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Thursday, January 06, 2011

What's in a Name?

Fifteen years ago, the names of BridgePort's beers ran like exhibits at the zoo: Blue Heron Pale Ale, Pintail ESB, Coho Pacific Extra Pale Ale. Then they went through a period lasting until roughly four years ago when the names read like this: IPA, ESB, Porter, Stout--and Blue Heron, their legacy label. Now, as they have almost completely reworked their line, it looks different once again: IPA, Blue Heron, Cafe Negro, Kingpin, Hop Czar, Haymaker. Do you see the difference?

Some breweries use a style as the name of a beer, and some actually name their beer. So:

My first exposure to this phenomenon came, coincidentally, back when BridgePort was ditching the animal names. They were very confident this was the right move, for two reasons: 1) with the proliferation of beers, no one could follow so many names, which weakened the line, and 2) they wanted to brand "BridgePort," not specific beers. The brewery was sure that with this change, people would just start asking for whichever BridgePort was on tap. Brand loyalty and yadda yadda. The big problem was a factor they hadn't considered (but which every beer lover in America could tell them): people drink beers, not brands. There's not a brewery on the planet I would order exclusively without ever hearing which beer was pouring. (Okay, Dupont, but mainly because it's so rare on tap.) And so, here we are a decade later, and BridgePort has slowly worked its way back to named beers.

I don't think there's any right answer--as the Sierra Nevada and Mirror Pond examples demonstrate. If a brewery is lucky enough to have several well-selling beers, they're probably better off not tinkering with things. If, however, they become known for one beer, trying to develop an identity for other beers is probably not a bad idea. In BridgePort's case, IPA has long been the most popular beer in the line (overwhelmingly). The launch of Hop Czar was wise and I think has helped bring a bit of balance back--and no doubt BridgePort hopes Kingpin and Cafe Negro will find loyalists, too.

Of course, at the end of the day, it all comes down to the beer. I'll have some reviews of BridgePort's new beers soon.


  1. I know a lot of people who have no idea which brewery makes Arrogant Bastard.

    - Æ

  2. "Do you see the difference?"

    Do ya think Corporate infestation has any part in this?

    Small Bridgeport products were quality made products that wanted to focus on a local market. A local focus of the environment made it more personal; Pin Tail or Blue heron. One just flew past my window!

    Imagine for a minute.... Grambrinus Corporate market suits walk in door. What's first thing they want to do? Make the product less regionally personal and more nationally recognizable. It's all about money. Compare the original Bridgeport beers with post Gambrinus produced beers. You'll note the newer beers are more streamlined, less complex, more mass appeal. Stumptown tart being the exception which has been more of an ongoing experimental beer for the Fruity beer types.

    That said, Ken Grossman and Paul Camusi took an educated gamble. They were pretty sure they'd have an instant audience for they're beers. The market was new and British beers were gaining interest in the American market. They, like Bridgeport were on the front line of craft brewing. It was the business approach that was different.

    SN knew they'd have to shoot for a national audience; i.e. A simple "Style" name and repetitive SN Label which still remains today. Smart business and smart self branding as you would say Jeff. Bridgeport has changed their labels many times (close to Pyramid, but not quite).

    BTW... SN is still owned by Grossman. No selling out to the highest bidder there. ;-}

    Oh! "people drink beers, not brands."??? Tell that to the millions of Budmilloors drinkers. ;-}

  3. I love the plain old names on beers like Sierra Nevada, but that's mostly because nowadays there are so many beers on the market you can't really get away with it any more. Any of Sierra Nevada's new releases even tend to have names (ie Torpedo, Tumbler, Southern Harvest).

    Like Aesop alluded to, I think it can distract from the brewery. And then inevitably you have utterly stupid beer names like Hop Whore and Raging Bitch which are just offensive. I prefer the pleasant austerity of the simple "style" name

  4. Doc said:

    ...people drink beers, not brands."??? Tell that to the millions of Budmilloors drinkers. ;-}

    I'm sure you don't associate with those lesser beasts Doc, but even the "Budmilloors" drinkers are more likely to jump brands than to order a different beer simply because it's from the same brewery. If someone walks in looking for a Bud Light and you don't carry it they're more likely to order/purchase a Miller or Coors Light than to go with the "heavy" regular Bud.

    Very, very rarely will brand recognition win out over style preference.

  5. No one wants to go with the Corporate infestation factor? :-)

  6. "people drink beers, not brands."??? Tell that to the millions of Budmilloors drinkers

    Pete Brown, the Brit Beer blogger, uses the term interchangeable lagers.

    Apt. Re-useable.

  7. I've noticed this as a big difference between British and American breweries, especially newer brewpubs. In Britain you can have things like TImothy Taylor's Landlord, Everard's Tiger, Theakston's Old Peculiar, etc. Over thisaway we get XYZ ESB, ABC Old Ale, HUB Lager. Often there is a rhyming scheme, or something likewise clever.

    Of course this isn't universal, e.g. Jennings Bitter in Cumbria, or Bateman's XXXB in Yorkshire. Now, we all know what an XXXB is, right? And I know a little brewery in the Cascades now serving Good With Bacon and Mutt.