Sprig & Fern- What's in a Name?
Wednesday, 17 February 2010 15:08

Like most modern pubs, Malthouse has a fancy sign hanging outside to let passers-by know that fine beers are available for purchase within.   This tradition started hundreds of years ago when women would set up a sign or symbol outside their home to show they had beer for sale. 

For centuries, brewing beer for the family was an important domestic duty as it was far safer to drink than water.  Because the beers at that time did not keep for long, any excess was sold to supplement the household budget.

The first such signs may have been as simple as a garland of flowers or a knot of vines.  People quickly figured out what they meant.  As the sale of beer from homes and later ale house became more common, the signs would become more elaborate and permanent.  The first recognisable pub signs would have been simple pictures painted onto wood.  As literacy became more common, words describing the picture were often added to the design.

In Britain, the favoured themes included religious symbols (The Mitre), royalty (The Crown), nobility (Lord Nelson), animals (The Duck), local landmarks (The Windmill), historical events (Olde Trip to Jerusalem), sporting goods (Bat and Ball), tools (The Plough), hunting (Hare and Hounds), ships (Golden Hind), location (Bedford Inn), myths (The Green Man) and legends (The Honest Lawyer).  New Zealand pub names followed a broadly similar trend though often with a dash of local antipodean flavour.

A CAMRA survey in 2007 listed the ten most common English pub names as:

1. Crown
2. Red Lion 
3. Royal Oak 
4. Swan 
5. White Hart 
6. Railway
7. Plough 
8. White Horse 
9. Bell 
10. New Inn

Having a great name is not essential to be a great pub but can certainly help.  It is hard to imagine how a beer lover could not enjoy pubs called The Ferret and Trouser, The World’s End, The Jolly Taxpayer or the Malthouse. 

Conversely, other names can only put a dampener on any occasion, particularly if they get overly obsessed with puns and wordplay.  In this category of poor pub names I would clearly place Nobody’s Inn, Sir Loin of Beef (which gets less funny the more you think about it) and The Loaded Hog.

Clearly, it is very common for a pub name to be called “The [something] and [something else].”  Those two words might be related (The Bull and Bear), random (The Parrot and Jigger) or complete opposites (The Jolly Taxpayer).

Today’s featured brewery has used this age old technique.  The Sprig and Fern in Nelson is owned by brewing identities Craig Harrington, David Barrett and Tracy Banner.  Their rapidly expanding brewery supplies fresh beer to the three local Sprig and Fern taverns as well as providing an occasional keg which might travel a bit further afield.  Their brewing philosophy is simple – “100% natural, no additives, no unwanted extras or fancy names.”   
On tap at Malthouse right now is the Sprig and Fern Pale Ale.  It certainly does not have a fancy name.  Described by the brewers as a copper coloured ale with plenty of malt sweetness and a pleasant aroma, this is a nicely balanced beer.  It is by no means a hop-bomb.  Rather, it is more subtle and some would argue more balanced. 

If I may use a simile (and I think I may), the Sprig and Fern Pale Ale is less like a brash American upstart (such as Jesse Ventura or Epic Pale Ale) and more like a refined English gentleman (such as Roger Moore or Timothy Taylor Landlord). 

Also available and proving extremely popular is the Sprig and Fern 3 Berry Cider.  The official description says it is “a mouth-watering blend of boysenberry, strawberry and blackcurrants with cider.”  I guess this means it is a functional – rather than fancy – name.  A quick glance round the bar on a hot day will demonstrate that this new drink – which bears a startling visual resemblance to Ribena – has a lot of fans.  Astute readers will also recall that this blog has long predicted that cider would be one of 2010’s big drinks trends.


Beer Writer
Real Beer New Zealand

Beer and Brewer Magazine


Pub Names - http://www.fatbadgers.co.uk/Britain/weird.htm
Sprig and Fern - http://sprigandfern.co.nz/home.aspx
Malthouse Facebook Group - http://www.facebook.com/pages/Wellington/Malthouse/7084276173
Real Beer – http://www.realbeer.co.nz/blog/blog.html
Beer and Brewer Magazine - http://www.beerandbrewer.com/