Dining With Denise Neil

How Wichita brewers come up with names for their craft beer

Downtown brewery celebrates first anniversary

Nortons Brewing Company's first year in business is documented in this video created by Digital Brand.
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Nortons Brewing Company's first year in business is documented in this video created by Digital Brand.

Nobody puts Baby in the corner.

Movie fans recognize those six words as a memorably corny line from the 1987 movie “Dirty Dancing.”

But in Wichita, that’s also the name of a blackberry/ginger Saison beer released earlier this month by Nortons Brewing Company.

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Nobody puts Baby, or this beer from Nortons Brewing Company, in the corner. Courtesy photo

In a town where nearly a dozen breweries are cooking up and serving new beers every year, appropriately naming the new concoctions can be a challenge, local brewers say.

Not only do they have to come up with something memorable and descriptive, but they also must find a name that no one in the country has used. And that’s not an easy task considering that there are more than 7,000 craft breweries in the United States, all looking for unique names, too.

“The name game is constant, 365-days-a-year, seven-days-a-week,” said Central Standard Brewing co-owner Ian Crane, who keeps a long list of possible beer names stored in his phone. “You always need to be thinking.”

When it’s time to name a new beer, Wichita brewers say, they draw inspiration from all sorts of places. Some choose simple, descriptive names. Others reference meaningful song lyrics or movie lines. Some name beers in honor of their wives, kids or pets. Some go with a humorous play on words or a pun.

But just like musicians naming a band or parents naming a kid, they agonize over their choices. A beer name is something a brewer has to live with for a long time.

Some of Wichita’s most memorably — and hilariously — named beers come from the new Nortons Brewing Company, whose owners, Dan and Becky Norton, are heavily influenced by their love of music and movies.

“Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner” is a good example, as is a beer called “Aloha Mr. Hand,” flavored with toasted coconut and pineapple and named for a line from the 1982 movie “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”

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“Aloha Mr. Hand.” This beer at Nortons Brewing Company pays homage to a famous line in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” Courtesy photo

A tart gose called “Sex, Money, Murder” was named after lyrics to a hip-hop song Dan loves. And last year’s beer “Becky With the Good Hair” was a gose named after a line in Beyonce’s song “Sorry” and chosen as a tribute to Dan’s wife, Becky.

“Probably our biggest inspiration is music,” Dan Norton said. “We’ll be brewing and playing some jams, and a certain song will come on and it kind of fits the mood of the beer we’re making.”

Crane said that naming a beer is sometimes fun and easy, sometimes stressful and difficult.

Occasionally, Central Standard’s brewers comes up with a name they love and brew a beer to match it. Most of the time, they brew the beer then search for a name that feels right.

The list Crane keeps in his phone, which he’s always updating, includes more than 150 name possibilities.

“Coming up with a label or name can sometimes be the hardest part,” Crane said. “You wouldn’t think that with the laborious process of brewing and waiting, but sometimes the name can be the trickiest thing.”

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Wichita’s Central Standard Brewing has found inspiration to name its beers from songs, friends, even movie lines. Courtesy photo

Central Standard is known for creative names like Dank Lloyd Bright — a play on Frank Lloyd Wright’s name that incorporates the word “dank,” which is used to describe a hoppy beer. One of their flagship beers, Wizard of Hops, was named before it was even brewed — a suggestion by some out-of-town friends who insisted a Kansas brewery needed a beer named for “The Wizard of Oz.”

At Wichita Brewing Company, co-founder Jeremy Horn said naming beers is a collaborative effort. Sometimes, it’s hard work. Sometimes, it’s all fun — like when the crew decided to call its new peach-infused IPA Resting Peach Face.

“Sometimes it just involves us drinking beer and amusing ourselves,” he said.

Naming beers gets harder every year, though, Horn said. After the crew comes up with a name for a beer, it searches online beer sites to make sure no one else in the country has used the name. It’s considered bad beer manners to use an already claimed name, no matter how far away the brewery is. Horn said he’s always surprised by what’s already taken.

One year, WBC brewed a beer using Hatch green chilies and decided to call it “Down the Hatch.” They quickly learned that at least a dozen breweries across the country had already had the same idea.

“It’s actually pretty challenging,” Horn said. “With 7,000 craft breweries in the country now, we’re all kind of running out of nouns.”

Name that beer

Here are the stories behind how some of Wichita’s craft beers got their names.

5:02 Amber, Wichita Brewing Company: When the west-side WBC was under construction, a nurse from a nearby clinic stopped by and asked when the business would open. “She said, ‘I can’t wait until you guys open. I get off work at 5, so this is going to be my 5:02,’” said co-owner Jeremy Horn. Sadly, they never saw her again.

Valley View Vanilla Porter, Wichita Brewing Company: Before Jeremy Horn and Greg Gifford opened their business, they were home brewers. Their original brewing system was set up in Gifford’s basement at his house on Valley View.

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Tha name F’n Ned is a tribute to Wichita Brewing Company’s brewmaster, Ned Vahsoltz. Courtesy photo

F’n Ned, Wichita Brewing Company: This sour IPA is named after WBC’s brewmaster, Ned Vahsholtz, and the can features a cartoon version of Ned holding a chainsaw when he used to work for the Forestry Department. The story behind the name of the beer is not totally family friendly, said Jeremy Horn, but to sum it up, WBC taste testers were sampling new beers one day, and this beer might have been considered a little too good by one of the testers, who later playfully cursed Ned’s name.

Shaven Yak, WBC: This award-winning English Brown Ale was named by WBC’s brewmaster, Ned Vahsholtz. It’s a tribute to his favorite cartoon, Ren & Stempy, whose titular characters celebrated the fictional holiday “Yak Shaving Day.”

Keef Richards, Central Standard Brewing: The coconut porter’s name was inspired by Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, who has told the story in the media about once being in the Virgin Islands, climbing a coconut tree, falling down and nearly dying. Richards, a hero of the brewers, is often referred to as “Keef.”

Red Cicada, Central Standard Brewing: When the guys at CSB first released their sour gose Red Cicada, it was 2017, and it was one of the years that the red cicadas — known for surfacing every 13 to 17 years — were expected to appear. “It was a neat event in the bug world,” said co-founder Ian Crane, and the group decided it would be a nice name for a summery beer.

Don’t Poke the Bear, Nortons Brewing Company: All three of Dan and Becky Norton’s kids got to name their own beer, and their oldest daughter — whose siblings tend to make her cranky —chose this name for her beer, an Imperial Milk Stout.

Milo’s Sparkly Eyes, Nortons Brewing Company: Owners Dan and Becky Norton let their son, Ace, choose the name for this West Coast style IPA, and he settled on a tribute to his pet chihuahua, Milo, who is who is also his best buddy. Ace has always admired Milo’s sparkly eyes.

Red Truck IPA, Third Place Brewing: This IPA was named after the 1973 red International Harvester truck that owner Tom Kryzer drove while in high school. His parents later used the truck until one of Tom’s daughters decided she wanted to drive it in high school. The family eventually sold the truck and used the proceeds to help start the brewery.

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Stacy Lattin, co-founder of Hopping Gnome Brewing, asked for a sour beer and got a sour beer. She and her husband named it HBIC, which stands for “Head B---- In Charge.” Courtesy photo

HBIC Sour, Hopping Gnome Brewing Company: This beer is named after co-owner Stacy Lattin, who was on her husband, Torrey, to brew a sour beer. Once he did, he decided to name it for his wife, playfully calling it “Head B---- in Charge.” Stacy now has a tattoo inspired by the beer, which is one of the brewery’s top sellers.

Denise Neil has covered restaurants and entertainment since 1997. Her Dining with Denise Facebook page is the go-to place for diners to get information about local restaurants. She’s a regular judge at local food competitions and speaks to groups all over Wichita about dining.


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