On the face of it, there is no real connection between the transatlantic villages of Abbots Bromley in Staffordshire, and Buchanan, New York. They do, according to Wikipedia, have similar population sizes; only 431 more people call the latter home than the former (neither being particularly large; Buchanan tops the scales at a mere 2,230 souls). Other than that, there are precious few parallels between the two hamlets. Apart from one, that is. They both have a local brewery called Freedom. Or rather, one does and one…almost does.
Abbots Bromley has a long history; it is believed that settlement in the area dates from the year 942, when King Edmund gave the land to Wulfsige the Black to consolidate his position. His son, Wulfric Spot*, went on to found the Benedictine Burton Abbey in 1003, which certainly deserves at least a footnote in the annals of British brewing. Seven hundred and nine years later, in 1712, merchant George Hayne leased the abbey grounds to construct a wharf for his newly-completed Trent Navigation, which opened up Burton-on-Trent to river traffic to Hull and London beyond, giving the transportation network that enabled Burton’s beer to reach wider consciousness.
*Wulfric’s byname ‘Spot’ “could have referred to some form of mark on his face, or could also indicate a short, fat person.”
Anyway, amidst all of this storied history, another thing that Abbots Bromley has is the Freedom Brewery. Arriving in Staffordshire in 2005 from the fall-out of a dismantling mid-nineties London brewpub chain (which had involved future-Meantime brewmaster Alastair Hook as head brewer), today Freedom specialise in a range of ‘craft’ lagers (although they also have a stout on their books). Things have certainly gone well over the intervening years, with a change of ownership last year presaging half a million pounds worth of investment and a doubling of brewing capacity. It goes without saying that their branding and positioning in the market is a key part of the potential success of this new, beefed-up, venture.
With that in mind, it was interesting to discover that a few thousand miles over the Atlantic, Freedom have a namesake. Or, they sort of do. In upstate New York, on the banks of the Hudson River, lies Buchanan – a place about which I know almost nothing. The exception to that is that it marks the home of the #Freedom Craft Brewery, who launched very recently, in 2012. The immediately noticeable difference between the two companies is that very specific prefix tucked before the name of the American brewery. It is, apparently, not a silent symbol either – the full name of Buchanan’s newest beermaker is the ‘Hashtag Freedom Craft Brewery’.
Now, as we all know the Americans are living through a sudsy gold-rush at the moment, as producers pop up every thirty seconds or so, to the tune of over 2,700. Picking a name for a new brewery is always (I think) the most important and difficult decision, after getting the brewing team in place and schooled up. Unusual, witty, original names are tough to come up with at the best of times, much less in the face of so much competition. Could this be the reason why owner Barry Hansen came up with #Freedom? (note, I emailed and asked why, but have not received a response as yet). [see edit at end of post]
Anyway, this all got me to thinkin’ (as they undoubtedly say on the banks of the Hudson), is this the start of something? Are we going to see a change in the way breweries are named; away from local areas, local heroes, and towards things more individual, eclectic? Will social media now influence how breweries are named? After all, beer is fun; a pleasure (don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise). The days of dour Victorian-looking men churning out ‘Spoolman’s Old Throaty’ are long gone. As the ‘craft’ beer revolution takes hold/passes you by (delete as applicable), names like this are going to appear more and more.
We’ve already had BrewDog’s #Mashtag, for instance, a crowd-sourced multiple-choice beer, each stage of which was selected by votes on their blog. It can’t be too long before we have the likes of ‘LolCats Brewing Co #ff IPA’, ‘Earthpics Photoshopped Port@r’, or ‘2000 Follow Limit RT PLEASE PALE ALE’. Oh, or Quaffing Gravy, of course. As much as brewing is all about imagination, catching the public mood, carving out a niche for yourself and your business, there is a line here. Too much wackiness leads people to think maybe you aren’t serious, or even, aren’t real. For every Quaffing Gravy that appears, a Yeast Anarchy will follow.
Time will tell as to how naming conventions for all these new breweries develop. If I was a drinker in Buchanan, New York, I’d certainly pay attention as to how many of my fellow beer-hounds ask for a ‘Freedom’, and how many a ‘Hashtag Freedom’…
Harris Decker from #Freedom responded to my email and shed some light onto the provenance of the hashtag, which apparently was born from a long-running joke between the co-founders. Corresponding over Twitter, managing partner Greg Cristallo would remind Australian-resident Barry how #Awesome #America was, and it all grew from there. So, now we know! [I have also amended the article to their correct full name, #Freedom Craft Brewery, as opposed to #Freedom Brewing Company]