At different points in my career I have had responsibility for naming new beers. This is one of the jobs that should be joyous: right brained, creative, all bean bags and Swizzells-Matlow ‘Refreshers’. Alas, the truth, my truth, is far from this. In a big business this task, this bitter task, is one of nightmarish proportions. For the job of naming isn’t a simple blue blob on a Gantt chart; it isn’t just something to do between weeks 27 and 31, oh no. This one is emotional. And everyone wants in. Everyone wants to lay claim to delivering the nomenclatorial coup de grace. Because whether the beer turns out to be the Golden Goose or the Turkey of Despair does not matter: The prize of naming the brand is the medal. It’s the bit that the consumer sees – hang on, scratch that, it’s the bit that your Mum sees. She might not understand the intricacies of your job, but by Jingo, she’ll understand this, and as the coffee morning circuit word of mouth builds, so the chances of your heroic ‘local-boy-made-good’ reputation become increasingly assured.
Beyond the physical sensations of a racing heart beat and stress-induced palpitations though, naming things is big business. There are Companies dedicated to this one act alone and they have many stripes on their arm, in the alcohol world, the most famous of which is Diageo. The ‘geo’ bit was rationalised as demonstrating the global potential and reach of the business, and the ‘Dia’ is from the Uzbekistani for ‘Nonsense’. Oh, hang on, that might not be right. Honestly, poor old Arthur Guinness. Do you think he would have authorised half a mill being spent on that?
It’s no use levelling the cannons at others though. I too have form, albeit fortunately rather tangentially. Many moons ago I was working on Carling Black Label as a general oik and hod carrier, and Bass (as was) were very keen to ‘stretch the equity of the brand to reach new consumers, on new occasions representing the way we drink today’ – or something like that. We actually had a cracking new lagered beer, full flavoured but very smooth as we triple filtered it through diatomous filters (essentially ‘diatoms’ are fossilised insect thingies, who, unbeknown to them during their timeon Earth were destined to find a second life as fine particulate industrial drink filters. Thanks chaps. German reader* – this is kieselgur). The project codename: Rock. I recollect that the project team, which included me, invested an eye watering three figure sum with a naming agency. We considered everything. We did research (uh-oooooh). We did, in short, the works. We scoured the literary world; we did word association exercises; ancient languages were mined for potential links. Specialist naming Consultants & Social Anthropologists delved into the black bag of their respective arts. Mystic Meg even had a hand in it. In the end, our launch name was…….Carling Rock. Yay.
Anyhoo, this particular topic dawned on me as I have been re-acquainting myself recently with cask beers after a number of years in self-imposed exile (well, not exile exactly, I’ve just been experimenting more with craft beers, some of which are served from (sharp intake of breath)…kegs). On pushing the boundaries to find new beers of any sort in the UK that might light up my taste buds, I was surprised by just how many beers have odd names. My ‘comprehensive’ study notes have determined a number of distinct, distinctive and daft naming categories:
Let’s start with the grandiose… ‘the provenance school’. This could be creative laziness or perhaps jaw dropping scenery that the brewer wants to celebrate – or more likely, neither, but this category is pretty popular, and one of the first. Whether it is Burton Bridge Bitter just up the road from me, or London Pride just up the road from everyone, St Austell (who go the whole hog and double up, like in St Austell Dartmoor Ale (and I thought you couldn’t be in two places at once – that’s beer for you), or even outside cask of course, Pilsner Urquell, Dortmunder Actien Brauerei, Boston Lager, Hoegaarden, Quilmes … you get the picture, ad nauseam. When I make my millions, I shall buy an industrial unit on Anglesey and start the ‘Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch Brewery’. Now THAT’S a bar call. And I’ve got the advertising sorted: “Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch….. ask for it by name’. (Naming brands was my plan to make the millions. On this evidence, I might just have to re-think. And anyway, perhaps it would be better to open a distillery – everyone would order a long short. Geddit? No? Whatever.)
Then there’s the ‘Stuff where the brewery is from, it’s all about me, Me, ME!’ approach. A despicable and highly uncreative naming method which is designed to massage the ego of the owner. Countless examples here, and one or two of my favourites as well, but I refuse to give any of these scallywags publicity when they refuse to advertise on my blog site. Whilst I’m here though, if you are in the Burton area, look out for ‘Pilsner Prestonski’. It’s a Burton top fermented beer, that’s then lagered for 49 days, maaarvellous¹.
‘National Institutions, Regional Peculiarities & Local Yarns’ come next. It’s amazing what people choose to talk about here from the grand and nationally important, to the innocuous. In the UK we have beers featuring castles (Windsor), landscapes (Exmoor, Dartmoor – it’s a west country thing clearly), whilst at other end of the spectrum you have one of my personal favourites (and a darn fine beer too), Jenning’s ‘Snecklifter’ referring to the north country name for a thumb latch on an old fashioned door handle.
Finally, there’s the “Sh**ts and Giggles” bucket. A profuse and remarkably (subjectively) amusing category of names, over which I don’t know if I should laugh or cry. On the one hand, I think “A pint of The Dogs Bollocks” gives our beloved beer an air of self deprecation & wry amusement which signals: “Get us. We’re beer and we’re not up ourselves like wine”. I like that. On the other, when you pause ever so briefly, and rationalise what you’re actually ordering, it’s a “…pint of sweaty, hairy, dangly, sexual reproductive organs from Man’s Best Friend” please. I’m not sure about the appetite appeal of that one².
Big brands from multinational brewers deserve a section for themselves. I’m particularly intrigued by colours. A selection to the witness box if you please: Beck’s Blue (low / no alcohol); Foster’s Gold; Stella Black; Guinness Red; Bud Silver. I don’t necessarily dislike these names, hell I know how difficult it is naming brand extensions (you don’t want to fight with the ‘mother brand’ name, but equally you need to be distinctive), but really. Is this the best they can do? And it goes for mock production processes too. I have already mentioned Carling Rock; but there’s Carlsberg (et al) Ice, Dry beers (Asahi et al – where are they now?), Strong, Dark, Filtered, Fast, Slow. Funny that the real creative energy lies with smaller guys, the ones for whom risk seems less of an issue – it could lead to fame, it could lead to failure, it may lead to notoriety, or even the vets, but they’re having a go. Half term report for the big boys: must try harder.
Yet the real common denominator in all of this seems the lack of science. Naming brands is, I feel, where the art comes in; where you have to get off the pot and put your idea front and centre to your customer. That’s brave and exciting. But I think I could still make my millions here after all – despite past shames, at least I’m confident that the mystical approach to naming could allow me to be the shamen of the namin’ after all.
*Hopefully this will move into the plural if you would care to pass on the link or retweet me? Danke schőn.
¹Actually this was made up, but you wouldn’t guess would you? Seamless, just seamless.
²For completeness let me share a small selection of other names: Arrogant Bastard, ButtFace, Top Totty, Granny Wouldn’t Like It, Dirty Tackle (it’s a rugby allusion, OK), Village Idiot, Haggis Hunter. All quite amusing, yet all trumped by a beer for those considering a holiday in the Balkans. Look out for Macedonia’s ‘Vergina’ beer.
© David Preston, Beer Tinted Spectacles. Originally posted on Posterous, April 2012