A while back, I read Anthony Kiedis’ autobiography. The famed Red Hot Chili Peppers front man described the ups and downs he experienced throughout life. As you might guess, many of the stories shared in the book also came to be the basis for most of the songs the band created.
For instance, that song "Under the Bridge" refers to Kiedis' efforts to enter gang territory under a bridge to purchase drugs.
Knowing the story behind the music made listening to it more enjoyable, and we thought perhaps the same could be said for the stories behind some of our favorite beers. Here are a few.
1. Undercover Investigation Shutdown Ale, Lagunitas Brewing Company
Believe it or not, more than a decade ago the police almost put the kibosh on Lagunitas, before most of us outside California ever heard of it.
Back in 2005 the brewery used to hold parties every Thursday afternoon…at 4:20. The parties were open to employees, fans, and anyone else interested in knocking back a few.
According to a Mashable article, “The parties were simple and informal. Enjoy some deeply discounted beers in the loft above the bottling line. A live bluegrass band might play in the background. Go outside and play some cards. Smoke some pot — no one would bat an eye.”
As the story goes, one St. Patrick’s Day, the company’s Chief Marketing Officer, Ron Lindenbusch, lit up a baton-sized joint that required a sushi rolling tool to make. He took a puff, and was almost immediately handcuffed by an undercover Alcohol Control Board (ABC) officer.
As explained by the article, “The party was over. The bust would go down in Lagunitas lore as the St. Patrick's Day Massacre. The undercover investigation it capped would suspend the brewery's license to sell alcohol and threaten to cripple the young company.”
In the end, there was no evidence of drug dealing or anything more serious: “The final agreement he signed on Oct. 13 included a manageable punishment: a 20-day suspension of Lagunitas' selling license and a one-year, zero-tolerance probationary period.”
Lagunitas has since exploded in growth, now with its beer sold everywhere from craft beer shops to Walgreens. To commemorate what happened that day, in 2006 Lagunitas launched Undercover Investigation Shutdown Ale, a brew with 9.75% alcohol.
2. Heady Topper, The Alchemist
You probably know Heady Topper as one of the most difficult-to-find beers in America. When the Vermont brew is stocked, it routinely sells out in minutes.
The origins of the name are very unclear. One source that quotes owner and head brewer, John Kimmich, states the name materialized “in a moment of inspiration…kind of like watching the sunset.”
Source: Beer Advocate
Another article from Thrillist quotes Kimmich discussing the name in a different way:
"I would love to give an honest answer to that question. However, we hold a federal brewing license, and they might frown upon the origin of the name. Especially since we do not reside in Colorado or Washington."
Perhaps Kimmich and Lagunitas’ Lindenbusch would get along well? Just saying.
3. Loser, Elysian Brewing Company
You've probably heard of Elysian Brewing Company's Loser Pale Ale, and you probably even know what it means. Because right on the label it says "Corporate Beer Still Sucks."
What's interesting is the company, which built a name for itself as being anti-big-beer in its over 20-year history, was sold to AB-InBev, yet it still produces Loser Pale Ale.
Elysian co-founder and head brewer Dick Cantwell commented on this in an article from Ad Age: "We will continue making Loser, with all its irreverence and irony. Jokes can have many layers, after all."
In April 2016 Cantwell resigned as head brewer, and AB- InBev is still stocking Loser Pale Ale in stores.
4. Yeti and Titan, Great Divide Brewing Company
There was a time when you could have been sipping a delicious, pitch-black, chocolaty, malty Yeti by Great Divide, only the label would have read “Maverick.” The same can be said for Great Divide’s Titan IPA.
Marketer Shannon Berner from Great Divide explained the change in name:
"Originally, Titan IPA (our biggest seller) and Yeti Imperial Stout were called Maverick. Our founder, Brian Dunn, had done trademark searches on that name and it came up clear, but then it turned out that another brewery in California was using Mavericks, plural, and asked us to stop using the names.”
She continued, “A lot of names were thrown around at the time, but Yeti just had this level of elusive character (as the beer can sometimes be hard to find) and this sort of bold, imposing nature to it. In 2004, Yeti was born, and the blue label was its first label, before the brown artwork that people recognize today. It changed to the brown label in 2008. The Maverick IPA also had to be renamed, and that is how Titan was born. I wish there was a Yeti sighting involved to amp up the wow factor on that story, but alas."
If you’ve been reading our blog, then you know we’re no strangers to the nuances of trademark legalities…more on that here.
5. Mama’s Little Yella Pils, Oskar Blues
There’s no mention of the Rolling Stones on Oskar Blues’ website, but that doesn’t mean we can’t speculate over the name of its Czech-style pilsner.
As pointed out by Beer 47, The lyrics of the Rolling Stone’s “Mother’s Little Helper” read:
What a drag it is getting old
Kids are different today,
I hear evry mother say
Mother needs something today to calm her down
And though shes not really ill
Theres a little yellow pill
She goes running for the shelter of a mothers little helper
And it helps her on her way, gets her through her busy day
On a similar note, 3 Floyds Brewing Company is known for music-inspired beer names, such as Rye'd Da Lightning (Metallica), Toxic Revolution (Municipal Waste), and Permanent Funeral (Pig Destroyer).
Here are a few others:
- Lagunitas’ Wilco Tango Foxtrot
- CBC’s Sgt. Pepper
- Twisted Pine Brewing’s Ghost Face Killah
- Terrapin Beer Company’s The Dark Side
6. Collaboration Not Litigation Ale, Avery Brewing Company
Story has it that in the early 2000s, both Avery Brewing Company (Colorado) and Russian River Brewing Company (California) had Belgian-style beers named “Salvation” in their portfolios.
Of course, they could have battled this out in court. But as Food & Wine magazine put it, “Rather than bickering over the naming rights, they teamed up and blended the two to create Collaboration not Litigation.”
The Belgian-style strong ale boasts an 88 on Beer Advocate.
Interestingly, since the early 2000s, we’ve seen a sharp rise in the number of craft beer collaborations. Perhaps Avery and Russian River helped start the trend.