Many years ago a major British brewer bought a little Czech brewer shortly after the fall of the Iron Curtain. The brewer was the eminently pronounceable ‘Bass’, the acquisition was the eminently unpronounceable ‘Staropramen’. The plan as I recall it, being on the periphery of events at the time, was to leave the beer well alone but doing something about the name. Something shorter. A trim bar call. Something… well, something pronounceable. Fortunately, that plan was kyboshed by the Chairman of the company who issued an edict: “And don’t go calling it ‘Star’ or something’. The rest is history (so far).
From a branding point of view, having a snappy, often short, typically horizontally aligned brand name is the desired state. ‘Avis’ is an often cited example of good practice. Strong colours; able to fit easily within your eye line and most importantly, memorable and pronounceable. Brewers though like to stick a hop stained finger up at such ‘rules’. My personal favourite was a German beer that my old company imported from Germany. Its name was ‘Treffliches Altenessen Gold’. The ad line was a witty, “Treffliches Altenessen Gold. Ask for it by name”. Alas, the powers that be did shorten that one to ‘T.A.G.’. Czech beers too, do a good line in naming tongue twisters: to an English speaking tongue, they are difficult to say; to an English seeing eye, they are difficult to read. All of which adds up to their beguiling authenticity.
Less typical is finding a British or American beer that plays by the anti-brand rules. They do exist though; indeed I was lucky enough to drink one of them this week. The beer in question is an American classic, now imported to the UK by a British classic, Adnams. The brewery in question is Lagunitas Brewing Company; the place of origin Petaluma, California.
Let’s deal with Petaluma first: to get there we need to travel twenty odd years into the past and many miles distant to the wave lapped Lincolnshire coast. Not that Petaluma is near Grimsby, but it’s through a Grimbarian connection that I first came across it. Petaluma is an area of South Australia known for its fine wines. My brother, being manager of a wine and spirits warehouse in Grimsby, conspired to buy some Petaluma Chardonnay with damaged labels which were declared unfit for sale. From there it found its way to me and my association with Petaluma was made, and the connection was very Antipodean. So it was ruddy great surprise to pitch up in Petaluma in 1999 on a holiday in California. Quite threw me it did, what with it turning out that there’s a Petaluma in northern California too; and that this same American Petaluma is in the wine producing area, where they too, make fine wine. All we need now is Grimsby to be twinned with Petaluma and my hippocampus shall explode in shards of shrivelled grey matter.
But it’s the beer I’m interested in and that beer is Lagunitas IPA. Or rather, as it whispers on the label, ‘say…. “lah-goo-KNEE-tuss”’. Ok, maybe I’ve been pronouncing it wrong, but I know that my taste buds aren’t deceiving me: Lagunitas IPA is an absolutely classic American IPA. I’ll go further, it’s a bell-weather for its style. Cascade hops feature heavily in the mash but lightly in the finished beer. The aroma is grapefruit; pure, clear, uplifting. The beer pours with a rolling cloudy density that clears to leave a dense foam; a foam that mollycoddles the aroma, protects it, focuses it. The tell-tale tree rings of a fine beer are left as you drink it. For a beer of 6.2% alcohol, its punch is delivered through a velvet glove and dances around the ring of your taste buds gently, not feeling too inebriated, leaving you wanting another.
Little wonder that this is one of America’s larger craft brewers. Little wonder that this is a celebrated beer. Little wonder that only one word can sum it up: Mag-nif-i-cent.
© Beer Tinted Spectacles, 2013