By and large, Scottish brewing remains reasonably free of teeth-grating beer names, documented so brilliantly by Pump Clip Parade. That’s possibly because of the plethora of small-scale, cask-only breweries in England, quietly releasing horrors such as this, or this. Scottish brewing, by comparison, is on a smaller scale (in terms of numbers) and tends to be less jokey than our near neighbours, with their stereotypical middle-English, rural, ruddy-cheeked brewer/drinker and resultant sense of humour.*
*Feel free to respond to this with character assassinations of your own
However, that’s not to say every Scottish beer name is decided by a committee of sensible types, mindful not to cause offence or embarrassment. BrewDog often delight in sailing close to the wind, although their beer names have lately just been plain incongruous, rather than attention-seeking (an exception being ‘Hops Kill Nazis’). Bridge of Allan’s Tinpot Brewery have also eased up, losing that eye-twinkling naming convention following the departure of Walter ‘Wattie’ Dunlop. The proposed ‘Genocidal Series’ never got off the ground (possibly thankfully), denying the beer drinkers of Scotland treats such as Tinpot PolPot and Tinpot Kim Jong Pils.
But, at the moment, there is one beer that truly stands out when it comes to the worst name in Scotland; and it comes from a surprising source. Aviemore’s Cairngorm Brewery are a real Scottish success story; since launching in 2001 their profile has increased steadily, turning over in excess of £1m and employing almost twenty people. Recent expansion to 20bbl has been long-awaited, as has the opening of their on-site bottling plant. In terms of their beers, Black Gold is arguably the best stout in Scotland; certainly one of the most under-rated. It and Trade Winds have won numerous awards over the years, and are tastefully packaged and marketed.
So, how does that reconcile with Cairngorm’s Sheepshagger’s Gold?
Described as a 4.5% exceptional continental style beer with good body and refreshing aftertaste; the ‘best beer baa none’. I’m just a bit surprised that a beer name like this was ever considered. Ok, I may have had a sense of humour bypass and most Highlanders might not mind – but why put it out there in the first place? Unless, the name is the key thing, tried with a snigger, sold with a smirk. How much would it sell if it was called, say, Cairngorm Golden Eagle? Would they export that to the Far East? Would it be remotely as popular? [see Update at end of post]
I’m wondering if there are parallels here to Slaters’ Top Totty – infamously banned last year from the House of Commons Bar following a complaint from Shadow Equalities Minister Kate Green. Although MP’s were denied partaking of the ‘voluptuous hop aroma’ after the fact Top Totty become Slaters’ top selling beer; however misguided you think the name was, it eventually became 50% of their entire output. Marketers have been using ‘a bit of harmless fun’ to generate sales for decades; in the case of Slaters, it undoubtedly worked.
The Telegraph ran a poll after ‘Tottygate’ asking if it should have been banned – almost 97% of respondents said no, it was only harmless fun. So, maybe I should lighten up about Sheepshagger’s Gold. The trouble is, I’m not alone in that fact. In writing this, I asked the proprietor of a well-known bottle shop what his opinion was of that beer, and whether he would stock it. The answer was no:-
I don’t like having to say the word ‘shag’ to a customer with the word ‘sheep’ prior to it. [We also sell] Arrogant Bastard, and Raging Bitch – the beer is good enough that if they are prudish we can reassure them that their taste-buds won’t be offended even if their sensibilities are.
So is the real issue here that the beer isn’t good enough to carry a mildly offensive name? I haven’t tried Sheepshagger’s Gold for years (and I’m unlikely to get any free samples after this), but I have had Top Totty and thought that as a standard, slightly crisp, golden ale, it was pretty anonymous. And maybe that’s the most important reason why these beers have names guaranteed to garner interest; the beer can’t do it by itself.
After putting this post together, I was reminded of Brewmeister’s ‘Black Cock’ (named after a type of bird, allegedly)…and also the infamous Houston Brewing Co’s ‘Helga’s Big Jugs‘
I have always suspected that Cairngorm ‘Gold’ and Cairngorm ‘Sheepshagger’s Gold’ may be the same beer, labelled differently for different markets. Since posting this, several people have confirmed this to be the case, and many that Sheepshagger’s outsells Gold many times over. So, like Slater’s, it seems this path has been productive for Cairngorm, as well…