Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Six Better Names Than “Bomber” for a Big Bottle of Beer

With craft beer having emerged from its infancy in the United States, it’s time we reconsidered what we call those big 22-oz bottles of beer.

“Bombers.” Really? That’s the best we can do?

What’s Wrong with “Bomber”?

“Bomber” has all the wrong connotations for modern craft beer culture. First, it’s too close to an old phrase for indiscriminate drunkenness--“getting bombed”--that doesn't really fit with the quality-conscious and taste-focused message most craft brewers want to promote.

Second, when most people use the word “bomber” in general conversation, they aren't usually referencing something that builds community and spreads goodwill and cheer. It's true that when a buddy comes over with a couple of bombers, I'm not imagining military aircraft, suicidal fanatics, and Molotov cocktails. But do we really need such a thickheaded name for such a great thing?

Just for fun, let’s run through some alternatives. And before the “Leave Bombers Alone!” campaign revs up, let me point out that we already have some evocative names for other beer containers: barrel, keg, tun, firkin, and so on.

A new name could fit a lot better on that list. We might also take a clue from wine culture, which has some seriously badass Biblical names for large containers, including jeroboam, methuselah, balthazar, and nebuchadnezzar. Hell, yes.
Because of their long
fermentation and high alcohol
content, Quadrupel ales are
often only available in a
calabash, a size indicative
of sharing.
As a replacement for “bomber,” calabash has a couple things going for it. Technically, a calabash is actually a gourd-shaped bottle or jug (“pumpkin” in Spanish is calabaza), so as an extension of an real-but-little-known term, I think it has some potential. Lots of other words have grown out of an older, more precise definitions for wider applications: words like car (from “cart”), barn (originally a specific building for storing barley), and holiday (which formerly just meant “holy day”).

So why not calabash? It rolls off the tongue, it has a rustic and slightly mysterious ring to it, and it’s certainly memorable. As old-fashioned lingo, calabash might evoke the American colonial era, when brewing beer was a pretty wide-open prospect that might involve lots of curious ingredients, and where large jugs of beer were a social necessity. The earthy and agricultural echoes of calabash also fit with the entire farm-to-table and “drink local” movements.

Everything potentially cool and positive about “calabash,” however, can also be cited as a problem. Purists will say that most bomber-sized beer bottles just don’t resemble gourds. (They’ve got a point. If we’re sticking with a vegetable resemblance, the more appropriate term for the bottle might be zucchini, but come on.) For many people, “calabash” might not sound like log-cabin Americana but something less down-to-earth, like elitist hipsterism or the esoteric nerd-speak of Middle Earth and Dungeons & Dragons: my half-elf warrior uses his truncheon to strike the calabash and release the elixir!

Maybe we can all agree to use calabash as a handy code for any pumpkin-style beer and move on.

This copium of beer caught
my eye with its enticing
This one has an elegant ring to it. “Copious,” from the same root word, means “plentiful,” so copium fits in terms of what we expect from a large bottle: plenty of beer. The Latin origin speaks to the ancient art of beer making and connects to classical ideals of civilization, heritage, and great works. It’s not too hard to imagine a centurion calling for another copium (or, probably, copia)... maybe after all the wine had run out.

At the same time, copium kinda sounds snooty and pretentious. Until it caught on, the word would have to be beersplained a thousand times to average drinkers, and would probably do little to counter the prevailing new stereotype of insufferable beer snobs. Maybe it’s best to leave the word copium to the male enhancement industry.
Would you please
pass the "common"?
At the other end of the spectrum from copium lies common, which has a lot to offer as a bomber substitute. In an abstract sense, common suggests much of what’s great about modern beer culture--sharing, community, mutual interest, authenticity. But the word also carries compelling suggestions about the nature of place.

In old English villages, the common was an area of public land usable by all, a place to work, play, meet, socialize, and share space. Ideally, the common implied collective stewardship as well. The community had to care enough about something that belonged to everyone. If too many people treated the common selfishly (the so-called “tragedy of the commons”) then it would end up destroyed. At heart, the concept of the common conveys the essential connectedness of human life and community. To call a big bottle of beer a common might be a powerful way to invoke these ideas of interdependence.

Or, it might lead to pointless misunderstanding. After all, common also means “ordinary” and “average,” and thus “not too interesting.” Common beer is also a distinctive style, so there’s another opportunity for confusion. Hell, just using a word that normally serves as an adjective is bound to perplex a fair amount of people. And finally, common might have already been branded by the rapper and actor… which actually might not be a bad thing, given the potential for diversity that craft beer has yet to fully embrace.

I love you, common, but it just might be you and me for a while.
A cremore of Southerly Love is
perfect for two (although I'd selfishly
indulge another bottle on my own). 
Pronounced “cre-MORE,” cremor is another Latin-derived word meaning “thick broth,” which is pretty appropriate for a lot of the potions that come in big beer bottles. The word certainly sounds interesting and suggests some easy applications (“You want some more from this cremor?”).

But on second thought, cremor has some fatal flaws. Most people will probably pronounce it like “creamer,” which comes with a whole set of incoherent associations. And it’s not too hard to imagine people thinking of crematorium or moron when they see the word.

On third thought, who the hell put cremor on this list? Let’s move on.
This felix of farmhouse ale
was one of my favorite from
last summer.
If folks can get past the cultural baggage (Felix the Cat, The Odd Couple), felix is an intriguing choice. Like copium and cremor, it’s got a Latin pedigree. But since it’s also a dude’s name--albeit an uncommon one--felix comes with a lot more familiarity than those other options, which might help. It also means “happy” or "lucky," which are damn fine adjectives for a big bottle of beer. If you dig a little deeper into the etymology, felix also relates to fertility, creation, and suckling. Nice.

I think felix has potential. Downsides? Not sure what you’d call more than one of them. Felixes gets caught up on all those terminal “s” sounds, feli sounds like a gathering of pussycats, and felices sounds too much like “feces.” Maybe, like “sheep” and “fish,” felix just works as both singular and plural noun. “I got four felix here from Cigar City. Who’s joining me?” I kinda like that.
I saved the best for last. Horn works on so many levels as a replacement for bomber, it’s weird that it hasn’t already happened. Horn is simple and accessible, and it’s got credibility from cultural and historical perspectives. Ancient peoples used the horns of animals as ceremonial drinking vessels--the image of the wassailing Viking comes immediately to mind, ox horn full of mead. Those old horns were big, designed for communal imbibing, to be passed around to signify kinship and trust. It really meant something to share the horn.

Horn also folds in some of the better ideas from the terms listed above. The word “cornucopia,” for instance, means “horn of plenty,” and it’s easy enough to envision life-giving beer as part of the abundance flowing forth alongside grains, fruits, and vegetables. And if the average person thinks of a trumpet or a party favor upon hearing horn, it’s easy enough to point out the common ancestry. Some animal horns were for blowing tunes, and some were for enjoying a drink while listening to tunes. Done. Maybe the baseball phrase “around the horn” gets repurposed to mean beer-focused fellowship.

And as an added benefit, if a few horns gets you horny, it’s a helluva lot better than a few bombers getting you bombed.

Horn gets my vote (though calabash, felix, and common deserve some respect). What do you think? Got another possibility? Let’s hear it!

P. S. Here are a few other candidates that didn’t make the cut: gravid, plentif, cornus, barleycorn, kindred, publicus, bounty.


All images courtesy @heybrewtiful. Guest post contributed by Darren Crovitz. Darren enjoys a good beer now and then, regardless of the container it comes in. Follow Darren on Twitter @dcrovitz: Reads, writes, views, brews.

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