NAMING A CRAFT BREWERY CAN BE INCREDIBLY FRUSTRATING. LET’S WALK THROUGH THE PROCESS TO GET FROM INITIAL CONCEPT TO A FINAL, TRADEMARKable NAME.
Finding a perfect name can be one of the most frustrating steps of opening a craft brewery. More often than not, that perfect name, the one you’ve been dreaming of, sketching out on your Trapper Keeper, and telling friends and family about ever since tasting your first batch of home brew, has already been taken by some small outfit across the country. Damn.
In the previous chapter, we wrote about what goes into a good craft brewery name—things like availability and ownability, reflective of your biggest differentiator, and how easy it is to spell and say. Now, let’s look at how to get from an initial concept to an original, ownable, and trademarkable name in an era of 9,000+ craft breweries.
So we’re not so abstract here, let’s make up a fun example: you and your partners are all into old motorcycles and have found a perfect brewery location in an old auto shop. You’re opening a small brewpub that focuses on session beers.
Starting off, we’d say that brewing session beers isn’t novel, but your cool location and the start of a deeper theme and culture surrounding motorcycles gives us some fun stuff to work with.
Using this hypothetical brewery-in-planning as an example, let’s dig in and look at what “buckets” or ideas we can explore to find a great brewery name.
In no order of importance, let’s explore the following concepts:
Your town’s history
This in and of itself can be a strong concept, so long as another brewery doesn’t open up down the street with a similar story. Was your town supported by a big industry? Was it a frontier town? Who lived / lives there? Is there a landmark or cool feature (river, statue, building, battle ground, big ball of twine, etc.)? What’s the story behind your town’s name?
Since we don’t know where this town is, let’s instead focus on the brewery location itself. An old auto shop dovetails nicely with the motorcycle theme and can already give us an approachable, blue collar vibe (seems to work well with the approachable, session offerings, too).
Quick words and ideas to write down: shop, service center, pit stop, station, tool box, gear box, wrecker, repair, monkey wrench, wrench monkey, shade tree mechanic, knuckle buster
Your beer itself
Sessionable, easy-going beers evoke names and words that are calming and non-threatening. The ultimate goal is to combine ideas that smartly reflect your core messaging, but you don’t need to worry about that at this phase. For now, you’re trying to get out as many related ideas as possible (but, if you can start making connections between ideas at this point, more power to you!).
Quick words and ideas: small / light / easy going (easy rider) / quaffable / training wheels / on ramp / starter / converter / spark / water / crisp / “like making love in a canoe”
Now let’s look at your main differentiator—your group’s love of motorcycles. Let’s start concretely by breaking down the gear and different things that go into the subject. Types of motors. Bike parts and components. Types of motorcycles. Historic bikes. Motorcycle clubs (maybe good for informing brewery culture, but could also be bad due to the criminal stereotype, or worse, trite. See the note at the end of this chapter on cultural implications). Tools and mechanic gear.
Maybe we can explore motorcycle lingo and slang? Quick words and ideas: bone shaker / steel horse / colors / rocker / 1-percenter (fun tie in with ABV and session beers) / weekend warrior / ape hangers / 2-stroke / clutch / belt drive / big twin / big block / bone yard / brain bucket / bronson rock / canyon carving / chain / valve / cog / chaps (woo hoo!) /cut / crash bar / drag bars / flat head / flywheel / gearbox / inline / ink / iron butt / iron head / lane splitting / monkey wrench / nomad / organ donor / shovel head / etc.
In a real project, we would repeat this exercise many times over, gathering several hundred words and concepts. The goal is to get a lot of raw material to work with so we can whittle down to the very best. Skipping ahead, let’s either take some of these words wholesale, or combine them with other concepts to see what we can come up with.
Pull some cool bike words from the batch we came up with above. Trust your gut on these and grab anything that sounds cool and feels right: bone shaker / canyon carver / bronson rock / big block / cHOP shop (eh?) / flywheel / clutch / iron head / monkey wrench / nomad
Let’s combine ideas surrounding session beer and motorcycles. Maybe something along the lines of a starter bike: 250 club / 250 CC / 2 banger / 2-stroke / low rocker / easy rider / 1-percenter / glide / waxer / Sunday rider / fair weather rider / training wheels / sissy bars / tassels (woo hoo!)
Google these words in conjunction with industry terms. Example: “Bone Shaker” + “brewing” “beer” “alcohol” “food” “wine,” etc. You want so make sure, at this step, that you’re clear from similar names.
Now here’s where the frustration begins; “Bone Shaker” immediately shows as a beer name. And a bar. Damn. There’s a Carver Brewing Co. And there are several breweries with Canyon as a part of their name (not a complete deal breaker, but it’s not 100% differentiated and ownable, either). Surprisingly, there’s a “Bronson Rock” bar. Big Block, Flywheel, Iron Head, Monkey Wrench, and Nomad are all either beer or brewery names. “Clutch” is a New Belgium beer, and ‘2-Stroke’ is a beer by Motorworks Brewing (great name!).
“250” brings up a Keurig Coffee Brewing System. That could be a problem since they’re in the food and beverage industry (coffee “brewing” no less) and have deep pockets (think potential legal action). However, We would feel comfortable presenting “250 Club” as an option. Low Rocker only brings up one similar brewery name. This one may be worth exploring, assuming your team likes it.
And finally, the most compelling concept surrounds the 1% monitor (biker slang for gang members). We could spin this into ‘Low Percenter’ or ‘4-Percenter’ Brewing Co., a nod to your focus on session beer.
And that’s why this process can be so frustrating. Granted, we tooled through these ideas quickly, but we only generated three or four possible options. Every time we’ve helped a client name a brewery, we’ve found several options that are absolutely perfect. Except they’re already taken. But that’s okay. Go back to your concept and don’t be afraid to scrap what you’ve developed and start over. Maybe even give it a few days and come back to it fresh.
After all that, let’s say “Low Rock Brewing Co.” is the winner (with a seasonal beer program called the “cHOP Shop Series”). Everyone on your team loves it and it appears to be available. After your lawyer gives us the official go-ahead, the next step is to immediately buy the domain name and claim any social media channels (Twitter, Facebook, Untappd, Instagram, Christian Mingle, etc.) before heading into the identity design process.
Some tools we like to use are lateral thinking (approaching problems in a nonlinear, nontraditional way), word clouds, thesaurus and dictionary, and of course, Google. Great places to find unique, cool names are in slang and language surrounding the different elements of your differentiator.
At this point, it’s unlikely you’ll find an available, cliché, or otherwise, boring name. However, if you stumble upon one, don’t settle just because it’s not taken. Just because you can’t find the perfect name now doesn’t mean you should settle for something you’re not happy with or that isn’t true to your story. You’re going to be living with this for a while; so get it right now.
We always make sure our name options pass the cursory Google test before sharing them with a client. But the final go ahead should come from an attorney. It doesn’t have to be a trademark attorney (though they do specialize in this sort of thing). This can add a week or so to the process and some more cash. But it can also save thousands of dollars and heartache down the line.
If you want to sound like you know what you’re talking about, ask your lawyer for a “Knockout Search” on your name. If everything passes, you’re free to trademark.
Craft Brewing Business featured a fantastic series on trademarking names a while back. Read the entire thing to see why the legal side of this process is just as important as what we’ve covered here.
You need to make sure your name doesn’t carry any negative connotations. Our small motorcycle-centric brewpub was of course, made up. But if it were real, we would need to be careful how closely our name referenced driving (an overzealous person might suggest you’re promoting drinking and driving). And the motorcycle gang stuff can be precarious as well. Aside from being overdone, it could potentially paint you as the type of place where those groups gather, preventing casual drinkers from visiting.