A beer without a name

What do you think of when you see the names Fat Tire, Mirror Pond, Delerium Tremens, Dead Guy, Death from Above, Pliny the Elder, Fat Yak, Tripel Karmeliet or Super Hornet? Ok, some of those are from the US and may not be as instantly recognisable as others, but can you immediately picture the beer? Do you know what style of beer it is? Does it matter to you that the brewery name isn’t mentioned alongside the name of the beer? Can you even name the brewer of Delerium Tremens* without Googling it?

Why is this trend on a downward spiral? It’s time to revisit and update a blog we wrote in late 2018 and have a look at changing trends in the beer market.

As competition across Australia grows with the number of new breweries continuing to open at a fairly fast pace – though this has slowed since COVID – ranges are, maybe shockingly, not reflected in the availability of beer choices at your local mainstream bottle shop. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel, but to see what’s on the shelves we refer you to “Who Owns My Beer? From Pillar to Post”.

It feels like breweries are losing their sense of fun. Their individuality. Their stories. Overall, there seems to be a continued shift in label designs becoming simpler, cleaner and easier to read – perhaps due to fear of condemnation by ABAC, or, as some brand managers have told us, to provide customers with a hard-to-miss-at-first-glance explanation of what the beer is and who brews it. It’s also clear that, due to issues highlighted across the board over the years, there may be a reluctance to give a beer a fun and fanciful name. With heightened awareness towards anything discriminatory, sexist, ablist, racist and all the other -ists, the easiest way to avoid creating a scene is to stick to the basics. This is a lager, this is a pale ale. And through this, there is a level of education to the consumer, identifying what flavours inside the package match the style of beer on the outside of the can. With so much noise on the shelf, breweries try and cut through with clear labelling and easy-to-read branding, which makes sense when looked through a wide angle lens.

To quote our previous selves, “The identifiable brand is what breweries are focusing on, and the reiteration of that brewery name, for example calling something “Fortitude Pale” instead of “Interceptor Pale”, instantly reinforces that brand. There’s no question of who brewed that beer. When you’re discussing the differences of pale ales amongst friends, it’s probably more common to distinguish them by their brewery, whether they have a fancy name or not.”

But really, how boring.

Two breweries that were mentioned for their unique naming schemes in our previous article have conspicuously gone by the wayside, as we see All Inn’s 3rd rebranding in a decade (changes noted in their Pale Ale and Red IPAs below) and Aether bucking the trend re: label designs but simplifying the names by switching to identification by beer style (see design evolution below). Aether is one that’s intriguing, as they have moved away from the clean white can with a design into something far more detailed and picturesque. This is the clear opposite of what so many of their contemporaries are doing, and while the art is beautiful (and done by local artists!), there’s something that many people miss about their rougher, grittier look from the past. The names of the brewery, both in the All Inn and Aether examples, have been moved much more front-and-centre so there is no doubt as to whose beer you’re drinking.

We understand that some breweries have always done it this way. Look at Fick, whose easily identifiable beers are listed on their taproom wall by style, not fancy names. Some are self-explanatory, like “Brussels Ale” or “Quadrupel”, with a small sidestep with “Mandarina Bavaria”, a name referencing the hop used in the brew. For unique, Belgian-inspired beers, this can put a customer at ease when they are ordering as there is no pretense, less opportunity to mis pronounce a fancy French or Flemish name.

Balter Brewing is a brewery that straddles both sides of the fence, with their core range including Cerveza, XPA, IPA, Easy Hazy and more, but special releases and collab beers sporting names like “Elsa” and “Anna”, “Green Cheek”, “Bucket Full of Nothin’”, to name a few. Black Hops Brewing, with a move toward cleaning up their core range (originally everything had a name and it was just their Pale Ale that was style-based) and changing “Lay Day” to simply “Lager”, and removing “Ginger” from their “Ginger Cider’ (now just “Cider”), but retaining classics like “G.O.A.T.”, “Hornet” and “Super Hornet”, plus staff releases like “Neverland”, “High Speed Low Drag, “Jim Drip” and others.

Madocke Beer Brewing Company are interesting as they also do a combination of name/style, with – we think – so much room to play. “Reynard’, “Nobel”, “Karmic Trickster” and “Eagle Beak” are some names that stand out, with them eliminating “Courtois” which was initially the name of their lager. With a list of characters from the story of Reynard the Fox, there is plenty of potential to create a stronger link between their brand and their beers, thus being standout in their field. No other brewery in Australia will have a “Reynard” beer, but they might have a strong amber ale. There’s a lot of room for Madocke to expand into this space with iconography that suits their branding.

We did a quick rundown of our brewery partners and noted:

21 Brisbane and Gold Coast breweries name their beers: 4 Hearts, Bacchus, BOBs, Burleigh Brewing, Catchment, Currumbin Valley, Future Magic, Green Beacon, Happy Valley, Helios, Hiker, Hoppers, Hound & Stag, Hudson, Lost Palms, Milton Common, Slipstream, Soapbox, Stone & Wood, White Lies and Working Title.

8 Brisbane and Gold Coast breweries go by style only: Aether, All Inn, Archer, Boxer, Felons, Fick, Fortitude Brewing, Lucha

10 Brisbane and Gold Coast breweries use a combination of names and styles, with core range generally consisting of the style and special releases launched with a fun name: Ballistic, Black Hops (as discussed above), Brisbane Brewing Co, Easy Times, Madocke (see above), Newstead (a far departure from what it once was), Perentie, Precinct, Revel, and Sea Legs

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Does it make a difference to you? Do you seek to learn the stories behind the names? What does it take to stand out in a crowd? Or is it a case of a beer is a beer is a beer?

No matter what you’re drinking, we hope you enjoy it!

Cheers and beers,

Matt and Jos

*Delerium Tremens, a strong blond Belgian beer, is brewed by Huyghe. The others are New Belgium Fat Tire, Deschutes Mirror Pond, Rogue Dead Guy, Garage Project Death from Above, Russian River Pliny the Elder, Matilda Bay Fat Yak, Brouwerij Bosteels Tripel Karmeliet, Black Hops Super Hornet