As I sit, contemplating whether I should bite the bullet today and file my taxes, what comes to mind first is not “Where did I stash that W-2?” but rather, “I would really love a nice cold pint of Death and Taxes (by Moonlight Brewing) right about now.” I can hardly believe how clearly this beer name invokes the tedium of—and distraction from—my current to-do list. Which brings me to the reason for this post. With more than 3,000 operating breweries in the U.S., the question many people are asking is, How do brewmasters find new, clever beer names that haven’t been claimed already by the brewers who came before?
I spoke with a trusted source in the brewery industry recently, and she confirmed that it’s becoming increasingly tricky to think up unique names that fit the character of each new brew but that aren’t already on the market. In fact, NPR just produced a piece on this very subject in which Alastair Bland noted,
“Virtually every large city, notable landscape feature, creature and weather pattern of North America — as well as myriad other words, concepts and images — has been snapped up and trademarked as the name of either a brewery or a beer.”
Of course, there’s no simple or foolproof formula for avoiding naming overlap. Most breweries schedule inspired brainstorming sessions and then simply plug their favorite contenders into a Google search, all the while keeping their fingers crossed.
Some breweries have even solicited the help of their loyal fans in naming new beers by hosting contests. Once all the name submissions are gathered, the best nominees are selected, and the brewery often invites its customers into the taproom to taste the new beer and vote for their favorite name. (This angle seems to be a cleverly designed marketing gimmick, as well!)
There are also online random beer name generators out there (like this one by StrangeBrew) that humors and entertains by spitting out funny names like Sloshed Forbidden Donut Pale Ale and Red Cunning Tornado Stout.
No matter how the naming strategy plays out, most breweries ultimately do find a unique name that fits the taste and personality of their new beer. And sometimes the name is utterly fantastic, like Hop Making Sense (by Cellarmaker Brewing Company)—which has the capacity to drown out whatever’s on the stereo system and invoke the Talking Heads, in their unforgettably eccentric glory days.