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In Class at CIA: What’s In A Name?

Class is in session at Brooklyn Brewery at the CIA, our brewhouse and teaching facility at the Culinary Institute of America. Each month, we’ll take you inside the classroom to learn alongside the students participating in the most robust beer education of any culinary institute. You don’t have to do the homework, but you might want to do some extra reading.


Sixtel kegs stacked next to the CIA Brew Kettle. Image: Al Nowak, On Location Studios

The fall semester is winding down at the Culinary Institute of America. The students in our Art and Science of Brewing course are hard at work getting in their final hours in the brewhouse and putting the finishing touches on their final projects. The class is about more than just the fun of brewing and tasting beers, of course.

The business of beer is just as important for the students to understand as the ingredients and brewing process. Marketing, legal considerations, how to maintain a balanced beer menu in a restaurant and more have been explored by Head Brewer Hutch Kugeman and Professor Doug Miller in the past few weeks. One of the deepest topics to explore is also one of the simplest questions in beer: “What’s this called?”


A pitcher of Cleaver IPA. Image: Al Nowak, On Location Studios

Naming a beer is considerably trickier than one might think. Consider this: there are currently about 4,150 breweries in the United States. These range in size from massive Budweiser production facilities, to large craft brewers like Sierra Nevada, Bells and ourselves, to the myriad tiny operations like Sand City Brewing Co. in Northport, Long Island. Conservatively, we can estimate that each brewery should have an average of about seven unique beers, each with a distinct name. This means that there are roughly 29,000 beer names in the United States from domestic breweries alone. If you took one beer bottle of each and laid them end to end, they would stretch over four delicious-yet-frustrating miles.

These 29,000 beer names are loaded with legal considerations. First, you cannot replicate a name used by another brewery. Cool heads will often prevail in this case and one brewer will change their name (or inspire a collaboration), but craft beer has also seen numerous naming lawsuits in the past few years. These lawsuits are often seen as one brewery bullying another. However, in the increasingly crowded craft market, a confusing brand can be enough to damage sales for a fledgling brewery.


Mise en Place Witte. Image: Al Nowak, On Location Studios

Finding an unused name can become a process that haunts your dreams. Personally, your trusty author maintains a document containing the troves of names suggested by our brewers, staff, bartenders, friends, family, and the gentleman in the halal cart across the street. Roughly once a month I plug into a playlist (usually metal or the Muppets) and sift through the list, striking names that we’ve discovered in use. When the time comes to name a new beer, we have a storehouse of theoretically viable names to pull from. Even then, we almost never hit on a usable name on the first try. Our brilliant ideas turn out to have been someone else’s brainwave, and we’re back to the list.

Once you’re confident that your name is truly unique– which often involves searching copyright records and several intense rounds of revisions– you have to file with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) for registration. Once you have submitted your name and label, the TTB carefully screens for offensive language or slang, misleading health claims, confusing labels and more. Only after you receive your Certificate of Label Approval (COLA) can you take your beer to market.


The Gang: Mise en Place Witte, Cleaver IPA, and Cast Iron Stout. Image: Al Nowak, On Location Studios

Fortunately for small breweries, brewpubs, and the CIA brewhouse, many of these steps are not legally required if the beer will only be sold in-house. As the CIA beers brewed by the students and Hutch will not be available outside of the student center and on-campus restaurants, they don’t have to be registered. This opens the door to plenty of experimental brews, rotating styles, and offbeat names. Right now, you can find Cleaver IPA, Mise en Place Witte, and Cast Iron Stout on draft and in growlers across CIA’s campus.

When we check back in with the class in January, we’ll have a fresh group of students ready to learn more about beer from the ground up. Congratulations to the inaugural Art and Science of Brewing course, and best of luck to them as they continue their journey in food and beer.

Any questions? See us after class on Facebook or Twitter and we’ll answer any questions we can to further your beer knowledge.

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