A Brewery’s Name – As Important as Its Beer?

A Brewery’s Name – As Important as Its Beer?

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

In terms of a first time visit, it’s hard to say what may draw you to one craft brewery over another. It can help if you know the reputation of the brewery from a trusted source, but that’s not always possible, especially when you are traveling. UnTappd ratings and Yelp reviews are next to useless for several reasons, including star stuffing (a brewery and perhaps regulars/family rating its beers as 5s no matter what), acts of review revenge (someone trashing a place for personal or unfounded reasons), or plain ignorance (rating a beer poorly because you don’t like the style).

Nobody becomes a regular without a first visit, so initial impressions – even before someone enters an establishment – are important. I may pick a brewery because it’s located close to other breweries or it’s on a common pathway to other breweries. I know Walter selected our visit to Swine City Brewing in Cincinnati recently based on the fact that she likes winged pigs, and that’s their logo. Word of mouth from the locals is a great way to find brewery stops, but what if you don’t have that kind of help available?

In that case, the three biggest draws are probably going to be location, visual logo, and name. Advertising may be a factor, like roadside signs, billboards or ads, but even those are going to draw on name and logo for quite a bit of their appeal. For you potential brewery owners, that makes choosing your logo and name of huge importance. For us drinkers, contemplating names and logos helps us think about what kinds of things draw us to a brewery, and how a name or logo might be influencing our opinion of the establishment.

Cleanliness is important in brewing, so a name like Dirty Bucket…… doesn’t conger a good image. image credit: Dirty Bucket Brewing

It’s too bad that things so crucial to the ultimate success of a brewery have to be made so early in the process. Where the brewery is located and what people call it are perhaps earlier decisions than a logo, but they all three come along way before you brew your first batch of beer on the professional system. This is why it’s so important for an owner/brewer to have thought these through for a good amount of time before decisions are made.

Logos are a much harder topic to discuss, but names are great for getting across the personal aspects of breweries. The naming of any business is an important decision, and this is no less true for a craft brewery. Many articles have been written about what makes a good name and what traps to avoid when choosing a name. One can argue if the name of a brewery is part of its brand. Some say yes, some say no – it might be why people use “brand name”as two separate words. On the other hand, it could be why we refer to some many products simply as a particular brand (do you use facial tissue or do you blow that schnoz with Kleenex?).

Whether or not the name is part of the branding of a brewery, it is part of the promise that you are making to a potential patron, and business folk sometimes use that as a definition of a brand – the emotional and factual assets of the product/service that a business wants to put into the mind of the customer.

So what should you think of when determining a name for your brewery, something that will lure people to your location or entice them to but your beer in the package store? It should probably be personal, since this is something the brewer/owner is pouring their life (and money) into. It should also convey a sense of cache or comfort – a person can go a bunch of different ways. As far as the things marketers tell you to avoid, some I agree with and some I don’t. I agree that a name that sounds too similar to another is a bad idea; it just creates confusion. But other things, like “don’t use your own name” or “don’t use place names” has been proven moot – ever heard of Boeing or Kentucky Fried Chicken?

The word “hop” works in a brewery name, but you can over do it. image credit: The Bottleneck

Some sources will tell you to avoid too much specificity, but that may not be as important in businesses that are more niched, like breweries. Using the word ”brewery” is hardly going to be a mistake, unless of course you don’t make your own beer – then it’s a big problem. Likewise, names that use “barley,” “malt,” “beer,” or even more obscure brewing words like “oast” or “paddle” have been used successfully in names.

Other sources tell you to stay away from generic names that say nothing to anyone but you, or to stay away from or trends. Now, you can argue whether craft beer is a trend/fad or not, but I don’t think you can go too wrong naming your brewery with something that reflects craft beer. Heck, look at the success of Bier Brewery in Indianapolis, and with the exception of one letter, you don’t get more on point than that. Mash-ups (part one word, part another) or made up words might be a good thing to avoid as well, unless that name relates to a personal story that you want to share with the patrons.

Most of the issues above have been more philosophical or esoteric, but there are practical issues as well. Spelling is a major issue; if a potential patron can’t spell your name, then they can’t Google you or get to your Facebook page. That isn’t conducive to people finding their way to your taproom. Made up words are often going to be hard to spell….no one will be familiar with the name. Don’t use odd spellings, and don’t be so cute that people can’t remember the name or how it’s spelled. Get together with a couple of people, figure out what is important to you and your history, what you want to get across, and then narrow down name possibilities.

I do agree with the idea of not naming a brewery by committee. This is a decision that is probably best left to a couple of folks at the most, or a couple of people with the aid of a marketing company that has taken the time to know you very well – like CODO Design in Indianapolis. They have worked with many breweries for branding and other issues since 2011, including Metazoa Brewing and Big Lug Canteen.

CODO Design of Indianapolis works with many craft breweries. image credit: CODO Design

Craft beer makes up a significant portion of their work, and they have been recognized as a leader in the industry, such that the University of Vermont’s Business of Craft Brewing program uses them as their branding subject matter experts. To help out the industry, CODO has published a Craft Beer Branding Guide online, which is free to access and served as the source of some of the information in this article.

This discussion has, I hope, helped you understand that a brewery name is one of the important differentiators in craft beer; it reflects something special about you or what you do. If the most important part of a brewery’s survival is great beer, than a close #2 is their relationship with their patrons. That relationship means that they know about you and you know about them, including the story of their name, because their name says a lot about who they are. Without doubt, a good story behind your name selection will help you connect to your patrons. Having them know the backstory connects them to the brewery, and creates that sense of community that is so important.

A good example from recently – Walter and I visited 13 Below Brewing in far southwest Cincinnati. You can see the Ohio River from the brewery, and much about 13 Below reflects that river community. So, as for the name origin -– old time river boat captains would refer to specific locations by how far up river above) or down river (below) they were from a well known stop or city. So, 13 Below is located 13 miles down river from the heart of Cincinnati. Knowing that definitely makes me feel closer to that brewery, and provided a topic of conversation for them to draw us into the community.

A brewery name says alot about you…so does the logo. This is kind of creepy, but they’re successful. image credit: Ass Clown Brewing

A while back I started a database of the stories behind Indiana brewery names. Some names might roll off the tongue or be very clever, some might be funny or confusing while others could really make you wonder. But no matter what, a brewery name is going to link the brewery to the owner or to the community, and there is usually a very good story behind how the name came about. OK, not always….. Bloomington Brewing Company is pretty self-explanatory, but even for them there is a time component to the name. Being the first craft brewery in the city and starting so early in the Indiana craft beer movement, choosing a name that told everyone where you were was probably much more important. It also reflected a pride of place. Jeff was/is proud to call Bloomington home.

Over the next few months, I’d like to tell you some of the stories of Indiana brewery names. Some are fantastic, some are rather bland, but all reflect what the owner/brewer was trying to put across to the craft beer fan. Some have overcome names with great branding, while others had a big ahead start by picking a name that drew people in, even if they didn’t know anything about the brand or the people. Stories sometimes go better together if there is a theme, so I’m going to try and group names and stories with some kind of theme. Let’s start next time with breweries that have numbers in their names.


banner image credit: Charlotte Five

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