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May 15, 2017

Brewers play creative name game to make brands stand out

PHOTO | Steve Laschever Stony Creek brewmaster Andy Schwarz holds his favorite beer, a new Mexicali lager called La Garza, which means heron.
PHOTO | Steve Laschever Stony Creek brewmaster Andy Schwarz (above) in the brewery’s Branford tap room, which acts as a laboratory to test new beer concoctions with customers. Some creatively named and designed beer offerings from Connecticut brewers are shown to the left. From top left downward: New England Brewing’s Fuzzy Baby Ducks IPA, Shebeen’s Cannoli beer and Fore! Session IPA, and Two Roads’ Two Juicy Double IPA.
PHOTO | Contributed Some creatively named beer brands from Connecticut brewers.
PHOTO | Contributed A lineup of Back East Brewing's beers, including Palate Mallet (far right), which was the Bloomfield brewery's first foray into creative naming.
This Back East Brewing beer is a subtle nod to the jam band Phish.

It wasn't long after opening Bloomfield's Back East Brewing that CEO Tony Karlowicz realized something was changing in the fast-growing craft beer industry.

In 2013, Back East released a boozy American Double IPA cleverly named Palate Mallet, one of its first big hits. Previously, the upstart brewery mostly stuck to conventional names, like Back East Ale.

“I remember the line out the door past the driveway,” Karlowicz said of consumers' reaction to Palate Mallet. “We started to realize the importance of names.”

For many in Connecticut's burgeoning brewing industry, creative naming has become a critical marketing tool in an increasingly competitive environment in which shelf space and customer attention spans are in short supply.

It's also a creative process fraught with legal and PR risks.

With more than 5,000 microbreweries, brew pubs and regional breweries across the United States, Connecticut beer makers must increasingly worry about not inadvertently copying another brewer's trademark.

“[Naming] is one of the hardest things to do in our industry,” said Andy Schwartz, brewmaster of Stony Creek Brewery in Branford.

Dennis Russo, of West Hartford design firm WondriskaRusso Associates, which recently redesigned Hartford-based City Steam's line of Naughty Nurse beers, said it's challenging to make a six-pack stand out in a package store.

There's no right way to do it, but branding consistency is important for beers, whether they're new or more established brews, he said.

And for most brewers, from Stratford-based Two Roads Brewing to some of the state's smallest, trademark searches are a key part of the process.

“It's hard to change [names] once [a beer] is on the market,” said Collin Kennedy, senior marketing manager at Two Roads.

Internal creative processes vary from brewery to brewery and beer to beer, but one thing comes across in speaking with a handful of Connecticut's several dozen breweries: Brewers are often creative sorts who have fun naming their beers.

Five breweries shared some of the creative processes and stories behind their beer names with the Hartford Business Journal.

New England Brewing Co., Woodbridge

It could be argued that New England Brewing Co. takes some of the biggest creative risks in beer naming. But it often pays off.

“The beer has to be good no matter what and the name is just something to have fun with and a little bonus,” said Rob Leonard, owner and brewer. “We put our personalities into the beers.”

Its popular Fuzzy Baby Ducks IPA? The thinking, Leonard said, was “How can we embarrass the guy at the bar who has to order it? What's the cutest name someone would have to say?”

The can's design, which portrays cartoonish yellow ducks joyously sliding down a rainbow emerging from a unicorn's backside, only adds to the joke.

New England Brewing's Craig Gilbert, who attended high school with Leonard, designed the label.

“If [a name or design] makes us laugh, that's the common line,” Leonard said.

The company has toed the line with some of its names: Imperial Stout Trooper earned New England Brewing a letter from Lucas Films' attorneys, prompting a subtle change in the label art. Gandhi-Bot, a double IPA featuring a robot version of Indian civil rights leader Mahatma Gandhi, offended some, prompting the brewery to change the name to G-Bot and alter the label art.

Leonard said he was reluctant to make the change, especially since the brew received high marks from beer enthusiasts. He said several Indian store owners told him they had no problem with Gandhi-Bot, which Gilbert thought of through a rapid word-association exercise involving India, beer cans and metal. The incident has not hurt sales of the beer, which along with Sea Hag is among the brewery's most popular, Leonard said.

Leonard's personal favorite name is Ghost Pigeon Porter, named in honor of a sickly pigeon that staff had to shoo away after it kept invading the brewery. When it stopped coming, staff figured it had passed on.

The list goes on: Scrumtrulescent Saison is a nod to Will Ferrell's Saturday Night Live portrayal of “Inside the Actor's Studio” host James Lipton. The Ocho IPA is a reference to a parody, ESPN-like channel in the movie “Dodgeball,” which pokes fun at ESPN2's former nickname, “The Deuce.”

Shebeen Brewing, Wolcott

Shebeen Brewing in Wolcott gets adventurous with recipes, which tends to lead to more literal, though still attention-grabbing names.

One of its most popular beers is called Cannoli, an ale that tastes like its namesake and is housed in a can designed to look like the decadent Italian pastry.

The unique beer's story began about five years ago, when master brewer Richard Visco was visited by a group of friends and potential investors.

One of the men was out of breath, and his friend, poking fun, called him “cannoli boy.”

“I literally stopped in my tracks and said 'I can make a beer that's like that,' ” Visco recalled.

The Irish native had intended to pursue English and Irish-style beers, but now he has to keep his taproom stocked with Cannoli, where it's a favorite.

Shebeen (Irish Gaelic for “speakeasy”) can achieve unusual names by simply stating ingredients in its beers. It makes a Cucumber Wasabi Ale and a Java Pig Stout, which contains both bacon and coffee.

The original name was Bacon Kona Stout, but Visco said he received a letter from Hawaii's Kona Brewing Co. concerned about the name similarity.

It turned out to be a fairly friendly exchange.

“We settled it,” Visco said. “They paid for the cost of getting rid of our labels.” He said he likes the new name better.

True to its roots, Shebeen brews an Irish Plum Pudding beer.

A newer offering called Fore! Session IPA breaks Shebeen's more conventional naming habits. It has four different kinds of hops, an alcohol content of 4.4 percent, and a golf ball on the can label.

Two Roads Brewing Co., Stratford

With an in-house marketing team and a staff of approximately 100, Two Roads likes to tap the power of the crowd when it names its beers, said Kennedy, the senior marketing manager.

They call it the name game and it entails an emailing brainstorm. A more recent result of the exercise was the name Two Juicy for a New England IPA.

Two Roads is housed in the former U.S. Baird Factory, and it incorporates an industrial theme into much of its branding, Kennedy said.

“We say 'let's look at our past and the roots in this factory and use that as names,' ” Kennedy said. “But not too contrived or over the top.”

Ol' Factory Pils combines the beer's aromatic dry hops with a clever pun.

Lil' Heaven Session IPA has an interesting backstory.

Kennedy said the brewery's owners were giving a tour to a group that used to work at the factory when one visitor asked what happened to “lil' heaven.”

The owners didn't know what the man was talking about. But the former factory employee explained there used to be a sizeable space between the ceiling and the second floor where factory workers used to sneak away for a nap on a mattress. The hiding spot earned its name because it was a place of reprieve.

“We thought that was the coolest name,” Kennedy said.

Two Roads now uses the previously undiscovered space for warehousing, he said.

Stony Creek Brewery, Branford

Launched in 2012, Stony Creek has quickly become one of Connecticut's largest brewers.

“The liquids, obviously first and foremost, have to be good,” said brewmaster Schwartz, who added that clever naming and packaging often go hand in hand in creating a successful beer.

Stony Creek, named for a section of Branford, is perhaps best known for its “Cranky” line of IPAs, a nickname for a blue heron, common along the local shoreline.

The heron is the uniting visual factor on all of the brewery's beers, from IPAs to lagers. Schwartz calls the heron Stony Creek's “sigil” or “mascot.”

The brewery works with artist Lisa Sotero to create a unique heron for each new beer. The Big Cranky can features an almost psychedelic bird, while the heron on the Black Water Pils, which features spookier art, looks almost raven-like. Schwartz collaborates on names with Jamal Robinson, director of sales.

Stony Creek also makes a series of beers that mix various traditions and styles, like a sour stout or a soured double IPA. Those beers fall under the cleverly named “Flip the Bird” moniker.

Schwartz is no stranger to letting go of favored names for new beers. An IPA the brewery plans to release next month was going to be called “Ripple Effect” — a tongue-in-cheek name meant to poke fun at copying in the industry. The logo design was nearly complete when irony struck: Stony Creek's legal team found an existing beer with the same name.

Schwartz said the team had to decide on a different name, which will be announced soon.

Back East Brewing Co., Bloomfield

If there's a common thread in Back East's naming habits, it's music. Karlowicz said that five years ago, when he was thinking of calling his newest beer Back East IPA, a distributor warned him against it. Creative names were becoming a trend.

“I remember him saying, 'Dude, you've got to name it. You can't just call it Back East IPA,' ” Karlowicz said.

After some thinking, he went with Misty Mountain IPA, a nod to the Led Zeppelin song “Misty Mountain Hop” — “hop” being a crucial ingredient in the IPAs that to this day continue to dominate the craft market.

Suzy Greenberg, an American-style IPA, is a nod to a Phish song. The can's background design has orange and blue donut-shaped dots, like those on the mumu worn by the jam band's drummer. That connection wouldn't be obvious to most people, and that's part of the point, Karlowicz said.

“It's taking stuff we love and trying to spread it,” he said.

Intergalactic Lupulinary, which uses galaxy hops, is a tribute to the Beastie Boys song “Intergalactic.” Lupulinary is a made-up word that rhymes with the “planetary” portion of the lyrics, but lupulin oils are what gives the hop flower its characteristic taste.

A previous single-hop malt (or “SMaSH”) beer containing southern cross hops was named Crosby, Stills and SMaSH.

Surely there must be a story behind Tony Goes Dancing Imperial IPA?

Karlowicz insists there is not. A brewer simply thought it would be funny to order the beer out loud in a bar.

“There is no funny story, I don't really dance,” he said.

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