There’s a beer review buried in this post, but it’s somewhat beside the point. The point is this: there’s a craft and an art to naming a beer. The craft involves putting together something distinct enough to stand out in a crowded and ever-filling market — but something that’s descriptive enough to let people know what they’re getting into. And the art involves taking a complicated, fermented organism and somehow expressing some or all of its facets with a combination of syllables that, more often than not, actually describe something completely unrelated to beer.
Stone Brewing‘s nationally known Arrogant Bastard Ale is a fine example. The “ale” is somewhat vague, but the “Arrogant Bastard” bit is fiery and funny and evocative. It leaps out from the shelf. Surly Bender is a beaut — even more vague than Stone’s choice, but “Bender” brings in all these notes of fun and danger and experimental play. The beer sounds like — and is, in fact — a blast to drink.
On the utilitarian side: the ubiquitous Summit EPA. It’s an extra pale ale made by Summit. Full stop. It’s a name that tells you everything you need to know, and then goes home for the day. The success of that particular brew should tell you about the downside of being blunt: none whatsoever, so long as the product backs up the name.
And it can be argued that Lift Bridge Farm Girl Saison belongs in the Minnesota beer-naming hall of fame — you know what to expect in terms of what you’re drinking, and then there’s that farm girl — approachable, fun-loving, not against hoisting a few sudsy brews now and again. It puts you in the mood to drink with friends.
So, now we come to Olvalde, the farmhouse brewery in Rollingstone, Minn. that has transcended mere beer naming and walked boldly into the realm of poetry. The rye- and spruce-inflected Ode to a Russian Shipwright is excellent, but too austere to be my favorite imperial porter. But that name — that name! It makes me want to time-travel back to college and hang out on the porch with my housemates and smoke things and stay up talking until dawn. It’s a beautiful name, conjuring up distance, and craftsmanship, and old-fashioned seriousness. I buy it at least once a year just to read the bottle and show it to people.
And then there is the beer that may well deserve a prize for being the most audaciously, gloriously, best-named brew on the planet: Rise of the Burghers and the fall of the feudal lords. Keep in mind, this is simply a name for a beer, a liquid we drink in order to experience flavors and / or get drunk. It conjures up not just a place, but a massive period of social and political upheaval that ultimately transformed the world, creating the haute and petite bourgeoisie, who turned into the industrialized nations’ ruling 1 percent, whose labor most of us now perform five to seven days a week. It is a jaw-droppingly, astoundingly, ridiculously awesome and silly name that makes you want to pick the bottle up and read and then reread its label, just to make sure you didn’t dream it.
The beer itself is funky and proudly tart, with a spicy, woodsy edge that builds depth. There’s nothing silly or even particularly fun about this beer. It’s a brassy, up-in-your-grill, take-me-seriously flavor bomb that rides and falls on a crest of its own complexity. So: does the saber-rattling, History 101, revolutionary name suit the liquid?
Oddly enough: It really does.