Craft brewers are almost by definition a creative and iconoclastic group. When it comes to naming their beverages and even their businesses, they can approach (and often cross) the line. Leaving customers and distributors wondering if the product has better taste than its name.
There really is no subtle way to say it, some craft beverages are saddled with names that are so wrong that they alienate both consumers and potential business partners such as distributors and vendors. Although craft beer is the poster child for questionable names, cider and spirits makers aren’t immune. Vintners are perhaps the least guilty, but then “shocking” in the wine world is pretty tame just about everywhere else.
I have no desire to punish any business for the names they have chosen, and indeed, it is pretty clear that for many of the most shocking names, publicity was the primary goal. Just because a beverage may have an off putting or unappetizing name doesn’t mean it isn’t a fine product. However, it must be noted that in most lists of the finest craft brews, you’ll find plenty of creative names, but overwhelmingly those lists will be devoid of “shock” names.
The “Disgusting” Taste Image
This is probably the biggest category of “wrongness.” It can also be a little subtle and definitely open to interpretation. However, it also has some clear-cut gross examples. A classic example of a somewhat disgusting name is Moose Drool. True, it does conjure images of Montana, where it is brewed, but if you think about it too long, you may find you’re less thirsty than you thought. More extreme names include Santa’s Butt Porter, Buttface Amber Ale, Yellow Snow, Pig’s Ass Porter, and the Brown Note. There are others, more disgusting and some that have been renamed to sooth reluctant distributors.
Using even slightly unappetizing names can be a risk, but if it ties into your business name, location, or other considerations, it may be totally worthwhile. Even throwing out the full-blown poop-related name can bring your brewery notoriety and it can certainly appeal to a segment of the market. As long as you realize that the name may be polarizing, it might be right for you. The aptly named Against the Grain brewery has chosen to follow the shock-name path, pushing the limits of good taste as often and as far as they can.
Images from Flying Dog and Harvest Moon Breweries
I’m a dude and probably not the perfect person to decide what is offensive, but I do know that especially in craft beer there is a disconnect between female consumption and female participation in the business (women drink almost a third of all craft beer, but are far less likely to be master brewers.) Overtly, and even subtly sexist names and imagery don’t help.
Raging Bitch may have a stylized dog on the label, that doesn’t totally provide deniability, especially when another brew from the same brewery is named after a porn-style sex act that many women would certainly label as demeaning. There are numerous examples from breweries across the country (really, what do female dogs have to do with beer?) Do women feel comfortable drinking from a bottle or can depicting panties being dropped, blouses bursting, or even more graphic images and suggestive names?
You might be able to produce a few laughs, and maybe even get a few people to try your beer using your best middle-school boy raunch, but sexism and misogany isn’t good for the craft business and it isn’t responsible. Macho isn’t always a bad thing, and nearly 70% of your market are men, but macho is not the same as sexist. You can appeal to guys without putting down women, you can even get a bit naughty and bring in the sexual double entendre’s beer drinkers are adults, but consider keeping them fun and consensual. (Think the classic cocktail, sex on the beach.)
Clearing the Palette
Yes, there are tons of beverage names out there, and new ones popping up all the time. Competition for great names is only going to get tougher. The reality is that most craft beverage names are strongly descriptive, Boston Pale Ale, Cascade Double Hopped IPA, Bill’s Citrus Cider, and so on. However, the choice isn’t between strictly descriptive or shocking. There are actually more clever (or wanna-be clever) names out there that don’t reference the bathroom or demean a significant portion of your clientele.
My favorite witty name is Wet Hop American Summer from Dogfish Head Brewery. I’m not crazy about the brewery’s name (again, what do fish and beer have to do with each other?) but I can’t resist a good pun and a reference to a movie with Janeane Garofalo in it. Great Lakes’ excellently named “Dirtbag McQuaig’s Malt Liquor for Fine Gentlemen” makes me laugh just saying it, and ordering it would be worthwhile even if I didn’t like it at all.
Really, there are thousands of perfectly good names out there. There are even plenty of names that can still shock if that is your goal. Remember, you want people to try your beer and to recommend it to their friends. Make it easy for them to ask for your product by name.