The Value of Beer Naming

There are over 2,000 breweries in the United States with new ones opening each day. With each brewery producing several styles of beer it’s no wonder every week I seem to stumble upon an article about a lawsuit, or a cease and desist over a trademarked name of some beer. As the craft beer market swells with new beers it becomes vital to differentiate ones brand in the market place, but it’s becoming so much harder to come up with a creative name; and some of the names are getting out of hand. In many instances the name gives me no idea as to what to expect from the beer. In this dizzying array of beer names sometimes I can’t recall which beer from a brewer is which style and I simply start referring to them by their flavor profile instead, like, that hoppy amber beer from brewery x. The names, while sometimes creative (though often times downright useless), have lost their meaning.

The question then becomes this: what is the point of naming beers? In most breweries overseas the brewery is the name that people remember. You create your brand, your identity, and the beers are simply described by their styles. While this practical approach to calling a beer simply by its style doesn’t have the creative flair that has come to be the hallmark of the craft brewing industry, it does keep these wild names from getting out of hand; after all there are only so many hop puns out there. The consumer isn’t getting anything out of the name – and some of the untapped potential craft beer drinkers may be turned off by seemingly childish names and bizarre labelling. While craft beer is exploding it doesn’t seem like anyone seems to mind, but there are many who go in to their good craft beer bar and stare blankly at the beer menu, trying to figure out just what it is they may like. A good bartender or server goes a long way to helping the consumer know what they’re getting, but shouldn’t the beer itself help to set the consumers expectations?

There are some who contend that as brewers not only push the style boundaries, but outright defy them, that simply naming a beer by its style won’t work. But why does this mean that some marketing driven, or brainstormed session beer name will help the consumer to understand the beer better? True a lot of brewers will give some level of beer description on the bottle, but in a bottleshop filled with choices how many people are going to take the time to read each one? It’s also true that a lot of your better beer bars will have descriptions on their menu, blackboard, or some other location that will help to educate the consumer about what they’re ordering. But when you have dozens of tap handles I’d be willing to bet a lot of people will simply look for what is familiar, or what is new. In fact the information overload could serve to turn off those making their first forays in to the world of craft beer. When style names don’t apply to a brew that has defied all convention, giving it some kind of name that adequately conveys what the drinker can expect out of the beer is vital.

A brewery’s time is better spent working on their beer, not trying to find some name that no one has yet to use, or worse still, involved in a legal battle defending your trademarked name (or having to come up with an entirely new name for your beer because someone else got there first). Marketing time is better spent focusing on creating your brand as your identity. Your brewery name will be the reflection of what it is you are; that’s how the consumer is going to remember you and how you’re going begin to make yourself stand out in a crowded marketplace. There are certain breweries when they release something new I know I want to try it regardless of style because they have a track record of making beer that I absolutely love. They’ve built their reputation around their brand and I respect what they’re doing. Other times when I go to the bar I might be in the mood for a particular style – or perhaps I want the right style of beer to pair with my meal. Skimming a list of names that represent the style is a lot easier than reading a description of each, especially in a place that prides itself on its beer selection.

At the end of the day we all have to go our own way and are going to see things differently. Some brewers honestly feel that their creative name is a reflection of the beer and has a personal connection to them. Does this connection carry over to the consumer? After all it is ultimately the consumer for whom this beer is made. It’s good and well to say you only brew what you like and you don’t care what other people want; that’s a recipe for a short-lived brewery. Craft beer is a business; yes it’s a highly creative and artistic business, but at the end of the day you want to be successful, you want people to enjoy your beers, and sometimes you have to give them what they want to get them in the door. Consumer confusion hurts the craft brand as a whole.

Anyway, that’s my two cents on the whole craft beer naming game.

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Grodziskie (Gratzer) Followup

It’s been a few weeks since I put the Grodziskie in the keg. When I kegged it, it had a solid smokey aroma, but not as overwhelming as some smoked beers I’ve had in the past – it certainly wasn’t “bacon in a bottle”.

Orlasky’s Farmhouse Grodziskie

Appearance – A very hazy beer, but that’s what I’d expect in a beer made with 100% wheat malt. It has a very thick, rocky head that lasts for a few minutes before receding, leaving behind a sticky lacing.

Aroma – A nice smokey aroma, reminiscent of the lingering scent of campfire on your clothing. No strong bacon smells, nothing that overwhelms. There’s a touch spice to the aroma, along with a light breadyness.

beer head

The head of my Grodziskie ale.

Taste – Upfront there’s a sharp bitterness. Not biting, nor overwhelming on the palette, but it leaned slightly towards to unpleasant. On the first sip or two everything takes a backseat to the bitterness, but that fades after a few more sips. The smoke comes out, at first only slightly perceivable over the bitterness, but as the bitterness fades the smoke comes on more strongly. It’s a pleasant smoke flavor that lingers on the tongue for awhile. The bread-like flavors of the wheat are fairly subtle and be tough to pick out underneath the more dominating flavors.

Mouth-feel – A fairly thick beer. Solid body, not at all thin and watery for a beer that finished out at 1.008.

Overall Impression – I like this beer, it’s one that gets better with each sip. At first I thought it might be difficult to finish a pint of it, but as I drank it, it became increasingly easier to drink. At only around 3.2% abv it was pretty easy to put down by the time I got half through the pint. The second pint was absolutely smooth sailing.

This beer, however, is not without its faults. As I said the initially bitterness comes on fairly strong. I’d cut down on the bitterness. Currently the beer sits around 40 IBU and I’d probably scale it back to the high 20′s. I have recently picked up some Lublin hops that I can use in place of the Saaz to go a little more authentic in that direction. I still like the late hop additions as they add an extra dimension to the beer so that the entire thing isn’t simply about the smoke. Speaking of the smoke I do feel I could go 100% oak smoked wheat malt on this one. The smoke flavor wasn’t so intense that it became distasteful – in fact it was one of the more pleasant smoked flavors I’ve had in a beer before. I also think instead of using the Wyeast 1056 that I’d move over to Wyeast 1007 (German ale). I’m not sure it will make that much of a difference, but I’d think it could be interesting to find out.

This is a beer style I definitely want to perfect. It’s a really interesting style, not like ones I’ve tasted before. It’s a great full flavored session ale, and having more of those is never a bad thing.

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Grodziskie – a Polish Original

It was about a year ago that I first heard about a beer called Gratzer (which I would later learn was the name given after WWII to a beer style known as Grodziskie, Gratzer being the German name for it). It’s a style of beer that appears to have been unique to Poland(originating in the town of Grodzisk). It was a beer that appears to have been made from 100% oak smoked wheat malt. While most smoked beers tended to eschew hop flavors for fear of them clashing with the smoked malt, the Grodziskie seems to have had a generous hopping rate with a fairly firm bitterness. The beer is also a low gravity, easy drinking beer with starting gravities around the 7 or 8 degree Plato range(1.028 – 1.032 SG). A low alcohol smoky beer with a firm hop bitterness? How could I not be intrigued by it!

A couple of days ago I finally brewed my first one. Recipe formulation was pretty easy as ingredient-wise it’s a pretty simple recipe. I did make a few changes. First I used 5/8 oak smoked wheat malt to 3/8 white wheat malt. I made this change as I’ve had some smoked beers where it was like drinking a campfire. So I wanted to back off a bit on the smoked flavor for my first go at the beer. I can use this as a baseline as to whether I want to go with more or less on the next go around. Secondly I couldn’t readily get the Lublin hops that are typically used in this beer. I went with the closest substitute that I had available, Czech Saaz. My gravity also ended up being a little bit higher than is typical (1.036), this was due to the fact I just wanted to use the whole 5 lbs. bag of smoked wheat I had and keep all my numbers simple. I targeted about 36 IBU’s for the beer which seems pretty crazy on something that is only going to finish out around 3.5% alcohol, so I’m curious to see how that’s going to turn out. Finally, for yeast I just used the cleanest yeast I had available which was 1.056. I have it fermenting at 66F so that should keep the yeast profile pretty neutral.

When I ground the grain on brewday the smoke smell was pretty powerful. It reminded me of cooking bacon over an open flame. It wasn’t quite as intense as the German Rauch malt I had used in the past, but it was still pretty potent. I had a few moments of wondering whether it was going to be too much smoke or not. However by the end of the boil the smoky aroma had subsided to the point where it was no longer overwhelming and was much more subtle. The spicy aroma of the Saaz hops actually smelled wonderful with the subtle oak smoke aromatics. The color was incredibly light, a bit of a white hue to it making it appear lighter in color than many Pilsner beers.

With the low gravity and large pitch of yeast it should ferment out fairly quickly. On day 7 of the fermentation I plan on starting to bring down the temperature of the beer by a few degrees each day and will likely keg it on day 14. It’ll lager for another week or two (essentially until a tap opens up on my kegerator). I’m really excited for this beer and am hoping that it’ll be a good baseline for future batches of this nearly extinct style of beer.

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Wet Hopping an ESB.

This was not a good year for my hops. They started out strong, but there were a few dry stretches, and I didn’t trim them nearly as well as I should have so I’m not ending up with many hops on the bines. The Cascade did really well, but both the Nugget and Centennial sort of crapped out on me. However it looks like I should have more than enough hops to stuff in to a Hop Rocket to try and do some nice wet hopping via that.

Since I’m on a bit of a session kick I decided to do something a little different, a little experimental. I’m going to wet hop an ESB recipe that I use. Yes, American Cascade hops in an English ESB! Shock and horror, I know! But really that’s what homebrewing (and for that matter, craft beer in America) is all about. Doing something a little bit odd and a little bit unexpected. The recipe I’m going to use is pretty straight forward, and I think the aroma of fresh Cascade hops will place nicely with the biscuity malts, slight caramel, and a bit of esters from the English yeast.

Without further adieu, here is the recipe:

Recipe Specifications
Boil Size: 7.77 gal
Post Boil Volume: 7.02 gal
Batch Size (fermenter): 6.00 gal
Bottling Volume: 5.50 gal
Estimated OG: 1.052 SG
Estimated Color: 10.9 SRM
Estimated IBU: 38.6 IBUs
Brewhouse Efficiency: 70.00 %
Est Mash Efficiency: 78.7 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Amt Name Type # %/IBU
11 lbs Pale Malt, Maris Otter (3.0 SRM) Grain 1 93.6 %
12.0 oz Caramel/Crystal Malt -120L (120.0 SRM) Grain 2 6.4 %
1.75 oz First Gold [7.50 %] – Boil 60.0 min Hop 3 38.6 IBUs
3.00 oz Cascade [5.50 %] – Hop Rocket 15.0 min Hop 4 0.0 IBUs
1.0 pkg English Ale (White Labs #WLP002) [35.49 Yeast 5 -

The mash is conducted at 152F for 60 minutes. I’ll ferment it for 2 weeks at 67F. Since they are wet hops and you want to get the best of that aroma, package and serve right away.

I’m currently planning on the brewday taking place Wednesday night. I haven’t attempted a later brew in awhile, so I figured I’d give it a try. Between wanting to homebrew more so that I can perfect a few recipes, and brewing at Rogues Harbor on the weekends I need to find the time to squeeze more of the homebrewing in.

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Top Cropping: A Three Beer Run

About a year ago a neighbor of mine got me in to top cropping. After a couple close calls with glass carboys I had already been thinking of switching back to buckets or going to Better Bottles. However when I talked to him about top cropping I got so intrigued by the idea that I decided to go full circle and end back up at fermenting in plastic buckets. I did top cropping with a few different yeasts – only going a couple generations with each as I was mostly testing the top crop ability and flavor profile of various yeasts to see which I would go with in the future. Well life got a little chaotic for a bit, and I tried some new beer styles and the whole top crop thing got shelved for awhile. That will change this weekend.

I’m going to do a three beer run (brewing a beer every other week) utilizing one pack of Safale S-05. I’ve had good luck top cropping it when I first experimented with it, and it’s a nice inexpensive alternative to comparable clean fermenting American ale yeasts. I’ll be starting with an American Wheat ale this weekend. Two weeks later I’ll brew an American Brown. Then I’ll finish it up with an IPA two weeks after the Brown.

I’ll top crop the yeast from each batch approximately 36 hours after pitching the yeast. I’ve found this to be the best time with the S-05; though if it looks like there’s limited krausen then I’ll wait until more develops so I can get a good volume of the best yeast possible. I’ll collect the yeast in a 500ml Erlenmeyer flask, topped up with distilled water and covered loosely with sanitized aluminum foil. It’ll be kept in my lagering fridge which is kept around 36F. I’ll try to post brewday notes and observations for each of the beers I make along with anything else that comes up during this 3 beer run. If all goes well I’ll do a 4 or 5 beer run with an English ale yeast next.

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