What's in a name said the Bishop to the Brewer
Tuesday, 30 June 2009 09:39

It’s ten o’clock in the morning and I’m sitting on a horse saddle but that is not even the interesting part of the story.   The saddle is actually the top of a bar stool and I’m contemplating a bristling 8.3% Double American Pale Ale which weighs in at a staggering 100 units of bitterness.  To put that in perspective, most New Zealand mainstream beers would be in the teens or early twenties on that scale.

This monstrous “hop bomb” has been poured by one of the self-proclaimed “old hippies” who run the Lagunitas Brewing Company in California, USA.  While my erstwhile companions (The Impish Brewer Luke Nicholas, The Owner of the Finest Head of Hair in New Zealand Beer Today David Cryer and The Nature Boy Steve Plowman) have elected to start with the more approachable Pilsner, I’ve headed straight to the hop.  I detect a hint of hippy approval at my hoppy order.

The beer is called Hop Stoopid and it throws a massive juicy hop nose.  My notes record that it is “full bodied, resinous, thick, gummy, big grapefruit notes, deep and such a very long bitter finish.”  My notes do not record this but, according to my erstwhile colleagues (the aforementioned TIBLN, TOOTFHOHINZBTDC and TNBSP) I was apparently grinning like an idiot too.  Hops do that to me.

Named after an old stagecoach town, Lagunitas is a unique brewery with an irreverent attitude.  Their bottle labels and website are famously funny and these guys really pour their larger-than-life personalities into the beer names.

One of their beers is now known as Censored Ale.  It had always been called Chronic but after many years of high sales the Government suddenly banned them from using that name.  When asked about why it was suddenly unacceptable, the Government agency admitted it had hired a couple of young surfer dudes and they were able to detect a whole lot of drug-related references in product names the older agents had missed.  Chronic is, apparently, slang for very strong cannabis.  Here is how Lagunitas responded on their website:

“Anyway, we were going out to, uh, the ,uh, you know, thing, and all, and when we got there, well, uh, the dude was, like- "whoa man!" I mean, and we were all, uh, you know - "whoa!" and stuff, and when I said to him, like, you know, "hey man", and all they, I mean he, was all "what?" and stuff- and I just told him what you said and all and they were all man- "not cool dude", but whatever- so, uh, we split and went back to my lair and just hung out and whatever, but the whole thing was, like, just SUCH a bummer and all but, you know, it was cool and stuff, but you just gotta, you know, about the dude and all, like, it's cool and all you know, but what's up with that "blah blah blah"? Whatzit got to do with beer and all?  I mean, really, dude, whatever...but, it's cool and all...”

Some of the best beer names have a lot of history and meaning behind them.  Some are just random suggestions from beer writers (see: Armageddon, Epic) while others are simply funny.  While writing a grocery newsletter the other week (true story) I came across some crackers from America:

Moose Drool Brown Ale (from Big Sky Brewery – “we make water fun”)
Nodding Head’s Monkey Knife Fight Lager (“everybody loves a monkey”)
McQuire's I'll Have What The Gentleman On The Floor Is Having Barley Wine (hardly surprising at 12% alcohol)
Wasatch Polygamy Porter (“Why stop at one?”)
Buffalo Bill's Alimony Ale (“the bitterest beer in America" – ouch.)

Of course, they can't all be good names.  My attention has been drawn to Shanghai's immortal Reeb Beer.  Yes, in an unparalleled piece of marketing laziness, the name of the brand is 'beer' spelled backwards.

Invercargill Brewery has just released a beer whose name manages to be informative, clever and actually tells the drinker quite a lot about the contents of the bottle.  The 2009 vintage of Smokin' Bishop (7%) has just arrived on the shelves for a very limited period of time.  Smokin' Bishop is a strong German style bock made using manuka smoked malt which creates a unique, distinctive brew.  It is billed as the first commercially available smoked beer in New Zealand.  In Germany, this style is called Rauchbier – literally meaning smoked beer, those wacky Germans – and is most associated with the region of Bamburg.

So, that explains the smokin' part but what about the bishop?  It is not, as many believe, brewer Steve Nally's first choice career, it is the surname of the brewer who helped develop the original recipe, Pru Bishop.  She is quoted as explaining "I really like bock beers.  I like the fact they are full of flavour and have a high alcohol content and, for lack of a better word, because I'm a pisshead."  Pru also notes that “the beer geeks in Wellington loved it.” and “it’s yummy.”

It is a dark, lustrous brew with an intriguing nose of sweetness and smoke.  I always think of grilled mushrooms but few seem convinced.  The flavours are firm and deep with elements of malt sweetness, caramel and whiffs of smoke before a dry finish.  It is, as the brewer notes, not for the faint hearted and will only be available for a limited time.

Finally, a reminder that the second annual West Coast IPA Challenge will be at Malthouse on 17 July.

Cheers

 
Beer Writer
Real Beer New Zealand
Beer and Brewer Magazine

Links

Lagunitas Brewery - http://www.lagunitas.com
Invercargill Brewery - http://www.invercargillbrewery.co.nz
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.au