Cunning Stunt” because of the name, but I’m more likely to pick something with a sensible name and label, that suggests quality and integrity. This is because I’ve now started to believe in option (3) and associate stupid names with amateur gimmicks, and thus don’t expect the beer to be any good.

Incidentally, while “researching” this, I found an old article (from August 2003) on the subject. It makes pretty much the same points as above:

‘There are too many rather suggestive names in real ale, which I don’t think does the industry much good,” said Steve Reynolds, marketing director at Springhead brewery.

Do these silly, sexist or crude names actually appeal to *anyone*? Or am I just a prudish, po-faced stormtrooper of political correctness…?

N.B. I’ve never had any of the beers mentioned above — they might taste great!


6 replies on “What’s in a name?”

I think that all three options have some truth to them, but would tend to side with 2. I’ve seen lads at festivals thinking they are truly hilarious ordering a pint of Old Nippletweaker or whatever the latest jokey named beer might be.

Sadly stupidly named beers do appeal to a certain clientele.

There was a bit of kerfuffle many years ago about Oakham Old Tosspot until it was explained what the origins of the beer name are.

“Sadly stupidly named beers do appeal to a certain clientele.”

Yes, about five rugger buggers who’ve come to a beer festival to take the piss. Ordinary human beings in ordinary pubs would be instantly put off by such gimmickry, as it suggests they’re getting an amateurish product.

I think St Peter’s always do very well because none of their beers have daft names – they just describe what type of beer it is. As such, new customers at the Jerusalem Tavern are less baffled than they would be otherwise.

Better beer in North America, arriving late to the game, seems to be trying to make up for their lateness by having some of the crassest and most obnoxious names. Thankfully most of those were put out by fly by night marketing companies and applied to contract brewed oddities. The sad thing is that after being burned a couple of times by a stupid name with some fancy artwork, I avoided some good breweries because their nomenclature and packaging looked gimmicky.

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