The eye of the beer holder
A visit to the Tynedale Beer and Cider Festival last month got us thinking about the myriad marvellous names that have emerged alongside the growth in the number of small UK breweries and the boom in craft brewing. Anyone for a Whapweasel?
When the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) launched in 1971, there were 200 or so breweries in the UK. According to statistics for 2015 there are now over 1,700, ranging from microbreweries attached to pubs, to giant brewing factories.* It’s smaller breweries that are boosting the numbers, each of them creating and innovating to produce an even greater number of interesting and flavourful beers. Alongside craft beer, craft ciders – flavoured and traditional apple – are also popular.
For every new beer or cider brewed, a name must be found – and it’s a competitive market. Whether the name is intended to be evocative or functional, with “doing what it says on the tin/cask/keg” in mind, branding is key. The right name is a brand’s most important asset.
Different breweries have different approaches. Some take inspiration from their surroundings; others may pick up on a theme or a particular ingredient used. We saw this in action at the Tynedale Beer and Cider Festival. and, while sampling some of what was on offer, contemplated the question of naming a little more.
Now in its 15th year, the festival is held in Corbridge and runs over three days each June, showcasing local and national real ales, ciders and perries. With 124 beers and 30 ciders and perries to choose from, the names have to work hard to attract attention. Enjoying a glorious June afternoon while sampling some of the hoppy delights on offer (and the match going on at the cricket club next door), we contemplated the science of naming beers and ciders.
Whapweasel was one of the most memorable and perhaps unique names we came across. It’s an unusual and rather funny word, and so it sticks in the mind. But there’s more to it than that. Hexhamshire brewery, who make Whapweasel, take at least some of their naming inspiration from the local surroundings – in this case, Whapweasel Burn, which, the beer description tells us, itself is named after the call of the curlew.
Jaipur evokes the Maharajas and something of the exotic. However, being an India Pale Ale - a heavily hopped beer, so called as it was designed to survive the long journey from Britain to colonial India - it's a name that is no doubt equally rooted in its style.
Craft cider names revealed similar tales. Ruby Tuesday, as well as evoking the Rolling Stones and the summer of love, must have been inspired by the deep pink colour of the cider itself, provided by a liberal helping of raspberry. But we suspect the story goes further, as other ciders produced by the same brewer feature female names and musical links.
Returning to Hebden Bridge, where the town's pubs and bars also serve a constantly changing profusion of craft and traditional beers and ciders, we asked some local hostelry owners about their favourite and most memorable beer names.
Nadine Colcough of Nido was quick to tell us that Why Kick a Moo Cow was, without doubt, the best beer name she had ever come across. But like the names we discovered at the festival, there is more than one story behind the name and her choice. A New Zealand pale ale, the beer bearing this name takes its cue from the Maori 'Waikikamukau', a colloquial term used in New Zealand to denote any small, remote town. It's a play on words as well as being memorably funny, but also has personal resonance for Nadine, who has a Bedlington terrier called Moo.
Martin Ogley of Drink? was similarly unhesitant in his choice of Nettle Thrasher. But why this name? Former manager of the Elland Brewery, Martin knows a lot about beer and was able to tell us the story behind it. The beer was created by brewer John Eastwood; Eastwood, a former coal-mining town in Nottinghamshire, was the birthplace of D.H. Lawrence; there are apocryphal stories of Lawrence having whipped young boys with nettles.
To us, the name Nettle Thrasher evokes images of the wild decimation of a common stinging plant, possibly on a summer's day, and hearing about the Lawrence connection got us thinking about both his early career in teaching and his 1930 poetry collection, Nettles, in which he "stung" back at the censorship of his literary and artistic works. The creativity in beer naming evidently has the potential to lead on to even more storytelling.