We made a Trader Joe’s run with a friend recently, and she picked up some Name Tag Lager, one of those “what is that?” beers at TJ’s. The packaging has caught my attention before, and I think it did the same for her. As I noted here a couple weeks ago, our house beers tend to the local and craft-brew variety. But what the heck, nothing wrong with a little curiosity, so J recently cracked open a can (make that cans) of Name Tag. His assessment: “kinda like a more flavorful version of Miller Lite.” That’s a more favorable review than Josh Noel and his fellow tasters gave it in this overview of Trader Joe’s beers in Tribune Newspapers that makes for a quick, enjoyable read. For example, Trader José beer ranks at bottom of the “less than OK” category with this description: “More flavor than José Light; not a compliment.”
The Tribune article notes that some of the breweries apparently use pseudonyms when they’re brewing a Trader Joe’s exclusive brand. For example, the can indicates that Name Tag Lager is made by, you guessed it, Name Tag Brewing Company, which is listed as being in Monroe, Wisconsin. Folks on the web have concluded that Minhas is the actual brewer behind this.
(As noted in this article that I linked to on Monday, Trader Joe’s does this with many more items besides beer: “Big, well-known companies also make many of Trader Joe’s products. Those Trader Joe’s pita chips? Made by Stacy’s, a division of PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay…. In exchange, suppliers have to agree to operate under Trader Joe’s cloak of secrecy. Fortune obtained a copy of a standard vendor agreement, which states, ‘Vendor shall not publicize its business relationship with TJ’s in any manner.’ Why the lockdown? Former executives say that Trader Joe’s wants neither its shoppers nor its competitors to know who’s making its products. And many suppliers aren’t that keen on consumers knowing that they produce a lower-cost version for Trader Joe’s either. Take Tasty Bite, which makes much of Trader Joe’s Indian food. The Tasty Bite Punjab Eggplant ran $3.39 at a Whole Foods in Manhattan. The seemingly identical Punjab Eggplant that the Stamford, Conn., company makes for Trader Joe’s is more than $1 cheaper.”)
Is Name Tag a great beer? Nah, but none of us thought it would be. Is it local for us? Well, probably not, since there’s every reason to think that the beer gets shipped from the brewery in Monroe to a distribution center in who-knows-where before making it to our Trader Joe’s in Madison. In the end, it’s just what we thought it was: a 50-cent can of beer ($2.99/6-pack) sporting an appealingly simple name, logo, and design.