Highly trained brew masters work diligently to craft the specialty independent beers for suburban microbreweries, finding just the right elixir of hops, barley, wheat, spicy rye, smooth malt and other ingredients to win people over.
But it needs a good name to capture the imagination of a beer drinker.
"Oh, for sure. People drink with their eyes and their minds before it touches their lips," notes Brian Grano, owner of Mickey Finn's Brewery & Pub Food in Libertyville. "Its name, the glass, the presentation."
That explains why customers at Mickey Finn's on the day after Thanksgiving will be drawn to the just-released Santa's Magic, a strong Belgian ale served in a 16-ounce tulip-shaped snifter with an inch of white foam. But that might not explain why one of the most popular microbrews at Ram Restaurant & Brewery in Schaumburg is the Buttface Amber Ale. How does anyone decide to name a beer Buttface?
"They were having a good time," Steve Samuelson, director of brewery operations for Ram International, says of the brewery team that came up with the Buttface moniker 16 years ago. Looking at the Ram logo featuring bighorn sheep, someone suggested Butthead. That was deemed a bit too offensive, Samuelson says. Or maybe legal was worried that Beavis would sue. They settled on Buttface.
"People buy the first one for the name and they buy the second one because it's a really good amber beer," Samuelson says.
Ram, which has restaurants in Schaumburg, Wheeling and Rosemont, lets its regional brewers come up with names for beers.
"They have their jokes and their fun," says Samuelson, whose Ram breweries serve beers such as Total Disorder Porter and Big Red Ale, which is named after a longtime supplier.
"Big Red is a dear friend of our founder," Samuelson says, before adding, "We call him Old Gray now."
The Two Brothers Brewing Company, founded and operated in Warrenville by Jim and Jason Ebel, uses their last name for beers such as Ebel's Weiss and Cane & Ebel. But it also sports a French country ale called Domaine DuPage and a summer lager called Dog Days.
Emmett's Tavern & Brewing Co. in West Dundee brews ales called McCarthy Red and 1 A.M., which it also sells at Emmett's Ale House in Palatine and Downers Grove.
Stockholm's, on the corner of Third and State streets in Geneva, uses geography in naming its brown, malty Third Street Ale and its lighter, crisp State Street Pilsner.
When Chicago's Goose Island Beer Co. came out with its 312 Urban Wheat Ale, Mickey Finn's paid homage with its 847 Suburban Wheat Ale "and they have been kind enough not to sue us," Finn's Grano laughs. The Libertyville brewer also has avoided any lawsuits with his Belgian-style white ale that incorporates the Flemish word for white (Wit) and the name of the "hottest figure skater ever" to sell as Katarina Wit Beer. He also has named beers after a departed friend (Hackett Irish Stout) and the local park featuring youth sports (Butler Ballpark Ale).
The host for many charity events, Finn's even lets donors bid on naming rights. The winner gets a month of selling a beer named for him or in honor of a spouse, child or other loved one, Grano says.
Naming beers can be fun, Samuelson says, but there are limits.
"You don't want to offend anybody and push the envelope too much," Samuelson says, recalling how one brewer looking for a Santa Claus tie-in wanted to call a beer Sleigher. "That's kind of mean-spirited for the winter season," Samuelson says. So Ram opted for a name that fits in nicely in the suburbs: Mallwalker.