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Hoops on Hops: Names, labels complement the beers inside

Dave Hoops

This week I'm writing about the naming of beers and I'll touch a bit on some label artwork that goes along with the names.

Many of the great classic beers are named after their founders, for example Leinenkugel's, Guinness, Budweiser, Coors, Heineken and Miller, to name a few. Naming the beers for these breweries was pretty straightforward. Even in my case at Hoops Brewing, I use my name.

At Hoops Brewing, I decided that the beers would be named by style and number. The only beers I actually name are the two beers we brew each year in honor of my kids' birthdays. The numbers we choose are sometimes random but also hold some meaning, like #15 Pale Ale (my kid's hockey number) or #5050 Hefeweizen (address of the apartment I stayed in when I brewed in Germany), and of course 1225 Ale (Christmas beer).

That being said, most breweries name their individual beers. In the Twin Ports, we've got some great breweries, brewery names and individual beer names. There are some common threads: Lake Superior, the natural beauty, history, the weather. Each brewery tends to go their own creative way, and that makes it fun to see names and artwork. Some great names from local breweries that I like include:

Lake Superior Brewing Mesabi Red, Black List Last Pale on Earth (this is an awesomely clever reference to their building), Earth Rider Superior Pale Ale, Castle Danger George Hunter Stout, Fitger's Brewhouse Starfire Pale Ale, Ted Kopplebock, Hoppelujah, Bent Paddle Kanu, Paddle Break and Canal Park Brewing Stoned Surf.

The label artwork for these beers and many others is also a constant source of inspiration and awe. Bent Paddle's Kanu features a fully loaded canoe ready for the Boundary Waters. Earth Rider Pale features a cool woodcut rendering of a man in a rowboat on the big lake. Castle Danger's George Hunter artwork depicts the founder's great-great-grandfather. Fitger's Hoppelujah shows an ethereal angel of beer, drawn by local artist Chris Monroe. Speaking of that, another favorite name of mine comes from New Belgium in Colorado, Hemperor (you should look this guy up). Maybe the Hemperor could marry Hoppelujah; that would be an imperial union for sure.

Some breweries promote their label art as a central piece to their business plan, and they should. Blacklist touts Art in Beer in their artisan ales, and the label art is a worthy complement to their beers.

Naming a beer is a fun job — but it does involve a lot of work. In my career, I'd guess I've named more than 500 beers, which probably is a big reason Hoops Brewing uses numbers (simplify!). It's sometimes easy but often requires a lot of thought and research. And if there's a creative block, maybe rifling through an actual dictionary or thesaurus can't be ruled out.

Since there are so many breweries today, and thus beers, folks in charge of naming and labeling have to make sure the name is not taken. In Minnesota, brewers register beer names and labels with the state. A database helps make sure there are no repeats. At the federal level, names and label art must be approved, and fees paid, before beers can legally be produced. It's quite the process, and most consumers might not realize the hoops that must be jumped through to get a beer to market.

Some more fun names I enjoy are, in no particular order:

Kentucky Breakfast Stout, Ch Ch Ch Cherrybomb, German Sparkleparty, Streaking through the Quad, Pliny the Younger, Duck Duck Gooze, Shenanigan's, Three Hour Tour, Overrated, Rubaeus, Nooner, Resting Brewface, Size 7, and my all-time favorite: Herren Pils.

Some other breweries worth noting for their labeling creative prowess include: Indeed, Surly, Insight, Deschutes, New Belgium, Rogue, Modist, Fair State, and for classic images, Schell's.

Brewers are definitely a creative lot. Over the years, thousands of names and labels have graced shelves and taverns all over the world, and it's a fun part of the brewing process.

Please let me know some of your favorites for a follow-up column highlighting readers' choices.

Happy Fourth of July!

Dave Hoops lives and works in Duluth and is a veteran brewer and beer judge. Contact him at dave@hoopsbrewing.com.

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