Three days before the new labels were set to go to the printers, the owners and brewers at 10 Barrel Brewing Co. had to face an unpleasant fact.
The revolutionary new nitro brew they’d planned to release hadn’t panned out.
But instead of hiding the fact that their nitro attempt tanked, 10 Barrel decided that they were going to embrace their failure wholeheartedly.
“We couldn’t pull off a nitro version, and we figured the more real we could be about it, the better,” said Jeremy Cox, co-owner of 10 Barrel. “Sometimes a story like this can create a better beer name.”
The result is now the red ale that’s hard to miss in the beer aisle of local grocery stores. Called Project: Failed, 10 Barrel’s recent brew tastes like far from a failure, and proves that a clever beer name doesn’t always have to include over-the-top claims of awesomeness.
Deciding on a name for a newly created beer is often one of the most difficult parts of creating one. While breweries hope that the beer’s flavor will speak for itself, the name of a beer carries an undeniable heft. And as more and more breweries crop up both locally and nationally, the challenge of creating a name that’s fresh and clever, and that hasn’t already been taken, is becoming increasingly difficult.
“Coming up with a name for a beer is the most challenging thing we do at the brewery,” said Cox. “At the same time, though, it’s a super fun exercise in creativity.”
Cox said at 10 Barrel, just about everyone who works for the brewery — from the bottling line workers all the way up to the brewery partners — can put in their two cents about what they think the latest beer should be named. Four or five potential names are selected from these proposals and written on a board for all to see. A “naming convention” ensues, and this list is then whittled down until the right name is selected.
This very process occurred for Project: Failed, which was originally going to be called Gigantor. Now the award-winning red ale has “Project: Failed” stamped across the word “Nitro” on the bottle label instead.
“We do make mistakes at the brewery sometimes, and it’s good to show people that we’re not always perfect,” said Cox. “The more real we are, the more people can relate to it.”
In terms of names they regret, Cox said 10 Barrel’s recently released “16 Barrels” barrel-aged double golden ale was the subject of some anguish for the brewery. Originally called Wino and set for a November release, 10 Barrel went through the entire process of printing labels and preparing the bottles for their new beer. But with just a few days away from its release, Cox said the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau notified 10 Barrel they wouldn’t approve the label because the name could confuse customers about whether the beer was actually wine. Cox also said the organization disliked the name Wino because it refers to excessive drinking.
“It was a nightmare,” Cox said. “We had to pull all the labels off and unpackage everything. We had no backup plan.”
All of this led to several weeks of delay in the beer’s release.
Over at Three Creeks Brewing in Sisters, head brewer Zach Beckwith keeps a list of potential names up on a dry erase board attached to one of the fermenters. With names like Stonefly Rye and Hoodoo Voodoo, the brewery tends to stick to a Western theme inspired by the brewery’s surroundings. But when it comes to the brewery’s non-bottled and barrel-aged Outlaw series, the name of the game is having fun, said Beckwith.
“We have a whole series that are kind of based on tongue-in-cheek jokes,” Beckwith said. “It’s a different process for different beers, but for the one-off beers, we try and have fun with it and not think too hard about a name.”
The brewery’s most recent barrel-aged beer definitely falls into this category. Beckwith decided to name the stout Sex Panther, after a certain controversial cologne from the movie “Anchorman,” and because the beer was aged in Panther Creek pinot noir barrels. The name was too good to pass up, Beckwith said, and the brewery debuted the beer at the Big Woody Festival in Portland late last month, telling customers that the beer works 60 percent of the time, every time.
Beckwith said one of the problems in the industry today is that in an effort to be clever, some breweries get too abstract with the name of their beers.
“Everyone wants to have these crazy, esoteric names,” Beckwith said. “The name might mean something to them (the brewery), but customers may get confused about what the beer actually is. The last thing we want to do is confuse customers.”
The power of a word
At Boneyard Beer, Tony Lawrence keeps an old folder of potential beer names in his desk. Though the brewery has been sticking to producing its core beers in recent months, Tony said in the past, the name of a beer has often struck him when he least expects it. Take the brewery’s popular Notorious Triple IPA for example. Lawrence said most people think the beer is named after the Notorious B.I.G, but the name actually originated from a radio ad Lawrence heard for the movie, “The Notorious Bettie Page.”
“I’ve always been keyed into words used a lot in advertising,” Lawrence said. “When I heard the word ‘notorious,’ it just kind of struck me. I sat down and came up with the concept for the beer right then and there.”
But as the industry becomes flooded with more and more breweries, finding a name that isn’t already trademarked by another brewery is becoming an issue that’s beginning to play out in courtrooms across the country.
“It’s getting a lot more difficult with so many breweries in the country,” Beckwith said. “It’s actually getting litigious. There are more and more trademark disputes. You really have to do your research before going ahead with bottling something and giving it a name.”
For most breweries, this means spending more time on coming up with a fresh and unique name for their latest brew.
“The bigger the brewery gets, the more due diligence you have to do for names,” Cox said. “For a smaller brewery, it’s not as a big of a deal. But when you actually start having your beer in Safeway and Fred Meyer, it can be a problem. You have to think more out of the box these days.”
— Reporter; 541-383-0354, firstname.lastname@example.org