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In Crowded Marketplace, Breweries Search For Unique Identities

Breweries everywhere are constantly on the lookout for clever names for their products. And it is getting more difficult, with 3,100 craft breweries across the country. After deciding on a name, many breweries search online to see if others have already claimed it.

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) — What's in a name? Plenty for area breweries and craft beers.

Breweries in North and South Carolina — and everywhere else — are constantly on the lookout for clever names for their products.

And it is getting more difficult, with 3,100 craft breweries across the country, more than three dozen in Western North Carolina and six in Upstate South Carolina.

Somewhat surprisingly, many of the region's best known beer names are not trademarked because of cost and paperwork, though they must be registered at state and federal levels.

Names "are fun for us, but we take them seriously," said Mike Rangel, president of Asheville Brewing, where many of the beers have comic book style names. "We have our own little universe of beer heroes," including Rocket Girl, Shiva and Ninja.

You won't find any body of water called Thomas Creek on a South Carolina map. But Thomas Creek Brewery in Greenville has built a following not only in the Upstate but as far away as New Jersey and Nebraska.

"We definitely feel like the name has helped our success," brewery spokesman Josh McGee said. Thomas Creek has used water themes on some of its beer names, like River Falls Red Ale and Deep Water Dopplebock. They "help consumers associate our beers with pleasing visuals (and) to identify our products on the shelf."

After deciding on a name, many breweries search online to see if others have already claimed it. Some breweries get help from legal firms like Asheville's Ward and Smith, which deals with alcohol naming matters every week, attorney Derek Allen said. "It's probably our most addressed (alcohol-related) issue," he said.

"This is an area you can't mess around with. You've got to have great names for your product. Names like Wicked Weed jump out at you."

Allen asks clients "is (a name) something you can live without?" If the answer is no, a trademark is crucial, he said.

A full trademark search can cost hundreds to several thousand dollars, depending on the work involved, Ward and Smith attorney Hayley Wells said.

But when breweries produce many beers each year, that task can be daunting. Highland Brewing turned out more than 75 beers this year, though most were small batch selections sold only at the brewery tasting room. Those names often come from the brewer, said company vice president Leah Wong Ashburn said.

Asheville Brewing uses 40-60 beer names a year, Rangel said. "There are times we are all sitting around a table, throwing beer names up against a board," he said. "Sometimes it's fun, and sometimes it's frustrating."

Asheville Brewing has trademarks on some of its best known beers. But "the huge majority are not trademarked," he said. "It's a financial thing."

Beer names are given some protection by registering the labels with state alcohol boards and on a federal level at the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. According to the Brewers Association craft beer trade group, at least 13,000 beer names were registered as of 2012, the most recent year those numbers were checked.

Some breweries use more generic names for their products, such as Swamp Rabbit in Travelers Rest, where they produce such beers as Oktoberfest and American Pale Ale, brewer Ben Pierson said.

"A clever name might attract people to the package, but you have to deliver" with the beer, he said. The brewery is named for a long-gone railroad and current hiking trail that runs nearby.

Asheville's Burial Beer came to its name in a "brainstorming sessions," co-owner Jessica Reiser said.

"It was clever," she said. "We are not naive to the morbidity in our name, we see (it) as a celebration. We found inspiration while living in New Orleans, where people host jazz funerals."

In Greenville, Brewery 85 wanted something that represented that city and the South, and decided that nearby Interstate 85 did that, brewery owner Will McCameron said.

They chose Brewery 85 rather than 85 Brewery, to honor European brewing tradition, he said. In Germany, the word brewery usually comes first in a name. "I like to think (the name has) been really successful for us," he said.

Hi-Wire Brewing in Asheville went with a circus theme for its name and beer titles.

"We think Asheville's a bit of a circus," brewery co-owner Adam Charnack said. "So, we wanted to pay homage to that. But also, when I think of the circus, I think of artful performances crafted through hard work and in an open and inviting environment."

The name has helped Hi-Wire's bottled beer stand out in stores, he said.

Wedge Brewing took its name from the art gallery where it is located in Asheville's River Arts District.

New Belgium is named after a bike trip through Belgium by brewery co-founder Jeff Lebesch.

"It's a great identifier, but the farther you get from Colorado (where New Belgium was founded), the more people tend to know (beer names like) Fat Tire first," said company spokesman Bryan Simpson. New Belgium is building its East Coast expansion brewery in West Asheville along the French Broad River (which also has a brewery named for it, French Broad).

Highland Brewing wanted to honor the early Scotch settlers in Western North Carolina, company founder Oscar Wong said. Its flagship beer Gaelic Ale continues that tradition, and all of the Highland seasonal brews are named for area mountain peaks. But some Highland beer names are less obvious such as St. Terese Pale Ale, which honors St. Teresa of Avilano, the patron saint of headaches.

The right beer name can draws attention and customers said Julia Herz, of the Brewers Association. "It's branding 101," she said.

But that has sometimes led to naming conflicts, although most of them are amicably settled between breweries, rather than through court cases, she said.

Last year, Headwaters Brewing of Waynesville had to change names to BearWaters after a complaint from Victory Brewing of Pennsylvania, which made Headwaters Pale Ale.

Highland Brewing had to change its flagship Celtic Ale to Gaelic Ale, because Bert Grant Brewery in Washington state had already registered the Celtic Ale name. Later, Highland faced a similar issue with a St. Louis-area brewery that was calling itself Highland's.

Oskar Blues changed its imperial red ale from Gordon to G'Knight after a complaint from Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant Group. Asheville Brewing changed Houdini Ale to Escape Artist to avoid any legal conflicts with the family of magician Harry Houdini. That brewery was once called Two Moons Brew-N-View.

And there have been name changes just for the fun of them. The Asheville Brewing beer once called Rook Porter became Ninja because that character seemed appealing and "people were calling it Rogue or Rock," Range said. "It was getting confusing."

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