Beer history marketing

‘Saucy’ Beer Names

Saucy beer names — Dirty Tackle, Piddle Slasher, Old Slapper — are a bit of fun to some, off-putting to others, and either way are another battleground for debates over ‘political correctness’, censorship, good taste and sexism.

We’ve been keeping notes for years, now, trying to work out how they came to be so common in British brewing in particular.

(Though America also has them (Old Leghumper) as does Belgium (Mad Bitch) and they also seem to crop up elsewhere on occasion.)

To have saucy beer names, you need to have beer names — that is, other than in this format:

The 1966 Brewery Manual contains a reference list of trademarked brand names. It’s not comprehensive, Ron Pattinson tells us, but it’s still a good starting point: of the 650 or so provided none are outright filthy and only about ten provide anything for a bar-room wag to get a snigger out of with enough mugging and winking, e.g. Big Horn, Cock o’ the North, ‘I’ll take a Mild Maid please!’ (And it had apparently not even occurred to anyone that there was fun to be had with ‘Blonde’ — no beers are listed.)

There’s no real change by the time of Frank Baillie The Beer Drinker’s Companion in 1973 with only Shepherd Neame Bishop’s Finger giving Mr Nudge-Nudge much to work with, the naughtiness of which was in the eye of the beholder until this much later ad campaign:

Bishop's Finger advertising c.2006:.

That brings us up to the beginning of the microbrewery boom of the 1970s (‘For more on which read Brew Britannia!’ — B&B Head of Sales and Marketing) when it’s business as usual until David Bruce comes on the scene with his Firkin brewpubs. The beers had silly names — Dogbolter, Earthstopper and so on — but the real giggle was in ordering ‘A pint of Firkin bitter!’ Bruce, a compulsive punster and joker, claims not to have spotted the potential for this gag until customers at the Goose & Firkin latched on to it.

There was probably also some influence from the world of comedy and journalism where real ale and its drinkers were often mocked with over-the-top fictional beer names such as Scruttock’s Old Dirigible, for which Alexei Sayle seems to get the credit.

By 1988, when Brian Glover’s CAMRA-published New Beer Guide came out, there were quite a few breweries trying similar stunts. There was Raisdale’s Looby’s Lust, Marston Moor Brewer’s Droop, Rockside’s Hewer’s Droop, Wye Valley Brew 69 (it was our 69th brew!), Min Pin Inn’s Brown Willy (it’s named after a hill!), and The Bull Mastiff Brewery of Penarth, Wales, had beers called Ebony Bitch and Son-of-a-Bitch:

Keen home-brewer Bob Jenkins blames his dogs for the odd names. He keeps Bull Mastiffs.

This defence — it’s quite innocent, you’ve just got dirty minds! — was to become a common theme.

Old Tosspot pump clip/label.

In March and April 1994 there was an exchange of letters in CAMRA’s What’s Brewing which prompted one brewer to express his motives in plain terms. First, there was a complaint from Welsh CAMRA member Jeremy Vernon, titled ‘Who Wants a Tosspot?’

While agreeing with the criticism of renaming pubs by vulgarians… I can’t help but notice a similar trend in the naming of beers… Old Tosspot springs immediately to mind as one of the most recent absurd names for a brew… There are many others (Crippledick, Roger Over and Out etc.), some admittedly quite funny, but the joke is beginning to wear a bit thin… I am not having a go at the likes of the excellent originally-named Old Speckled Hen or wonderful Wobbly Bob, but who needs Old Tosspot? Or is that only too clear?

We were mildly surprised to discover that the brewery responsible for Old Tosspot was Oakham, today best known for their more tastefully named JHB and Citra. A retort from John Wood, the  brewery’s original owner, was headlined ‘There’s Nothing Wrong With Calling an Ale Old Tosspot’ and begins with the It’s Quite Innocent defence:

While I sympathise to some degree with Mr Vernon’s view that some beers have extreme names which could cause offence (for example, Old Fart and Dog’s Bollocks), I cannot agree that my brew has an ‘an absurd name’… I do not know what connotation Mr Vernon is applying to the word ‘tosspot’ but I would like to to point out that it is simply an old and well-used term for a drunkard — one who tosses the pot or tankard.

The more interesting part of the letter concerns the business incentives for naming beers this way:

I would ask Mr Vernon to spend just a few minutes considering the market from my side of the mash tun. He simply drinks the stuff — to me it’s my livelihood. The cask beer market in this country is now immensely competitive and all the odds are stacked against the small independent brewer… [Maybe] the biggest obstacle… is the success of the independents in terms of the vast numbers of beers now on the market. It is no longer sufficient to name a beer simply Bitter, or Best Bitter, or Extra Special Bitter — the name has to grab the attention of the punter… A name that stands out and is memorable is surely fair game. I am sorry if this offends Mr Vernon’s sensibilities.

At this point, we reckon there’s enough evidence to back up what we’d already suspected: saucy beer names are a phenomenon that arose in the 1980s as a result of a crowded market and, at the same time, an increase in DIY branding and marketing.

These days, the market is even more crowded and deliberately provocative beer names are now just one way of grabbing attention and rather passé compared to collaborations, unusual dispense methods, cloudiness and stunt ingredients.

UPDATE 13/09/2016: Added Ronnie Barker LP cover.

8 replies on “‘Saucy’ Beer Names”

Well, I dunno what the visuals were like, but surely, the Wye Valley one refers to “Death Valley 69”?

The suggestive names were one side of the jokey category in general. The seeds of it were, I’d think, in humorous or folksy names such as Old Peculier (apparently originally a reference to a religious court in Masham), Double Maxim, Saison de Silly (not silly at all, but it sounded so to English readers), Forbidden Fruit which Michael Jackson wrote about early on as well, and no doubt many others.

I am sure you have heard of Baltimore’s Old Frothingslosh and its Fatima character. This goes back to the 1960s. Dixie Brewing had a number of beers with amusing names by the 70s. American homebrewers picked up on it early on, Charlie Papazian’s memoir (c. 2005) mentions some amusing names. Incidentally too some of these names combined styles and had weird spellings and were responsible probably for commercial brewers coming up with their versions.

Stephen Morris’ Beer Trek book (1984 but mostly written 5 years earlier) chronicles the “sleazo” lager Vermont homebrewers took perverse pride in, or some of them, in the 70s. There was that early Frothblowers group you’ve written about and an American version existed. There had to be a Frothblowers beer somewhere probably washed by the Atlantic or near.

The popular origins of beer account for all this. Personally except for the mildest non-sexist names, I never cottoned much to it, and for example can’t bring myself to buy a beer called Dead Guy (nothing against Rogue as such). The funny name trend is too deeply embedded now to root it out but it does the beer world no credit, IMO.


Not sure the Belgian “Mad Bitch” is a good reference as the name on the bottle is always rendered in Flemish “Dulle Teve” and is, apparently, a reference to the brewers’ mother!

Marble went through a period – several years ago – of not using finings & naming their beers accordingly – Cloudy Marble, Chorlton-cum-Hazy. I wrote a short piece taking the p. out of these & similar beer names – the character starts on the Old Hazy, moves on to the Old Furry, graduates to the Muddy and Cruddy, and finishes the night with a pint of the Really Quite Genuinely Unpleasant.

Coincidentally, I did a quick google just now for examples of ‘saucy’ (or sexist & gross) beer names & labels. But I decided not to share my findings here, as they’re really quite genuinely unpleasant.

*Puts hands up, goes red, mumbles ‘we’ve a new marketing team now…’*

Not our finest hour, I grant you.

FYI the name was from 1958 and comes from the Pilgrim’s Way signposts – although I’m sure there must have been a Bamforthesque angle to it even then.

I think you need to look beyond beer for key part of an influence. Black Adder was far ruder than any of these beer labels. Plus, you have the countercurrent of androgyny in pop culture. Sexuality (as, unlike now, these brands seem to sling at both male and female) was simply a greater source of humour then. A cyclical thing. Later 1600s art was far ruder than what existed before and after.

I’m not at all surprised that nobody used ‘blonde’ in 1966, incidentally. I don’t remember seeing ‘blonde’ as a style descriptor for beer until the 90s at the earliest, and even then it was mainly used to translate the French term (as in ‘bière blonde’). Or so I remember, anyway.

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