Burger Bach is rocking.
People are yakking. Beer is flowing. The buzz is building. A star is about to be born. Cue the music.
Psycho killer. Qu’est que c’est.
Fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa far better.
Run run run run run run run away.
Except nobody’s running as Mark Thompson enters the Carytown restaurant to celebrate the Richmond launch of his brewery’s seasonal, Starr Hill Psycho Kilter.
The play on the Talking Heads song “Psycho Killer” is not lost on the beer lovers at Burger Bach, and it’s just one example of the fun and funk — as well as the marketing savvy — of beer names.
Thompson, master brewer and founder of Starr Hill in Charlottesville, said individual beer names are intended to reflect the overall brand’s identity with themes about lifestyle and music. Think Dave Matthews, Phish, the Grateful Dead and, yes, Talking Heads.
While some beer names are bounced around in brainstorming, Psycho Kilter was a no-brainer once it popped out.
“We knew we were going to do a Wee Heavy,” Thompson said. Categorized as a Strong Scotch Ale, the style evokes images of bagpipes and kilts. Starr Hill’s business manager, Josh Cromwell, gave it a twist — Psycho Kilter.
“Josh threw out that name, and I immediately had a vision of what the label would look like,” Thompson said. And so a Starr was born.
A similar “Eureka!” occurred recently at Legend Brewing Co. in Richmond. Through 19 years of business, Legend has been fairly straightforward with its names — Legend Brown Ale, Legend Pilsner, Legend Porter.
“We like to be sure that people know what they are getting,” said Dave Gott, vice president of operations. Names sell the brewery and build brand allegiance.
One day, though, assistant brewer Brian Knight and others started tossing around ideas. They came up with a theme, the Urban Legend Series, and four names: Guardian Dog Doppelbock, Richmond Vampire Imperial Red Ale, Lost City Saison and Locomotive 231.
“They had all the names ready to go. We said, ‘Sounds good to us,’” Gott said.
History and local lore predominate. The Guardian Dog Doppelbock, the initial release that’s out now, pays tribute to the iron statue of a black dog that watches over a child’s grave in Hollywood Cemetery. There are several versions of the tale, and Legend notes the mystique.
“The dog has a personality of his own and has been reportedly discovered looking in various directions. He is said to come alive if he feels the need to protect his young mistress,” Legend’s description says.
The Iron Dog is one of the most popular monuments in the cemetery, and it appears the Legend series is a hit as well.
“People are really reacting to the names,” Gott said.
Other beer names I love: This One Goes to 11 Ale (“Spinal Tap” fans will get it) from Bell’s; Yellow Snow IPA from Rogue; ChChChCh-Cherry Bomb from Thai Me Up; Old Trainwreck Barleywine from Silver Moon; Udder Madness Stout from Bastone.
And the names for IPAs are hop-tastic: Hoptimum, Hopslam, Hoppocalypse, Pocahoptas, Hop’solutely, Big Hop, Hop Dam, HopDevil, MMMhop, HopMouth, Hop Venom, Thunderhop and — d’oh — Hop Stoopid.
Thompson said that clever names might spur customers to try a beer but that they are not a huge commercial incentive. Still, considerable thought goes into the linguistics, the number of syllables, the sound and rhythm of the words.
“We think a lot about how the beer name is pronounced,” he said.
And then, there’s the name that reveals itself, like a spirit from another world. Such was the case with Arrogant Bastard Ale, says Greg Koch, co-founder and chief executive of Stone Brewing Co. in California. The notoriously intense ale’s bottle carries an image of a winged demon holding a stein with the slogan “You’re Not Worthy.”
“Arrogant Bastard Ale always carried its name; it was waiting for someone to discover it, and my partner and I were just the first to have stumbled upon it,” Koch writes in an email. “The beer spoke to me; it told me what the name was.”
One name in particular spoke to me as I was browsing brewskies at Once Upon a Vine in Stratford Hills last week. Clever names — Pandora’s Bock, Old Engine Oil Black Ale, Palate Wrecker Imperial IPA — brought smiles, but only one made me chortle aloud. It was an American “pecan pie” porter from Clown Shoes brewery in Massachusetts.
The name? Are you ready?
Skull Crusher is one of my fav names although I’ve hever had the beer. It’s a Scotch Ale I believe.
Being a VCU Rams fan, I just gotta love Boom Shakalager (by Terrapin)!
So Lee, how is the Pyscho Kilter? Nothing worse than a clever beer name, promising much and not delivering
Mmmmm good. It’s a wee heavy, right up your alley. I agree–clever is as clever does.