Quite mind-boggling just how many different brews are available these days. Many having the most extraordinary names. Indeed, this intrigued me so much that this year saw me offering talks (with thanks to the many brewers who contributed) on this very subject, a taster of which follows.
But first an introduction to the basic terminology and the etymology. The question came from thinking about ale, so let's begin with that.
Ale - has hardly changed since Proto-Indo-European alu-t and seen in Proto-Germanic aluth and Old English eali. All these early forms mean 'ale' and thus the brew and the word have equally great longevity - indeed there is one school of thought which theorises how it was the brewing of beer which initially made mankind pause as hunter-gatherers and may well have been the initial stage of permanent settlements. This is the
Beer - a Germanic word, it is derived from the same root as Latin bibere 'to drink' and in turn from Proto-Indo-European poi 'to drink'.
Mild - not heard too often these days, the term once referred to the less sharp brew when compared to bitter (hence the name). The word comes from Proto-Indo-European meldh 'soft'.
Bitter - shares an origin with 'bite' - we still describe a flavour or taste as having 'bite' - and began as Proto-Indo-European bheid 'to split'.
Lager - began as the German Lagerbier meaning 'beer brewed for keeping' and with the first element of Lager referring to the 'storehouse' and coming from the Proto-Indo-European legh 'to lie down'.
Pilsner - instantly we think 'German' but we would only be half right. The original term was Pilsner Urquell where the second word means 'primary source' and that would have been the town known as Pilsen in Germany but as Plzen in Czech, where the Old Czech plz gave the place its name meaning 'damp, moist'.
Barrel - came to English from Old French baril 'barrel, cask, vat' and can also be seen in Italian barile and Spanish barril but the trail ends there and the origins unknown.
Tap - originally referred to the spigot or plug which would have been the simplest tap, the term is Germanic and has changed little in thousands of years.
Bottle - originally made of leather sealed with tar, it is derived from the Latin buttis meaning 'a cask' and is undoubtedly borrowed from the Greek.
Glass - even as far back as Proto-Germanic this was found as glass, the word comes from Proto-Indo-European ghel 'to shine'.
Wine - no surprise to find it comes from Latin vinum, in turn from Proto-Indo-European woin-o, both with the same meaning.
Spirit - not used to mean strong alcoholic drink until 1670, the word is derived from Proto-Indo-European speis 'to blow'.
Brandy - came to English from the Middle Dutch brandewijn 'burnt wine'.
Whisky - began as 'whiskey' and from Old Irish uisce 'water' and Proto-Indo-European ud-skio from the root wed 'wet'.
Rum - of uncertain origins but certainly known as rumbullion in 1651 and rombostion in 1652 - this may be from the adjective rum from the Romany rom 'male'.
Vodka - is the Russian for 'little water' and from Proto-Indo-European woda and the same root as 'whisky' of wed 'wet'.
Gin - a shortened form of Old French geneva itself referring to the juniper plant, which is the basis for the drink. The origin of 'juniper' is unknown, almost certainly a non-Indo-European language.
But we began with the subject of ales and some of the unusual names, so here are a few examples courtesy of the breweries themselves.
BR> Bowland Breweries: Buster IPA – named after the owner’s dog
Coniston Brewery: Asrai – is a mythical fairy that lives in the copper mines above Coniston. She is so beautiful that as soon as anyone sees her they want to capture her but as soon as she is touched she disappears and turns into a pool of water.
St Austell Brewery: Tribute – the flagship ale also has an interesting story. When head brewer Roger Ryman joined from MacLays in Scotland in 1998, he had an idea for a beer that he swore he would never brew until he was a head brewer – they were lucky enough to benefit from his decision. In 1999, Roger used the idea to create a special brew to celebrate the total solar eclipse that took place that August of 1999. He named the drink Daylight Robbery to mark the event. So popular was this brew that he rebrewed it the following year as a summer special. The, in 2001, to mark St Austell’s 150th anniversary he relaunched the beer to pay tribute to all those people who had contributed across the years to make the company so successful. He named it Tribute and the rest, is history.
Chiltern Brewery: Bodgers Barley Wine – celebrates the ancient trade based locally in High Wycombe for making wooden chair legs.
Two Fingers Brewing: The name of the brewery is an oath, one making great beer for a great cause as all profits go to Prostate Cancer UK. The name is also a good old British two-fingered salute to prostate cancer, and also a nod to the cancer exam which (thankfully) is performed with just one finger, not two.
Allendale Brewery: Tar Barl – based on the New Year celebrations in the village.
Bowman Ales: At the brewery they thought it would be nice to follow a bowman and/or archery theme and thought about using ‘Swift One’ not only an archery thing but also popping down to the local for a swift one. The brewery is in the Meon Valley and this is named after the River Meon, a British river name meaning ‘swift one’ – if only they’d known!
Marstons: Hobgoblin – originally brewed as a one-off for local’s wedding. Two firkins were brewed but only one drunk so they gifted the other to a student bar in Oxford. When he collected the empty someone had drawn a picture on the side and, when it was later put into full-time production, was named Hobgoblin from the chalk figure someone had drawn on the side.
Brixton Brewery: Windrush Stout – after MV Empire Windrush, the ship that brought the first wave of West Indian immigrants to this area of South London in 1948.
Ascot Ales: Posh Pooch – named after a local woman walking a dog, the creature seen wearing a diamond-studded collar.
Ringwood: Boondoggle – is a local term meaning ‘to go on a jolly’.
Jennings: Snecklifter – to lift the latch, and sneak out of the pub.
Theakstons: Old Peculier – named after the Ecclesiastical status of Masham, a distinction granted in medieval times.
Lizard Ales: An Gof – the Cornish expression for a smith and named after a blacksmith from St Keverne who led the Cornish revolt and march to London in 1647 and came to an unpleasant end.
And if you've not had enough, you can always have a look back at at earlier post and an A to Z of