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Writing Style Guide: Family Brewers

Ward's sign, Sheffield.

We need to compile notes on how brewery names ought to be treated for whoever is lucky enough to get the job of copy editing and proofreading our book, and thought we might as well share them.

If you are a blogger or beer writer who frets over your apostrophes, you might disagree with our judgement: let us know if you think we’re way off the mark, but bear in mind that ‘style’ (as opposed to grammar) is to some extent a matter of taste.

If you are not in the habit of writing about beer, or like to do so in a free-form, convention-defying way which pushes the boundaries of traditional grammar and spelling, you’ll probably find this extremely boring. Sorry.

1. Legal names

Most breweries have formal company names which are rarely used, e.g. Young & Co is almost always referred to as Young’s. The only time most writers will need to use the formal name is if making very precise distinctions between different phases in a company’s history, or when describing the foundation of a new legal entity, e.g. after a takeover.

So, Young’s Bitter is still Young’s Bitter, even though it is now actually Wells & Young’s Ltd’s Bitter.

2. Apostrophes

If the family name is Watney, and if the company and any individual beers are supposed to belong to an unspecified, almost symbolic Mr. or Ms. Watney, then they are Watney’s.

The famous brewing company was Watney’s. The beer was Watney’s Red Barrel. It was sold in Watney’s pubs.

You might just about get away with referring to ‘senior figures at Watney’, but  Watney’s is better. Watney Red Barrel just seems stupid. (The underlying base rule of style guides in action, there.)

3. Brand style

Breweries sometimes insist on alternative styles for the sake of branding: Watney’s was almost always written as ‘Watneys’ on labels and in marketing material, probably because designers thought the apostrophe looked ugly.

You might feel more comfortable writing the name of a brewery and its beers as they appear on labels, and that is also a legitimate approach.

4. Family names ending with S

We were shocked when we realised yesterday that the brewing family is Adnams, and that it is therefore Adnams’ Broadside. Or perhaps Adnamss, depending on taste. Either way, it is not Adnam’s Broadside, because there has never been a Mr Adnam.

There are a handful of other brewing families whose names also end with S, and who ought to be treated the same way:

  • J.W. Lees | Lees’ Bitter
  • Thwaites | Thwaites’ Nutty Black
  • Jennings (not Jenning) | Jennings’ Cumberland Ale

5. Place or family name?

Devenish is a family name, not a village in the West Country as we once thought, so, for consistency, should we ever need to, we will refer to Devenish’s Bosun Brown Ale. We’re not sure if there are others that might cause similar confusion, but it’s worth checking if you have any doubts.

6. Breweries with multiple family names

In the rare instances where a brewery owned/run by several families has not come to be known by one name (Fuller, Smith & Turner is almost always called Fuller’s). This is about the only time you ought to use ‘&’ in prose, and only the final proper name in the list needs an apostrophe to indicate possession. In this instance, you might also do away with the possessive apostrophe altogether, treating the brewery name as an adjective, as in ‘Nike (brand) trainers’ (a matter of taste; be consistent).

  • Company name: Eldridge Pope & Co.
  • In prose: Eldridge Pope’s Crystal Ale; Eldridge Pope Crystal Ale.
  • Not: Eldridge’s and Pope’s Crystal Ale.
  • Company name: Starkey, Knight & Ford Ltd.
  • In prose: Starkey, Knight & Ford’s Tivvy Ale; Starkey, Knight & Ford Tivvy Ale.
  • Not: Starkey’s, Knight’s and Ford’s Tivvy Ale.

If you’ve got any questions (‘What about Brodie’s, founded by two people called Brodie?’) or suggestions, leave a comment below.


10 replies on “Writing Style Guide: Family Brewers”

Quite a number of breweries are not normally given the possessive “s” even though they have family names – Vaux and Greene King for example. It was Greenall’s Mild, but Greenall Whitley Mild. I think Devenish falls into the same category. Off the top of my head I don’t think there’s a hard and fast rule as to which do and which don’t, although the ones such as Burtonwood and Donnington which are place names don’t. In general the ones with two names don’t seem to, Eldridge Pope and Shepherd Neame being two more examples.

Yeah, no hard and fast rule, as you say, and the Orwell master-rule applies: if it sounds naff, don’t do it, logic be damned.

You’re right about Greene King: seems weird to say Greene King’s.

Not sure about Vaux — Vaux’s seems quite natural to me, in writing at least.

It’s traditional to include a typo in these kind of guides to keep the green pen types amused. (Fixed.)

Lees is interesting. No apostrophe needed in any format would be perfectly acceptable – Lees Bitter. Probably. Locally you might say Lees’ s bitter (note no capital) or that a pub is Lees’ s. Mostly people would say it’s John Willie’s bitter.

Oddly too I have a Higsons poster which shows Higson’s much in the style of the market trader using egg’s.

What is right in apostrophes often doesn’t look right.

Think you may have not considered the legal status of the corporate person but the degree of nerdishness in your post has left me with no will to go on. I need a nap.

Never knew that about Thwaites, or Thwaites’. In the supermarket today I noticed that it was Ruddles without an apostrophe; also a couple of beer names, e.g. Bishops Finger. And of course the correct British usage is Guinness, not Guinnes’s.

What about the brewery founded by SA Brain – but should it be Brains, Brain’s or Brains’ (they seem to use “Brains”)?

Mmm, Brains…

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