More breweries = dafter beer names

Drinking our way through a selection of canned craft beers, we’ve caught ourselves rolling our eyes at the long, strange, often pun-laden names.

And we’re not the only ones, either.

What we’d never asked ourselves before is… why? We reckon the answer lies with the proliferation of breweries in the past 30 or so years.

A hundred years ago, most beers had exciting, distinctive names like ‘mild’, ‘bitter’ or ‘X’.

Then, in the mid-20th century, national brands emerged with snappy names such as Red Barrel or Double Diamond.

Next, the CAMRA-led real ale revolution kicked off, and brewery numbers began to climb in the 1970s and 1980s. These breweries were, in their own way, also national brands, competing for space at beer festivals and in specialist real ale pubs up and down the country.

Premium bottled ales (PBAs) also came along, filling supermarket and off licence shelves.

In this phase, beers with distinctive names such as Summer Lightning, Old Nick or Spitfire had a clear advantage.

Ale ticking culture must also have had an effect. Breweries with ranges of three, five or maybe seven beers are one thing; when you’re producing a new beer every month, or every week, you’re obliged to get creative. Or resort to crude puns.

Jump forward a couple of decades and instead of a few hundred breweries, we’ve got more than 2,000. And that culture of guest ales has morphed into a need for a constant flow of novel, Instagram-friendly products for keg, bottle or can.

The scramble for unique web addresses during the dot com boom led to companies with names like Accenture, Consignia and In much the same way, a crowded beer market inevitably calls for Experiments in Evil, Big Raspberry Dog Chew and Grainsley Harriot.

Plus, of course, it’s fun – another outlet for creativity in a subsector that prizes that over blazer-wearing conformity.

6 replies on “More breweries = dafter beer names”

I first noticed, and rolled my eyes, at this phenomenon in Scandinavia and the Netherlands. I’ve always taken it as originating with non-native English speakers having some fun in a foreign language.

Some semi-random four- or five-word phrase like “With luck I’ll remember geometry” or “Growing chicory for rabbits”, block caps, sans serif font… is the style that most makes me feel old.

I do feel it’s all rather a waste of time, because I don’t even bother reading the names of beers that are whole paragraphs.

In the US, it’s a trademark issue. You can’t have any name identical or similar to another name. Given the massive proliferation of breweries and beers, the math becomes daunting. I’ve spoken to folks who say finding a legal name is the hardest part of introducing a new beer. The result is increasingly dada names, which will only get more dada in coming years.

Newcastle’s Full Circle have done an impy stout called Year of no Light. Very apt given their first full year has been mostly under covid restrictions. A one word name wouldn’t have been memorable. I’m all for long beer names.

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