The Haze-Craze is Not All-Encompassing

There has been a lot of digital ink spilled on the rise of the Hazy IPA. Whether you love them or hate them, everyone must admit that they have stormed the beer scene like no other IPA variant (Imperial, Black, Red, White, Session, Grapefruit, Milkshake, Glitter, Brut) before or since.

Personally, I tend towards drier beers which rules out a lot of Hazies. I am however, not at all adverse to a good example of the style. I’ll drink a good Hazy IPA over a faulty or unbalanced but otherwise clear IPA any day.

The Observation

A lot of the commentary around Hazy, particularly on social media has been of the apocalyptic takeover of the Hazy, squashing out all other IPA, nay, any other style of beer! These discussions are often fueled by photos like this one, sent to me by Michael Donaldson author of Beer Nation and editor of Pursuit of Hoppiness.

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Originally from PorchDrinking Chicago

Now that’s a lot of Hazy IPAs to be sure. Also the other beers seem to be exclusively Imperial Stouts and Sours, which is weird and seems like a bad idea.

In my own bar and pre-COVID-19, we had been running Hazy and non-Hazy IPAs more or less alternately on the same tap. This worked out well overall, but we definitely had customers who wanted one or the other and were disappointed when we didn’t have the style of IPA that they specifically wanted.

Post-lockdown, we decided to try running two IPA taps, one Hazy, one traditional/West Coast/NZIPA. What I noticed when we did this was that a keg of very popular Hazy IPA like Garage Project Fresh or McLeod’s 802 would sell out faster than any other beer, but the same was true of certain non-Hazy IPAs like Liberty Knife Party.

In fact, one recent Friday night, I tapped a keg of McLeod’s Northern Hammer NZIPA and a keg of a new Hazy from a less well-known brewery almost simultaneously. The McLeod’s ran out within 24 hours, whereas the Hazy was still on tap come Monday morning. Some beers just make customers fizz more than others, regardless of their clarity. Over time though, this effect is eventually evened out.

The Hypothesis

I have a theory: All things being equal, Hazy IPA is not substantially more popular than other IPA styles. The question is, how do we test this hypothesis? How do we make all things equal?

There’s a lot of factors that go into beer choice. Some are quantifiable – price and ABV. Others are less well-defined. Beer quality, both in terms of brewing faults and overall balance matters for sure. Then there’s ‘brand’ in all its nebulous forms. A brewery’s reputation and popularity, the beer’s name, the tap badge art – all these factors matter more to sales than most brewers would like to admit.

Enter the ParrotDog ReinCanation range. These are a range of beers, mostly IPAs, named after people. They have a uniform geometric art style and for the most part, are line-priced, meaning they cost the same per keg.

 

The ReinCanation range presents the opportunity to level the playing field. ParrotDog makes good beer generally, and particularly excellent IPAs, both Hazy and non-Hazy. The labels and beer names are variations on the same theme. We need two IPAs of equal price and strength, one Hazy, one non-Hazy. Please welcome Adrian and Lindsay.

They are both strong IPAs. Adrian is a 7% Hazy, Lindsay a 6.8% West Coast IPA. They’re close enough in alcohol strength that this wouldn’t play a major role in a customer’s choice. They both cost $13 per 425ml glass (come at me, South Island). They were both very fresh and critically, very delicious. Putting them both on tap at the same time was the closest to a fair fight that we could achieve.

The Experiment

Adrian was tapped at Golding’s Free Dive at 4:30pm, Thursday 30/7/20. Lindsay was tapped at 8:30pm, Thursday 30/7/20.

Now already you’ll notice an issue, in that Adrian got a 4 hour head-start. The brutal reality was that I couldn’t justify pulling off the remainder of the keg preceding Lindsay, which would have entailed a lot of work and wasted beer (come at me, scientific method). Those 4 hours were busy so Adrian got a significant boost. But I believe that the experiment remains valid, for reasons we shall get into.

The race was on. Both beers were on tap all afternoon of Friday 31/7/20. The Adrian keg ran out at 6:30pm that evening, for a total of twenty-six hours on tap. The Lindsay stayed on tap for two more hours, finishing at 8:30pm, for a total of twenty-four hours on tap.

Right there, the results are interesting. Although Adrian the Hazy went on four hours ahead of Lindsay, Lindsay finished two hours faster than Adrian. Looking at the raw numbers, it would seem that the West Coast IPA was actually more popular than the Hazy! We do however need to consider the two periods at the start and finish of the experiment, where only one of the two beers was on tap.

On the one hand, 4:30 to 8:30pm Thursday is a busy period of trade for the bar, but it’s not as busy as 6:30 to 8:30pm Friday, which is often our busiest two-hour period of any given week. On the other hand, Fridays are not twice as busy as Thursdays.

Without getting too bogged down in the details, I’m going to say that it’s more or less a wash between the two kegs. Ergo the conclusion I’m going to reach from this experiment is that side by side, there was no clear or significant preference for either Hazy or Clear IPA among customers.

Further Discussion

Obviously this experiment was far from rigorously scientific. It only really gives us insight into a certain bar, at a certain time. If it were replicated elsewhere, results may vary. But what I do think it shows is that demand for Hazy IPA is not all-consuming. Nor has it rendered all other IPA styles obsolete.

While cashing-in on the Haze Craze is potentially lucrative for brewers, there is still value in providing a range of beer styles. I would not recommend anyone turn their brewery into a Haze factory. Likewise, bar managers would be ill advised to turn their tap lineup into something resembling the picture at the start of this article.

Love it or otherwise, the Hazy IPA is not going anywhere. I’m actually thankful for one thing it has achieved: Ending the New Zealand beer drinker’s obsession with crystal clear beer. This is a particularly annoying hangover from ‘craft’ beer’s real ale heritage, and not something I’ve ever viewed as a useful indicator of beer quality.

After all, I’ve spent the better part of a decade wading through pint after pint of greasy, diacetyl laden, green-apple, acetaldehyde flavoured, astringently bitter, over-hopped, vegetal, overly sticky, caramel-malted, poorly packaged and oxidised (but otherwise crystal-clear) beers. I’d trade the lot for a well-made Hazy anyday.

 

Dear Brewers: Don’t Photoshop This Christmas

As we step into December it’s officially socially acceptable to begin displaying Christmas decorations (or alternatively, it’s no longer acceptable to shout at people who displayed decorations in November).

As we enter our busiest trading period of the year, I say to the brewers out there: make hay, have fun, celebrate, stay safe. But whatever you do, do not attempt to Photoshop beer into Santa’s hands, unless you know what you are doing.

Exhibit A:

Urgh.

It looks cheap. The resolution is terrible. Nothing matches. Don’t do it.

Instead, I will do it for you. I’m a little handy with Photoshop, as seen here, here and here. For the low, low price of one six-pack of your beer, I will Shop your bottle/can product into Santa’s hand. As a bonus: for the price of one case (24 x 330ml or 12 x 500ml), I will even adjust the angle of the beer level and/or remove the bottle cap.

Tempted? Here’s a sample of my work:

Pretty tidy and I have a fast turn-around. To take up this offer, contact me via twitter, and send me a high-res photo of you bottle product. Then sit-back and watch the Christmas orders roll in!

Dank, Bro.

One of the hottest descriptors for beer to come out of the last two years is ‘dank’. Specifically, it’s used to describe hop characters that are particularly resinous and reminiscent of marijuana. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of the term and it’s druggy overtones. You know what else is described as ‘dank’? Memes.

The term ‘meme’ was coined by Richard Dawkins and refers to essentially a little package or unit of cultural or ideological ‘data’ that may be transmitted from person to person like a gene through generations (or perhaps like a virus through populations). That’s the high-minded academic definition at least. In practice, a meme is a funny photograph, frequently with a caption, often used as a witty response to any discussion on the internet.

This is low-culture at its lowest. But sometimes the combination of an evocative image with a few simple words can be one of the most eloquent single pieces of communication you’ll ever see.

Now is this surprisingly long discussion of memes a thinly veiled excuse for me to use my blog to post a bunch of things that make me lol? You betcha. So here it is. A selection of dankest ‘craft’ beer memes for your enjoyment.

Good memes express something that resonates with people. Like when you’re visiting a small town, and you’re damn sure you won’t find any good beer in the local shops, but then you do:

On the other hand, some memes can express something deeply personal. Like my reaction every time Garage Project releases another weird beer packed full of exotic ingredients:

OK, let’s be honest. this is my REAL reaction every time Garage Project releases another weird beer packed full of exotic ingredients:

On other occasions, I don’t have strong opinions. This is me every time the whole “East Coast IPA” debate kicks off:

This, however, is my reaction when I read the Beer: The Beautiful Truth website:

Speaking of DB Breweries, here’s my reaction when Tui announced they were going to start making small-batch experimental beers:

A lot of my strongest feelings about the brewing industry come from talking to people who want to start breweries. Particularly when I hear a homebrewer talk about ‘turning pro’:

One of the great things about memes is that while they express universal emotions, they can be adapted to very specific audiences and milieus. Here’s one most brewers can probably relate to. You know when you’re trying out a new Pale Ale recipe and you get just the tiniest hint of something buttery hiding in the background?

And if we’re on the subject of beer recipes, how many brewers will confess to this little white lie?

Speaking of white lies; how many brewers that make clean, American-style Wheat Ales will pull this one?

And finally, here’s me every time some tries to once and for all define ‘craft’ beer:

Podcast: Will it Gaff?

With our passion for Shady now well established, Phil and I dig into the history of beer and softdrink blending, and seek an answer to the question nobody asked: Will it Gaff?

Joining us to blend beer with ginger beer is Annika Naschitzki, from Tiamana Brewery. She shares some great insights into German beer-blending traditions.

Will it Gaff can be streamed here, or over on the Beer Diary, or Annika’s blog, The Brewer’s Daughter. To download, click the icon in the top right corner, under the Soundcloud logo or go here.

Our title track is Square Beer by The Coconut Monkeyrocket.

Show Notes:

  • [11:10] – Our bottle of best bitter was infected. Out of public interest, we kept it in the show. Rather than publicly naming and shaming the Brewery, we edited out the their name and had a word with the brewer privately about it.
  • [21:20] – We realised after recording, that at no point do we explain what a Diesel is a 50/50 blend of Lager and Coke, sometimes drunk in Germany.

New Zealand’s Oldest ‘Craft’ Brewery: Further Discussion

Over a year ago I wrote this piece on what I considered to be New Zealand’s oldest ‘craft’ brewery, which has since become one of the most popular articles I’ve ever written. Since then, a few interesting points have been brought to my attention, which warrant further discussion. So let’s start with something that has been in the news lately…

Mike’s Went into Liquidation

White Cliffs, better known as Mike’s Brewery, was and (spoiler alert) still is my original pick for oldest brewer. Founded in 1989, it narrowly boxes out Sunshine Brewery for the title by two months.

Many of us were surprised and perhaps a little dismayed to hear in June that White Cliffs would be going into liquidation, due to outstanding Customs and Excise debt. But this wasn’t to be the end of Mike’s Beer. Owner and operator, Ron Trigg announced that he would be starting a new company (Mikes Holding’s Limited) and buying back White Cliff’s assets from liquidators, essentially starting Mike’s again, now unsaddled by historical debt.

I’ll be honest – it’s a somewhat dubious bit of company law that allows this and it can, to put it bluntly, be used by the unscrupulous to bilk creditors. I’ve criticised another brewery for doing this sort of manoeuvre in the past; which makes it a difficult move for me to support. But on the other hand, that not necessarily what’s happening with Mike’s. In fact it was revealed by Ron in an article in The Pursuit of Hoppiness Magazine, that Mike’s Holding’s Limited has taken on approximately $100,000 of debt from White Cliffs (Summer 2016, p. 47 link to the issue here). So it seems that Mike’s is trying to do the right thing by their creditors.

On balance, I’m happy that Mike’s lives on. The Triggs are friends and good people, and I don’t want Mike’s to disappear.

But what does that mean for their status as ‘Oldest Brewery’? If a brewery goes out of business, then starts up again with the same name, from the same location making the same product, is it fair to call it the same brewery? To make a call on the matter, I had to go back to my original criteria for judging oldest brewery – continuity of supply. Could I, as a punter, reasonably expect to go buy a beer, and it to be the same product?

The answer for Mike’s is yes. The product hasn’t changed; it’s the same beer, made by the same people, in the same place. What’s happened is some shuffling of paperwork, to write off an insurmountable amount of debt. Many consumers will never know it happened…

So Mike’s can, in my opinion, hold onto it’s Oldest Brewery title for now. But there’s another brewery that quite a few people have brought up, which I really should have addressed in my previous post.

What about the Shakespeare?

The Shakespeare Hotel was founded in 1898, and is often touted as having the oldest licence to sell alcohol.

The Shakespeare Hotel’s brewery was commissioned in 1986, three years before Mike’s, making it at the time, the first modern brewpub in the country. The original brewer was one Barry Newman. When I was writing the original post, I admit I dismissed The Shakespeare out of hand.

While The Shakespeare is currently a functioning brew pub, it was shut down some time in the 2000s and brewing did not take place there for several years. In fact it was Ben Middlemiss of contract brewery Ben Middlemiss Brewing who was instrumental in getting it going again:

It was once the most famous brew-pub in the city, but the brewery side of the operation was neglected and ended up being shut down. [Ben] Middlemiss asked if he could use it to make his own beer. “The owners weren’t interested in having the brewery going again and they seemed happy with me doing it myself, but the punters started to ask ‘When is there going to be beer again?'”…

Eventually [Shakespeare] beer did flow again, the Dogberry Pale Ale coming out just before Christmas 2011. (Donaldson, 2012, p. 127).

Obviously, a brewery closing down for a period of time will break the all-important criteria of continuous supply (this is one of the reasons I disqualified McCashin’s earlier). So I crossed The Shakespeare off the list.

Sometime after I published the previous post, I spoke to Ben about The Shakespeare Hotel and learned, to my surprise, brewing was shut down there as late as 2009. This means that far from being a long leave of absence, it was a period of roughly two years that no beer was produced, not the five or six years I had assumed earlier.

More recently though, when I spoke to Ben again, he dropped this bombshell:

When we refurbished and resurrected the brewery, Frances McCullough, the actual owner of the Shakespeare building and various other pubs around Auckland, was still pouring some of the beer left in the tanks from when Barry Newman  [The Shakespeare’s previous brewer] was still working there. I made them take it off as it was in a very bad state.

On the one hand, this revelation kind of puts a new spin on things. The rule of continuous supply may well have been nominally satisfied over almost all the two-year period the brewery was shut down. On the other hand, I also feel that to say The Shakespeare was still a functioning brewery, just because they hadn’t run out of beer yet, is kind of following the letter of the law, rather than the spirit, particularly if the beer should have gone down the drain a long time ago.

With this in mind, I can’t in good conscience, say that Shakespeare is a better candidate for the longest continuously operating brewery over Mike’s, who have delivered essentially the same products, fresh to customers uninterrupted, over the same time period.

And finally… Anchor Brewing

Almost a year after I published the original post, I was contacted via the comment section by one Warwick ‘Jamie’ Jameson, claiming that the true oldest, still operating ‘craft’ brewery is actually Anchor Brewing, also known as The Village Brewery, established 1984.

I honestly didn’t know what to make of this claim. I’d heard of Anchor Brewing – it’s still listed on Beer Tourist, and Martin Craig of Beertown had recently unearthed an article he wrote in 1993 about the brewery. But as far as I was aware, Anchor closed some time in the 90s. In fact I had it listed in The Craft Beer Graveyard. Was this true? I started digging.

From what I can tell, Anchor was indeed opened in Porirua in the mid eighties. Jameson says 1984, all other sources, including Richard Brimer’s Microbreweries of New Zealand (1995), and the Companies Office record it as opening in 1985, but let’s not split hairs.

Some rather fabulous Anchor Beer labels I found in the depths of Google. Note the VERY early use of the term 'Craft'.

Some rather fabulous Anchor Beer labels I found in the depths of Google. Note the VERY early use of the term ‘Craft’.

Anchor focused on making ‘Real Ale’ styles, and Jameson made some fairly bold claims about his beer. Not only did he state that “our beer is consistently the best in the world in terms of hop aroma and flavour”, he also claimed that it gave drinkers immunity to the common cold (Brimer, 1995, p.44). Unfortunately I can’t confirm either assertion.

But what about Anchor being the oldest still operating brewery? While Anchor still exists in the Companies register, Jameson says he sold the brewery in 1996 to “fund my ongoing scientific research into the true medicinal properties of beer”. Specifically how ‘hop related components’ may relate to a cure for AIDs. Whilst I must refrain from speculating on the matter, wouldn’t that be something? Jameson states that he is currently writing a paper on the subject for peer-review. I look forward to reading it.

I can find no evidence of any beer being produced or sold by Anchor or the Village Brewery after 1996. With no beer being produced for twenty years, Anchor Brewing must unfortunately, stay in the Craft Beer Graveyard.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Michael Donaldson, Beer Nation: The Art & Heart of Kiwi Beer, 2012, Penguin Group.

Richard Brimer, Anne Russell, Microbreweries of New Zealand, 1995, Random House.

A full bibliography can also be found at the end my previous article on this subject, here.

 

 

Contracting an Illness

Published two weeks ago on Stuff was possibly one of the most interesting and important articles written about beer in New Zealand. This one by Michael Donaldson, talking about Tuatara brewing Townshend Brewery beers under contract. In the process, the Townshend beers became infected with a wild yeast or bacteria, causing the bottles to fountain when opened, and the beer itself to taste bad. Take a moment and give it a read.

I want to talk about it because it touches on a couple of interesting points about the brewing industry.

Two things that need to be said: First, my deepest sympathies for Martin. He’s been working so damn hard for eleven years now, and to have a set back like this is devastating. Not only from a personal point of view – disappointing customers – but from a financial point of view. Losing large quantities of stock, not to mention a distribution deal of this scale must be potentially ruinous for a business as small as Townshend.

Martin Townshend. Credit: Jed Soane/The Beer Project.

Martin Townshend.                                                                          Credit: Jed Soane/The Beer Project.

I’d also like to say I’m disappointed in Tuatara’s (now ex-) CEO’s reaction:

“[Shirtcliffe] believes the problem was caused by an over-estimation of demand for Townshend’s beer in six packs and as a result the beer spent a long time in unchilled storage and, because some of stock was unpasteurised, refermented in the bottle.”

In saying this, they’ve essentially denied any responsibility for producing faulty beer. But the assertion that gushing bottles was a result of ambient storage I find dubious.

Not mentioned in this article is the fact that it wasn’t only bottles that were infected, but also keg stock. I know this because I regularly ordered Townshend kegs from Tuatara for Golding’s. In October 2015 I contacted Tuatara about infected Pilsner kegs, and in January 2016 I contacted Martin directly about infected APA kegs (both of these beers were exhibiting what I’d call a ‘farmhouse character’ typical of wild yeast, and high levels of carbonation). At this point I stopped ordering Townshend beers unless I knew they’d been brewed by Martin in Moutere (none of which have ever shown signs of infection).

Add to this, the fact that I have literally never heard of commercially produced beer accidentally re-fermenting in bottles without an infection. Many, if not most ‘craft’ brewers in New Zealand do not pasteurise their bottles. These then go on to sit ambient in supermarket storerooms and off-licence shelves for up to months at a time, and yet gushing bottles are a very rare occurrence.

What all this suggests is that the root cause of the issue was probably an infection, and it was most likely occurring somewhere up-stream from the bottling line. But let’s not get too bogged down in brewing minutia.

As I see it, there are two wider issues at play here. As pointed out by Martin, we need better guidelines for contract brewing. Whilst I’m not hugely enamoured with the idea of extra legislation in this matter, minimum standards for labels would probably help in this regard. Forcing contractors to state where each beer was brewed would put some of the responsibility back on the brewery that made it. After all, no one wants their name attached to a faulty product.

However, I’m not convinced that labelling standards would address what is the core of the problem, which is accountability in the contract brewing process. If something goes wrong, we need clearly defined guidelines as to who is responsible at each stage in the brewing process. This isn’t just to protect contractors, but also to protect the breweries that make the beer on the contractor’s behalf as well.

Whilst things like infections and fermentation issues are the responsibility of the actual brewery that’s been contracted, other factors are the responsibility of the contractor. Things like recipe flaws, such as an inexperienced contractor supplying a recipe that will not actually work, or making decisions/specifications that negatively impact the finished product (I’ve heard of both of those happening). Protection for both parties in this situation is necessary.

Again, legislation might help, but what I might suggest is establishing a comprehensive legal framework that can be employed by any brewery, demarcating responsibilities for contract brewing. The Brewers Guild of New Zealand might be instrumental in establishing these; as well as a potential arbiter in the event of a dispute.

Now there probably was some sort of agreement, legally binding or not, in the Townshend/Tuatara deal, we don’t know for sure. But what we can say is that if there was, it was definitely not comprehensive enough. Just look at this line: “For his part Townshend didn’t realise the beer would be stored unchilled.” Storage of finished product is exactly the sort of thing that needs to be agreed upon beforehand. Beer has a limited shelf-life and I’m willing to bet few breweries would agree to a distribution deal if they knew their product was going to sit ambient.

I think the larger issue here is a lack of professionalism in the ‘craft’ brewing industry as a whole. We are transitioning from a cottage industry, to a large-scale, commercial one. That transition is not always going to be smooth. The simple fact of the matter is that many brewers, even surprisingly large ones, seem to behave as if they’re still making beer in their garage for their mates. It’s no way to build a mature, sustainable industry.

On the one hand, it’s easy to forgive a small, one or two person operation like Townshend for this sort of thing. When you have to do everything yourself, it’s easy to make mistakes. On the other hand, whether you’re making 50 litres, or 50 hectolitres, good business practices are essential.

Legal protection, accounting, cashflow, human resources, customer relations, brand management, logistics, health and safety, company culture: these are the boring, unsexy, business-wank-type-buzzwords words that no one wants to deal with. But  these are what breweries need to come to terms with with if they’re going to grow and prosper in the years to come. Because you can make the best beer in the world, but if you can’t run a business, you’ll have a hard time staying afloat to sell much of it.

To end on a positive note, Townshend beers are back being produced in Moutere and tasting great. You should pick one up next time you see them on tap or in stores. And give him a hug/high five next time you see him. He really has earned it.

 

 

How to Name a Beer

It was almost a year ago that I published a post laying out the difficulties of naming a brewery. Eleven months later, and with a bunch of new breweries popping up in New Zealand, none of which have ‘dog’ in the name, it’s high time we discussed the other side of the coin.

Beer names are an integral part of a brewery’s brand and identity. Just like a good brewery name, a good beer name attracts customers and ultimately, can sell more beer. And just like naming a brewery, there are certain pitfalls that brewers both young and old can fall into.

The advice I’m going to share with you is not meant as the be-all-and end-all, only a guideline. They’re my opinion only, and your gas mileage may vary. I have, however, built these guidelines over years of interacting with customers, and seeing what does and doesn’t seem to work. Of course, no offence to any brewers I use as examples. It doesn’t reflect on the quality of your beer, and if you’ve been calling your beer by a certain name for years, I am by no means suggesting you change it.

1. Make it Catchy

I realise I’m starting with a rule that’s incredibly difficult to define. What makes something catchy? Seems like almost a “I know it when I see it it” situation. But let’s take a stab at defining it anyway.

A good place to start is keeping it short and simple. Beer names can be longer than brewery names, sometimes substantially longer. Choice Bro’s I’m Afraid of Americans would be a good example of a long name that I think works (we’ll get to why names work soon).

Im_afraid

the art works nicely too.

But there is always a limit, and in my experience, if a customer can’t pronounce and/or remember the whole name of a beer from the time they’ve read the menu to when they make it to the bar, they’re less likely to order it or recommend it to a friend. The Moon Dog/Yeastie Boys collaborative beer Peter Piper’s Pickled Pepper Purple Peated Pale Ale (AKA The 7 ‘P’s) suffered from this.

Beyond keeping it short, what else can make it ‘catchy’? Hard to say. Poetic devices tend to help. Things like rhymingassonancealliteration and consonance can help. Names like Pils ‘n’ Thrills, Double Trouble, Red Rocks Reserve, Sauvignon Bomb employ these devices.

Likewise, humour can be a great tool for naming beers. In my experience, people can remember jokes easier than names. Puns and in particular beer-related ones, are often popular – like Four Horsemen of the Hopocalypse. But humour can be a double edged sword. Which brings me to…

2. Keep it Classy

Beers do need to be named in a manner that make them sound appetising. You might think it’s really funny to name your Porter with cacao nibs ‘Chocolate Starfish‘ (and so might your close friends), but be warned, a lot of people will be put off by the name and/or assume your beer literally tastes like arse. Also, I’m going to assume the people making/naming the beer are exactly the kind of horrific Dudebros we’ve all spent so long trying to exorcise from our industry and community.

Simple crassness aside, keeping it classy is a good principle to guide not only naming, but all sorts of branding and marketing decisions. I’m talking about controversy here. Stirring up controversy with a name that could be (or just is) sexist, racist, homophobic, etc. may be a cheap way to get media attention short term, but is a bad foundation for building a long-term customer base.

I won’t go into detail but I think we all know of breweries that have adopted this technique in the past. Ask them how it’s gone. Or I suggest reading Jim Vorel’s really excellent piece on the subject.

3. Themes are Good. sometimes.

Many breweries have themes to name their beers. For example Choice Bros. Uses Bowie lyricsPanhead has a hotrod motif (Super Charger, Blacktop, Boss Hog and so on), whereas Bach Brewing uses a beach theme in their beer names (Crayporter, Kingtide, Driftwood). Themes can be a great way to get build a consistent brand across a range of beers and in your customers consciousness. But they can get you into trouble in two different ways.

ParrotDog beer nice.

ParrotDog beer nice.

The first is slavish adherence. Breweries who stick too closely to a naming theme can end up painting themselves into a corner. ParrotDog for example, used almost exclusively dog or bird themed double-worded names for their beers (BloodHound, DeadCanary, BitterBitch). But coming up with names that fit that scheme is difficult, and we gradually saw them shift away from it with names such as RiwakaSecret, Pandemonium, and the RareBird series. Coming up with new beer names is hard enough, and imposing arbitrary restrictions on yourself only makes it harder.

The second way naming themes can get a brewery into trouble is when they make each of your beers essentially indistinguishable. For a really great illustration of this, we need to look overseas. Russian River, from Santa Rosa California. Their Barrel Aged/Belgian inspired range all have names that end in ~tion. As in: Redemption, Consecration, Damnation, Sanctification and so on. Now I’ve had a decent number of these beers, but I couldn’t tell you which ones. They’re all really excellent beers, but they’ve all sort of blended into one in my memory.

Likewise when naming beers, numbers are not your friend. Founders for example, uses years to name their beers – 1946, 2009, 1854, and so on. Again, I’ve had all of them, but could I tell you which one’s which? Nope.

4. Does it Do What it Says on the Tin?

In point five of How to Name a Brewery, I elaborated on the need to choose adjectives carefully – if you use an adjective in your brewery name that could theoretically apply to beer – a flavour, colour or aroma, customers will assume that it applies to your beer.

Now forgive me if it seems like I’m stating the obvious, but this principle applies doubly to beer names. The reason I am stating the obvious is that breweries still do it with surprising regularity. Infringements on this principle can be relatively minor – for example Townshend Black Arrow Pilsner which customers occasionally mistake for a dark beer, but because of the word ‘Pilsner’ mostly gets away with it. But sometimes a misplaced descriptor can cause real havoc with customers.

Pictured - one of my favourite Pilsners in New Zealand.

Pictured – one of my favourite Pilsners in New Zealand.

I still have vivid memories of pouring a beer at Hashigo (quite a few years ago) that committed this sin – Liberty Brewing Sexual Chocolate1. Sexual Chocolate was a beer that, although somewhat sexy, was not very chocolatey at all (it was a hoppy Brown Ale). Customers would order a Sexual Chocolate, and then almost immediately return it, claiming I’d poured the wrong beer: they were expecting a chocolate porter.

Eventually I started warning customers: “this beer is not very chocolatey, do you want to try it before you order?” If your beer needs to come with a disclaimer, then you should probably reconsider the name. I like to call this the ‘Does it do What it Says on the Tin?’ test.2

So let’s review. You’ve brewed a beer, picked out a name that’s short, punchy, uncontroversial, and accurately sells the beer’s attributes. But you’re not there yet, you have to do one more thing.

5. Google It

Maybe I should really say Untappd it, but either way, check to see if any other brewery is using the same name. On this one I’m talking from experience. Many years ago, I made a video of a collaboration brew between Garage Project and Nøgne Ø Brewery. The beer needed a name and I suggested Good as Gøld, without checking it on Untappd or RateBeer. Silly me, because it already existed. I really should have checked.

Eventually, the beer would be called 'Summer Sommer'.

Eventually, the beer would be called Summer Sommer.

Stouches over names are fairly infrequent, but double-ups can happen quite often. If a name seems absolutely perfect, there’s a good chance that someone else has got to it before you. Which isn’t to say that double-ups are necessarily a disaster. If a little brewery in another country that will never ever be seen in New Zealand is already using a name, then go right ahead anyway. But if it’s another NZ brewery using it, you need to start again, out of courtesy if nothing else.

It is, however, a different matter if it’s a really famous or iconic beer from another country. If an NZ brewery ever dared to name a beer, ‘Pliny the Elder’, ‘Heady Topper’, or ‘Sculpin’, then they fully deserve to be dragged over a bed of hot coals.


Coming up with names for anything is hard – just ask any parent. Some breweries have a knack for it, while others seem to struggle more. These guidelines are a good place to start, but they’re also not bullet proof. I can think of some absolutely terribly named beers out there that don’t technically break these rules, but are still somehow clunky, unappealing, or just sound wrong.

If a brewer ever wants to run a name past me, feel free. You can reach me on twitter any time.


 NOTES

1. There seems to be no record of this beer online except in DEEP in Hashigo’s newsletter archives

2. Strangely enough, Yeastie Boys did the exact same thing with their beer Kid Chocolate, which had almost nothing chocolatey about it at all. Yes, that was released seven years ago. I have a long memory and I’ve been doing this for a long time. 

What Your Beer Choice Says About You

Today the world of beer has become fragmented. Where once in New Zealand it was ‘lager’, ‘draught’ or if you were very lucky, ‘dark’. But now we have any sort of beer you can imagine (and several you can’t). But how does your beer choice reflect on you?

The internet is full of silly great advice for American beer drinkers, but what about the humble Kiwi? What do our beer choices say about us? Well, fret no more. Here’s the definitive list:

Lager/Pilsner

You are most likely right-handed. Also you like lager.

Source.

Fig. 1: A Lager                                                    Source.

Pale Ale

Your height is probably between 132-192 centimetres tall. You like hoppy, pale beers.

Fig. 2: A Pale Ale Source.

Fig. 2: A Pale Ale                                                  Source.

Wheat Beer

Bad news: you probably have herpes, most likely without knowing it. And you like wheat beers.

Mild/Bitter/ESB

Good news: you are probably immune to leprosy. You’re also a fan of traditional English ales.

Fig. 3: An ESB Source.

Fig. 3: An ESB                                                                                             Source.

Stout/Porter

If you’re European, there’s a statistical certainty you’re a descendant of Charlemagne. And you like dark beer.

IPA

If you’re male, there is a ~1/200 chance you’re a direct descendant from Genghis Khan. If you’re a Chinese male, that figure goes up to ~1/12. You’re also an IPA enthusiast.

Fig. 4: An IPA Source.

Fig. 4: An IPA                                                                                    Source.

Black IPA

You’re a weirdo.

Sour/Wild Beer

Your liver is worth ~$157,000 (US) on the black market. Of course, drinking too much of that sour beer you love may decrease that value. The good news is, it should increase its value as foie gras.

Fig. 5: A sour Beer    Source.

Fig. 5: A Sour Beer                                              Source.

Barleywine

You’re hopefully too smart to fall into lazy stereotyping of beer drinkers according to style, glass preference, gender, class, race, ethnicity or any other silly, arbitrary, irrelevant factor.

And you like Barleywine.

Fig. 6: Several Barleywines     Source.

Fig. 6: Several Barleywines                                                     Source.

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Cat Beer.gif

Scott was right – it’s just not clickbait without a cat gif.

Podcast: Will it Shandy?

There’s something not many people know about me. I love shandies and radlers – the humble blend of beer and lemonade. Phil Cook, my friend and colleague also shares this passion.

We got together one warm summer’s evening with a selection of beers that might be considered ‘unconventional’ blending material, in a quest to answer that age old question that has plagued humanity: “Will it Shandy?”

 

Will it Shandy can be streamed here, or over on The Beer Diary. To download, click the icon in the top right corner, under the Soundcloud logo or go here.

Our title track is Square Beer by The Coconut Monkeyrocket.

Let’s Talk Rationally About: Beer Social Media

I’ve noticed a lot of articles going past my feed lately, focusing on negative issues and trends of the ‘craft’ beer industry. Now normally I’d be all over this sort of thing – I consider myself very much the social commentator and I have a reputation for having the least rose-tinted glasses of anyone in the industry.

The trouble is that frequently the articles are sweeping generalisations about the industry that I think just don’t stack up. Chief among offenders is that glossy heap of clickbait dross the Thrillist, but also a number of personal blogs voicing similar opinions, which I would like to provide a counterpoint to.

So today I want to rationally discuss an assertion I’ve seen several times:

Untappd is damaging ‘craft’ beer.

Originally I was going to say ‘beer social media’ is damaging ‘craft’ beer. I’m going to be discussing this in the New Zealand context (although I suspect what I’m going to say will hold true in many other countries). BeerAdvocate never really caught on down here, and RateBeer is virtual ghost town these days, so Untappd is pretty much it.

For those not in the know: Untappd is a website and app where users can ‘check-in’ beers at different locations, win badges for drinking different beers, rate beers, and share all this info with their friends.

The general crux of assertions I want to talk about is that Untappd is ruining beer culture by creating a customer base more obsessed with clocking up unique check-ins and winning badges than actually enjoying beer (I like to call these people ‘badgers’). Brewers in turn, will sacrifice quality by pandering to the badgers by making endless new and novel beers in pursuit of check-ins, instead of focusing on the quality of their brews.

So a question we need to ask is: are Untappd users just after the kudos and badges, or are there other, less ‘pathological’ uses for the app, and do said users constitute a serious threat to the ‘craft’ beer industry?

Well, I can only talk from my own experience on this one. I use Untappd myself, and I keep my eye on check-ins at Golding’s. Now I do agree that ‘badgers’ definitely do exist. People even go so far as to check-in beers they’ve never had (ask Garage Project about it), presumably to look cool.

The pertinent question here is do badgers constitute the majority (or even a significant proportion) of Untappd users? Whilst I can’t say definitively one way or another, I suspect not. At least certainly not in my experience.

There are many legitimate uses for Untappd. My personal reasons are multiple:

  • It’s a handy memory aid. “I think I’ve had that beer?” *checks Untappd* “Oh yeah, I tried it April last year”.
  • It’s great for socialising. I feel like popping out for a beer – “Hey Dave’s just checked in at Malthouse”.
  • It’s a useful research tool. Who makes a beer, how strong is it, what style is it and where can I find it?
I may occasionally also use Untappd for bragging purposes.

I may occasionally also use Untappd for bragging purposes.

Most of the activity I see on Untappd seems to broadly fit into the categories above, which are as good a reason as any to use the app. Even if that’s not the case, and a majority of users are just badgers, is that something we really need to worry about? I mean, how many people are actually using Untappd total in New Zealand?

I couldn’t find any accurate user data on this question. Whilst Untappd has over 1 million downloads, user data is, very sensibly, confidential. So I took a different approach. I went onto Untapped, and had a look at check-ins of certain beers. Then I cross-referenced them against a section of locations, both nerdy (Hashigo, Golding’s, Vultures’ Lane , 16 Tun) and non-nerdy (The Kelburn Village Pub, Southern Cross, Wellington Airport Mojo). My goal was to see how many check-ins a single keg might generate.

The most check-ins I found was ~20, from a keg of very nerdy beer that was on tap at Hashigo. The fewest I found was none – for a keg of beer that I knew happened to be on at the Golding’s on a certain date. The average though, was about five check-ins.

So out of the ~120 serves of beer in a 50 litre keg, ~4% of them generate Untappd check-ins. That’s nothing; and frankly, I think that’s a gross overestimate. Most of my data was scooped from places that would have the highest number of Untappd users in their customer base. Think about the many thousands of litres of Tuatara Pilsner, Panhead Supercharger, and Emerson’s Bookbinder that are sold through supermarkets and happily drunk without generating a single check-in.

I would be willing to bet that less than 3% of ‘craft’ beer drinkers regularly use Untappd. I would stake that the percentage of drinkers who are ‘badgers’ would be less than 1%. How can such a tiny group of people possibly constitute a threat to either beer industry a whole? It’s irrational.

Furthermore, I think that the whole argument presents incredibly patronising (if not downright insulting) view of brewers. Whilst I know a few brewers who sometimes take their Untappd check-ins a little too personally, none of them would ever compromise on the beers they make in order to satisfy the whims of a minority anonymous of app users.

You know what I think this all boils down to? Technophobia. It’s the same illogical fear that said Facebook was going to ruin our ability to socialise. That texting would kill the English language. That video games would turn us into psychopaths. It’s boring, it’s old, it’s run of the mill.

In the end, we should all recognise Untappd for what it is: a useful tool for professionals, a fun diversion for drinkers, but ultimately and particularly for brewers, so much pointless white noise.