How to Name a Brewery

With so many new breweries opening in recently and no doubt more opening in months to come, there’s a discussion we need to have: how to name breweries and beers. This post is going to be related to the former rather than the latter (I’ll write that next). Both I think, are very important, because of one simple truth:

A good name attracts customers and sells more beer. A bad name discourages customers and will lose you sales. 

This is a simple fact that I’ve observed from almost six years of selling beer to the public. There are also quite a few pitfalls that new breweries can fall into when it comes to naming themselves and their beers.

Now I know what you’re thinking and I totally agree: surely the quality of what’s in the glass should be more important than what it says on the label. Yes, it should. But getting your beer into the hands of first-time customers is also important. You want your brewery name to stick in someone’s head and, if your beer impresses them, you can create something valuable – a returning customer.

It’s true lot of brewery names come from stories. Stories are good. Stories help build a brand. ParrotDog was founded by guys who owned a parrot and called each other ‘Dog’. That’s great. But stories are not what I want to talk about here. I’m more interested in the mechanics of what makes one brewery name work better than another.

I had originally intended for this post to list some hard and fast rules of how to name breweries The more I thought about it, the more I realised how much of this is subjective. But in my six years I’ve poured more beers than most people will drink in a lifetime. There are certain things about brewery names that I see trip-up customers time and time again. Here are a few, what I guess you’d call ‘guidelines’ to avoiding some of the major pitfalls of naming a brewery.

No offence to any brewers I use as examples. Firstly this is no reflection on the quality of your beer. Secondly, quality of beer is ultimately more important. A bad brewery name is no reason to turn your nose up at a good beer. Third, if you’ve had your name for years and you’re doing just fine, then by all means ignore this post. This is more directed at the newcomers. Alright, let’s do this. And we’ll start with perhaps the most important point first.

1. Keep it Short

Short is good. Short is dynamic. Short is easier to remember. Brewery names need to be direct and to the point. It should be one or two words, three at most (but only if one of them is ‘and’ or ‘the’). This doesn’t include the words ‘Brewery’, ‘Brewing Company’ or similar, which naturally get sliced off the end in conversation. Nobody ever refers to Brew Moon by its full name: ‘Brew Moon Brewing Company’. Brew-Moon What I consider to be good brewery names are a handful of syllables that roll off the tongue and are away: ‘Liberty’, ‘8 Wired’, ‘Three Boys’. These are simple words that you can say without tripping-up over. There’s a very good reason for this – when written on beer labels, tap badges or menu boards or spoken to bartenders, brewery names sit in front of a beer name. Let’s take an example: 8 Wired Hopwired IPA – Good. Quick, easy, to the point (some people don’t like the repetition of ‘wired’ in the name, but that’s a different discussion).

All G.

Everything as it should be.

Sometimes however, customers get confused about this name and refer to 8 Wired as ‘Number 8 Wired’ or occasionally ‘The Number 8 Wired’. Fair enough, it’s an easy mistake to make as the name originates from number 8 wire. But for argument’s sake, let’s give that a go. The Number 8 Wired Hopwired IPA – Bad. A clunky mouthful.

This is why we can't have nice things.

This is why we can’t have nice things.

Beer names can already lumbering enough, if you’re going to hitch it to an already difficult brewery name, you’re not doing yourself or your customers any favours. But how long is too long? Hard to say. Two breweries that I think are pushing acceptable limits of syllables are ‘Garage Project’ and ‘Beer Baroness’. I think both get away with it, Garage Project because it has a nice structure, and Beer Baroness because it has alliteration, but that’s just me.

2. Names of People/Places are Perfectly Acceptable

There are quite a few breweries named after the brewer. Sometimes it’s a first name, like Mike’s or Dale’s. More frequently, It’s a surname:  Townshend, Gailbraith’s, Croucher, Harrington’s, Emerson’s, Fitzpatrick’s, Cassels and so on. Very rarely, it’s both first and surname – I’m looking at you, Ben Middlemiss.

Perfectly fine. Except maybe the 'Crisp'...

Perfectly fine. Except maybe the ‘Crisp’…

Likewise, place names are commonly used: Invercargill, Baylands, Coromandel, Hot Water, Kaimai, Queenstown, Arrow, Waiheke, etc. This is also a good option, although I guess it might reduce your options of changing where your brewery is (Baylands is not on Baylands Road anymore). Personal or place names are perhaps the least interesting way to name a brewery, but they are basically functional. I think names like these are a good option because they usually obey rule 1. – They’re short and informative. Although, as I type this I realise I shall never found a ‘Jauslin’s Brewing Co.’ as no Anglophone can ever say it properly…

3. No More Dog Breweries

Animal names are another popular choice, and seem to work fairly well. They also tend to be short and to the point. Some go simple – just the animal name. Tuatara, Moa and Kereru fit this bill. Others, like to use what I call the ‘Indie Band’ approach. A trend in recent years amongst indie bands is to use a something-animal’ name. Hence: Modest Mouse, Fleet Foxes, Frightened Rabbit, Wolf Parade, Tame Impala, Arctic Monkeys, Band of Horses, Grizzly Bear, Deerhunter, and so on (it’s a regular Animal Collective).  Similarly, in the brewing world, we have Golden Eagle, Golden Bear, Monkey Wizard, Velvet Worm, Pink Elephant, Crafty Trout, and I could go on. Animal names are a good option, with one notable exception: Dogs. You see the problem is, people come in and say “I want that ‘Dog Beer’ please,” and I really can’t help them because in New Zealand, we have:

That may not seem like many but they may, even in the New Zealand context reasonably also be referring to:

  • BrewDog (Scotland)
  • Moon Dog (Australia)
  • Flying Dog (USA)
  • Dogfish Head (USA)

I’m officially marking New Zealand as above quota on ‘dog’ breweries. No more guys, we’ve got too many already. In fact a search for ‘Dog’ on Untappd brings up 760 brewery results. Forget New Zealand, the whole world has too many dog breweries.

4. Jokes Get Old

So you’ve come up with a clever pun or something, and you think you’re going use it to name your brewery. That’s cool, but keep in mind one thing: you will be repeating that joke again, and again, and again. It gets less funny every time (this is known as The Bee Sharps Effect). Now this isn’t an issue if the name works well regardless of the joke. I’m thinking of Yeastie Boys here. “Yeastie Boys! Haha, it’s a music-themed brewery riffing on The Beastie Boys!” But underneath that joke, I find ‘Yeastie Boys’ to be a nice, short, chewy-sounding name. YB But what if the name isn’t so good? Well then the joke just sits there being repeated, again and again. And it’ll be repeated a lot. It’ll be tacked on the front of every beer you brew. It’ll be plastered on menu boards and tap badges. You will never escape it. Fork & Brewer, I’m looking at you guys. The Cameron Slater school of humour. Yeah. Nah. Sorry Sean, Colin, Neil and Kelly. I really like your beer, but I think you should have stuck with Bond Street Brewery.

5. Choose Descriptors Carefully

A lot of brewery names have descriptive words in them – Pink Elephant, Wild & Woolly, Fat Monk and so on. These are all fine. But choose your words carefully, because if you include a descriptor in your brewery name that frequently applies to beer, many customers will automatically assume that descriptor applies to any beer you make. What do I mean by that? Well, let’s look at the two most common examples. First of all, ‘hop’. As in: Twisted Hop, Dr. Hops, Hopmonger, Hophugger, Hop Federation, Hop Baron, Hops Valley, etc. Besides being incredibly unoriginal at this stage, having ‘hop’ in your name can put off many inexperienced customers who see the word on a menu and automatically steer clear of it, because for whatever reason, they’ve decided they don’t like hoppy beer.

It might also be a time to call a moratorium on 'Hop' names as well...

It might also be a time to call a moratorium on ‘hop’ names as well…  Although three of these breweries are no longer operating.

Likewise, but perhaps for another reason, be wary of the word ‘golden’. As in Golden Eagle, Golden Bear and Golden Ticket. Inexperienced drinkers see the ‘golden’ on a menu and automatically assume the beer in question is a lager of some sort (the same but opposite may apply to the ‘black’ in Black Dog).

Think I’m kidding? I’ve had customers come up to the bar and ask me: “So this Golden Bear Seismic IPA, that’s like a Pilsner, right?” or “Golden Eagle Coalface Stout, that’s a lager, yeah?” Or they just order a Coalface (which is an awesome beer by the way) and look at me blankly when I put a pint of black beer in front of them.

Now I know ‘Coal’ signifies dark and ‘Stout’ should clinch the deal, but what needs to be understood here is that a large slice of customers, perhaps even a majority of the people who drink all the ‘craft’ beer in New Zealand, are not Beer Geeks. They may not know the difference between a Lager and a Stout. They may assume all Lagers are pale, and all ales are hoppy. They may have all manner of assumptions they have picked up or been taught over the years.

I’m not saying we need to pander to or talk down to this demographic (that’s patronising behaviour that breeds resentment). I’m just urging a bit of forethought as to as to how your brewery name will influence customer expectations.

6. No. More. Fucking. Dog. Breweries.

If you’re opening a brewery and you, even for one moment, consider giving it a ‘dog’ name, I will come around to your brewery, open all the valves on your tanks, and then beat you to death with your mash paddle. I don’t want to go to prison.

Please don’t make me.

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The Worst Decision I Ever Made

"Investors seem willing to pay above market rates to buy into the
story of New Zealand craft beer." 
-Rob Simic, ANZ Commercial and Agricultural Regional Manager, 
Beervana Media Briefing Session, 2014.
"No-one will ever get a dollar back, so i [sic] really hope we 
don't hear them moaning about it down the track. It's a worse 
investment than a finance company debenture!" 
- C N, Comment on an NBR Article

Investing in Yeastie Boys is without a doubt one of the worst decisions I’ve ever made.

OK now to qualify that statement. No doubt if you’re even remotely connected to the New Zealand beer scene you’ve heard the news: Yeastie Boys raised half a million dollars in 26 minutes via crowd funding. Let’s all take a moment to appreciate that feat.

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Done? Right, now lets talk about how disastrously, ruinously mad it is.

The occasion has special significance for me for two reasons: first of all, the launch party was held at Golding’s, and I was working it. I’ve bartended many monumental occasions, including the launch of ParrotDog and Garage Project, but this one may just take the cake.

The other reason it’s significant to me is that I’m one of the the 219 people that chipped in money. Yes, I foolishly ponied up my hard earned cash for a tiny slice of the Yeastie Boys pie.

It was not my intention after reading the share proposal, to invest in the company. Because lets face it, the below the line nay-sayers commenters on the National Business Review articles are correct. Economically, Yeastie Boys is a terrible investment. It’s not that the company is going to go down in flames. To the contrary I have very good reason to believe that it will soar, if not like an eagle, then at least like a fairly ambitious pigeon. No.

But the cold hard facts remain: Half a million only buys 12.5% of the company, which places a value on Yeastie Boys at ~4M, or in other words, somewhere between high and ludicrous. Considering this, and the relatively low-profit nature of brewing at any scale, no one will ever see a good (if any) return on their investment. It’s truly a terrible decision to invest in the Yeastie dream.

"How dumb are some New Zealanders?" 
- Reece of the Duchy, Comment on the same NBR Article

But here’s the thing – we, as in everyone who invested in Yeastie Boys, already knew that. So why the hell did I willingly, gleefully even, chuck my cash into a flaming black hole? Well, first of all, because I could.

I invested a cheeky $500. I could frankly take that much cash out to the BBQ right now and set it on fire (or burn it in one hundred other more creative and figurative ways). Whilst this would be a very foolish decision, at the end of the day, I could do it and still make rent.

And I suspect this goes for everyone else who also threw money in. The average investment was ~$2500. There will be many low level investors like myself, but also a few that invested much, much more money than that. But I also know for a fact that no one invested at a level which means they’ll have to foreclose on the family home if Yeastie Boys doesn’t immediately (or ever) start paying out big dividends.

Frankly, the only one who’s going to get seriously burned if this whole thing doesn’t work is Stu. And he knows that.

The other reason I invested in this thing comes back to something I wrote a few months back:

"I’d invest in a brewery because I believe in drinking good beer, 
and I want to ensure I can get a good pint for years to come. 
Expecting a return on buying into a ‘Craft’ brewery is to me like 
expecting a return on buying a pint at the pub. Passion and 
enjoyment are why we get into this industry, not striking it rich."
- Dylan Jauslin, Beervana is Decadent and Depraved Part #2

So here was the chance. Money where mouth is. And it’s been two weeks since then and in the cold light of day, I stand by that sentiment. I want more Gunnamatta. I want more Pot Kettle Black, and yes, I even want more Rex Attitude. I do not for a moment regret making the worst financial decision of my life. In fact I’d do it again, in an instant.

Fuck'n. Classy. Bastards. Credit: The Brewers Guild of New Zealand.

Stu and I at the BrewNZ Awards, 2013.
Credit: The Brewers Guild of New Zealand

***

Having said that, there is one thing I’m nervous of: other breweries.

I can feel them, right now, waiting in the wings. Those who have seen what Stu and Sam have done and are thinking of going and getting their own share of that sweet, sweet crowd-sourced money.

I know that people are thinking about it and I can tell them now – it won’t work out the same. It might seem like Yeastie Boys pulled this off in 30 minutes, but they have been building up to this for 6 years, and Stu has personally been working towards it in one sense or another for more like 10 years (ask him one day about the history of Liberty Brewing).

So think long and hard before you go out there and try to recreate what Yeastie Boys (or even Renaissance) have done. There’s no guarantee it’ll turn out how you want it to.

OK, lets end this on a positive note.

I have officially sliced myself a “piece of the Yeastie Boys pie,” as Anna Guenther of PledgeMe puts it. But frankly, I don’t feel like I have. I feel more like I’ve contributed a little dough (pun intended) to the amorphous mass, which will eventually be rolled out to make the crust of a really special pie.

And in this regard, I feel like I’ve been supporting Yeastie Boys from day 366. For that was the second ever launch of Pot Kettle Black, and the first time I ever had one of their beers. In a very simple way I feel like I’ve been supporting Yeastie Boys for many years the same way those who didn’t invest (or just weren’t quick enough) can support them. By going out and enjoying a Yeastie Boys beer!

Cheers, or as Stu says:
Sláinte Mhaith!

Credit: The Brewers Guild of New Zealand

Credit: The Brewers Guild of New Zealand