Why Do Names For This New Beer Style Kinda Suck?

Forget the question of whether styles are real and essential. Forget the question of whether beer styles have been accurately described and traced historically. The real issue is that the names of beer styles are a mess and cause consumer confusion. Andy raises the question of the name of one black hoppy brew and seeks resolution for this very good reason:

Well, I believe that styles are important, if for no other reason than consumers can have some reasonable understanding of what they might be getting when they select a certain beer. It is in the hopes of creating some logical détente that I humbly offer the following suggestions for resolving this seemingly intractable debate.

He then goes on to ask us to choose from a number of choices that have been bouncing around beer nerd circles like Black IPA, India Black Ale, and Cascadian Dark Ale. There is only one problem. They all suck as names. Let’s be clear. They aren’t related to India and they aren’t pale, as Andy notes, but also no one outside of the Pacific NW actually knows what “Cascadian” really means. Plus, while the picture of me from 1992 shows I have a great long love of the Vermont Pub and Brewery and the work of the late Greg Noonan, the idea of calling it “Noonan Black Ale” suffers from the same problem, needing to know some sort of back story. Also, there is a minor sort of beer – perhaps not a style at all – that you see from time to time called Dark Ale. What’s it taste like? Dark? That’s like something tasting ice cold.

We can do better. We can make sense. If the point of the name of the style is to inform let’s get to the point. The beer is black and it is bitter. Keep it simple. So call it Black Bitter. I might even try the stuff if it was called a name as swell as that.¹

¹Plus it already comes with its own 70s rock tune for the ad campaign. Just have to change the words a bit: “Whoa-oh Black Bitter! Bam-a-lam!!!” And, yes, I want credit.

One thought on “Why Do Names For This New Beer Style Kinda Suck?”

  1. [Original comments…]

    Andy Crouch – September 2, 2010 12:47 AM
    I think Black Bitter also has problems due to its connection with the British style, but it’s a step in the right direction. Since posting earlier, I’m leaning towards Black Hop Ale. I think it’s going to be like picking from a list of losers with this one.

    Jon – September 2, 2010 2:56 AM
    @Andy: Picking from a list of losers is exactly right. Black Really Hoppy Ale would be better, but it just doesn’t have a nice ring to it. None of them do. I favor Cascadian Dark Ale, but I am from the PNW, so, there you go. But then again, it might not be that bad. Very few people know the “story” behind IPA’s, so tons of brewers print a story on the label. If they can do it for IPAs, they could do it for CDAs.

    Alan – September 2, 2010 8:39 AM
    “Whoa-oh, Cascadian Dark Ale! Bam-a-Lam!!” Nope. That dog won’t hunt.

    Andy, “pale ale” is as British as “bitter” is and as IPA is. And CDA’s sounds like a disorder of the lower bowel. Gotta find two words max. Why not “Black Ale”? Well, I suppose to some then it won’t be “mine not theirs” – which is the real issue. People are trying to manufacture a regional style where there clearly isn’t one.

    Reluctant Scooper – September 2, 2010 9:10 AM
    The oxymoronic ‘Black IPA’ and the may-as-well-be-a-Playstation-game ‘Cascadian Dark’ really get on my moobs. But I’m warming to ‘India Black Ale’; IBA is a neat play on IPA plus the beer is the colour of Indian ink.

    Or perhaps we should just call them hoppy porters 😉

    Jim – September 2, 2010 9:55 AM
    Just a small quibble, this line is an innacurate description of what Andy did in his post:

    “He then goes on to ask us to choose from a number of choices that have been bouncing around beer nerd circles like Black IPA, India Black Ale, and Cascadian Dark Ale.”

    First Andy dismissed those terms for exactly the reasons you mentioned, and after the bit you quoted, goes on to propose 3 new names of which Noonan Black Ale is one and, I think, meant as a joke, so he could sneak NBA in as the acronym.

    Nevertheless, all names are going to be suffer something because names aren’t the beer and using one name to “describe” all the beers in a class is misleading as it betrays differences in expression. Are these beers merely porters as Andy asks or are they different? If they are different then I think the name should differentiate how since that is the bit that most people will need explained to them when they see it.

    Alan – September 2, 2010 10:08 AM
    Inaccurate? Inaccurate!?!? I take your point but I counter with a pointier point – and really what I was relying upon – is that he asks us to choose amongst those names (and others) in his wee polling app at the bottom of the post.

    The porter point is fair but it is bad porter if it is that hoppy. More like that thing called a Texas Brown. Maybe they are Oregon Blackened Texas Browns!

    In any event, I take your comment as a huge vote of support for Black Bitter.

    Bam. A. Lam.

    Stephen Beaumont – September 2, 2010 10:56 AM
    Andy’s point is valid, Alan, in that I don’t think Black Bitter does anything to clarify the situation. When I hear that name, I think of a black version of something like Timothy Taylor Landlord, which is certainly not an apt description of the beers of that style I have come across.

    Don’t ask me what the answer is. I’m just saying what it is not.

    dave – September 2, 2010 12:02 PM
    I’m along with A. Crouch in the first thing I thought of for Black Bitter was an English styled beer, which the beer style is not. Then again that is looking at it from the beer nerd view. For a regular person just picking up a six pack, Black Bitter would certainly be quite descriptive, and more descriptive then Black IPA, India Black Ale, and Cascadian Dark Ale. Though I find myself leaning more towards Dark or Black Hoppy Ale.

    Alan – September 2, 2010 1:10 PM
    Dave’s point is the best. Black Bitter works from the consumer’s point of view. With respect, 1% of beer buyers would think of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord or worry about the style guidelines. And “Hoppy” – again with respect – as an adjective is a little lame in that so many other styles could have it attached to it. Could it be that the difficulty naming the thing is because the thing does not exist?

    But I am only recommending Black Bitter as the best of a bad bunch – if only because I am not certain this is even a style or that styles are at all fundamental to our understanding and appreciation of beer. Just have a Deuchar’s so called IPA (let alone a Keith’s) if we want to question what is on the label and in the glass.

    If I, however, were a brewer planing to launch this brew I would certainly be leveraging the bamalamalosity of Black Bittter as a brand.

    Jim – September 2, 2010 1:51 PM
    Yours is definitely a pointer point. And I DO prefer Black Bitter. Bam!

    Alan – September 2, 2010 2:00 PM
    You are getting the Bam-a-lam FEVER!

    I do think this question is important enough that it should be determined based on the name that is cooler.

    dave – September 3, 2010 7:18 PM
    I definitely realize “hoppy” is not the most descriptive, but from a general consumer point of view does something “bitter” really sound all that appetizing? Don’t get me wrong, I love the bitter style, but the name makes it seem as though it is just… bitter. Now yes, as “beer people” we know of the nuances that come with the bitter style, but, again from the general consumer standpoint, bitter just does not sound that great (which is probably why Keystone ran the whole anti- “bitter beer face” campaign). “Hoppy” at least encompasses a lot more (different smells and tastes) then just bitter. Definitely a noggin scratcher overall though.

    Ilya Feynberg – September 3, 2010 8:48 PM
    Black Bitter would actually be most fitting I think. At least that’s how I personally feel about it. Compared to other names, it works best.

    For example just a couple nights ago I was sitting here enjoying a bottle of Hop In The Dark by Deschutes Brewery (great beer by the way) and was reading the “style” on the bottle…or their take on the style. What the hell is a Cascadian Dark Ale?

    I completely with Allan…we can do better…far better than having 20 different renditions on the name of this style.


    Alan – September 3, 2010 10:39 PM
    Bam. A. Lam !


    Gary Gillman – September 4, 2010 12:13 PM
    Well, Alan, Black Bitter isn’t bad. True, “bitter” is associated with England, but so is pale ale and India Pale Ale – they are all synonyms, essentially.

    But I think a keynote of Black IPA is its hops are American, i.e., APA-type. The Cascadian name, obscure to some as it is, underlines that fact. Therefore, a term like Cascadian Black Ale makes sense to me. At one time, California Common seemed arcane as a term to denote the style of beer of which Anchor Steam is the exemplar. But today it is well-understood in beer circles and often shortened just to Common. Probably in time Cascadian Black would be shortened to Cascade Black. So I’d call it that, Cascade Black Ale (or Beer), and for short, Cascade Black. The term dark doesn’t quite get the style to where it should be in my view.

    At the same time, many U.S. stouts already have strong C-hopping, so what distinguishes Cascade Black or Black IPA from those beers? Nothing, essentially. And so the new term is useful to embrace those beers as well, which might be viewed as a progenitor to the Black IPA style. For American-made stouts which use an non-aromatic, neutral bittering hop, i.e., in the old London Porter and Irish traditions, that term should not be used for them. I’d call them Traditional Stout.


    Alan – September 4, 2010 1:52 PM
    Cascade Black! I like that a lot even if it only speaks to nerds and locals. Three syllables with the classic “Sherlock Holmes” 2-1 pattern that sticks in the mind.

    Jeff Alworth – September 7, 2010 1:23 PM
    Although it’s oxymoronic, Black IPA is by far the short route to clarity. You know what black is, you know what IPA is–voila, Black IPA. But I could swing with Cascade Black.

    Or, how about we forget the whole thing? I sort of hate the style, anyway.

    Lee Johnson – September 14, 2010 1:44 AM
    I’ll admit I might be prejudiced by living in Oregon, but please identify another area of the U.S. that has this many brewers creating variations on the Cascade Black style and then we’ll talk about it not being a regional style.

    Gatlin Smijers – November 25, 2010 8:21 PM
    Cascadian Dark Ale…..just makes sense.

    Alan – November 25, 2010 10:49 PM
    Transylvanian Grey Lager… just makes sense.

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