CHOOSING THOSE CREATIVE BEER NAMES

BY WILLIAM DEAN

Those crazy names.

Dave Coyne’s phone is filled with them. Creative, catchy and often off the wall, the list of potential beer names scrolls on and on.

“I have a very long notes section on my phone. It just keeps going and going and going,” Coyne says, demonstrating with a swipe of his index finger. “They’re not all good, but …”

The names come to Coyne when he’s watching a movie, listening to music, having a meal, or just thinking. He jots them down, knowing that, as Obelisk Beer Co.’s head brewer, it’s good to have a reservoir to dip into when the right craft beer comes along.

“Names can kind of make or break a beer,” he says. “There’s some really bad names out there on very good beers, which is unfortunate.”

Sculpture Garden, Moon Crusher, Long Shadows, Tower Fall, Pharaoh’s Horses, Smithereens, Chit Chat and Mausoleum are just a few of the inventive names Coyne has used since opening his Astoria brewery in 2022.

For Coyne, a trained artist who creates his own intricately drawn labels, the beer usually comes first. Then the name. Then the art, which is even more imaginative, often featuring wild creatures and strange worlds. A man riding a dinosaur, for instance. An alligator chasing a tiger chasing a kudu.

The inspiration for the name Moon Crusher was an episode of “Futurama,” Coyne says. Pharaoh’s Horses sprang from a popular tattoo. Tower Fall came from a heavy metal song title.

Sculpture Garden combines art and nature, which Coyne equates to the brewing process. Long Shadows represents the failing light at the end of an autumn afternoon, which the brewer suggests is a great time to drink a beer. 

Dave Coyne enjoys coming up with creative names for his beers.

Coyne has few rules. He tries to keep his names short and memorable. Nothing offensive or divisive. Monikers for seasonal IPAs can be “a little sillier.” Names of complex barrel-aged brews or mixed-culture saisons can wax poetic. 

Humor is always a good option. “I love a good pun, and we do have some silly names planned in the future,” he says.

Once Coyne chooses a suitable name, he consults with business partner Nathan Lampson, then checks Untappd to see if it’s being used by another brewery. If it is, they may still go with it if the other beer is a limited release and the brewery is located far away.

Fort George Brewery, also known for creative beer names, is fond of pop culture references and puns. 

While owner Chris Nemlowill and marketing director Brian Bovenizer have “final veto power,” employees are encouraged to feed an internal messaging channel titled Beer Name Ideas. 

“Anybody in the company can throw out an idea,” Bovenizer says.

That’s where a recent gem, Electric Surfboard, originated. The name worked well, since the beer is a seasonal IPA with tropical, beachy notes. Cashmere Sweater may seem an odd choice, until you realize that the beer was brewed with cashmere hops. 

“Sometimes, the name and the concept come together in one fell swoop,” Bovenizer says.

Fort George is proud of its Astoria roots and some of its beer names, such as City of Dreams, reflect that. Short Sands, Cathedral Tree and Iredale are tributes to a beloved North Coast beach, massive Sitka spruce and shipwreck, respectively. 

Beers with odd ingredients pretty much write their own names, like Hold the Pickle, made with fresh pickle, cucumber and sea salt.

The tap list at Fort George can elicit chuckles.

Then there’s Vortex, the top-selling IPA that helped build Fort George. The story behind that name is now the stuff of legend. Co-founders Nemlowill and Jack Harris were in the Midwest in 2006, driving the first brewhouse to Astoria, when a tornado struck. Lucky to survive unscathed, they knew they’d have to name the beer after the twister.

Bovenizer says every new beer is different, but with most there are really only three naming rules: Is it fun? Does it lend itself to cool artwork? Does it make sense?

For brewers struggling to come up with something unique, there are AI name generators out there that can get ideas flowing.

The Craft Beer & Brewing website offers a free generator powered by ChatGPT. Typing in “pilsner” and “session beer” and “crisp and bready” yielded the name Easygoing Sunrise. “IPA” and “hops” and “citrus” resulted in Hoptastic Juicy Dreamland. 

Not a bad starting point.

Coyne doesn’t need that kind of help, but admits it’s fun to play around with.

“Sometimes it lands on something good,” he says.

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WILLIAM DEAN is an author of suspense novels with a passion for craft beer. Check out his blog at astoriabeerzone.com.

 
This column originally appeared in the April 2, 2024 edition of The Astorian.

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