Stephen Beaumont & Jay Brooks on Flagship February

Flagship February

Stephen Beaumont & Jay Brooks on Flagship February

Stephen: So, Jay, that’s a wrap! From a pair of tweets to a full month of flagship beer celebrations, with dozens of events around the world, hundreds of thousands of bottles and cans and glasses and pints consumed and literally millions of participants online and in person, it’s been quite a #FlagshipFebruary.

Jay: It certainly was. I was amazed at how many people loved the idea of celebrating the beers that got us here. And I was personally gratified to discover that so many people agreed with us that taking some time to reconnect with these great classics was a worthwhile idea. I made a point of having at least one flagship beer every day throughout the month, and that included a number of beers I hadn’t had for some time. I think I needed to re-examine those beers, too.

Stephen: I think we all needed to reacquaint ourselves with what might be a bit cruelly, but justifiably, termed ‘the beers of our past.’ And frankly, when it comes to flagship classics, our team of outstanding writers really only scratched the surface.

I think about all the beers we didn’t cover that were pivotal in the growth of microbrewing and craft beer, like Duvel and Rodenbach Grand Cru in Belgium, Schneider Weisse and Celebrator in Germany, Fuller’s London Pride and Timothy Taylor Landlord Bitter in the U.K., Little Creatures Pale Ale in Australia and Emerson’s Pilsner in New Zealand, Canada’s Big Rock Traditional Ale and Granite Best Bitter, and so very many more.

Some are beers I still drink regularly and some I simply can’t get my hands on unless I travel for them, but a good number are beers that simply get overlooked on the ever-more-crowded shelves.

Jay: That’s definitely true, although I’m lucky that many classic flagships are from where I live, the San Francisco Bay Area. Several of our authors, myself included, wrote about a few of them, but I also found plenty of overlooked treasures that were local beers, like Lagunitas IPA, Bear Republic Racer 5, and Russian River Pliny the Elder, all three of which are brewed within ten minutes of where I live.

Stephen: I believe that a lot of people reading this might be jealous of that fact, Jay. No need to rub their faces in it.

Stephen Beaumont.

But seriously, the whole idea of paying attention to flagship beers both old and new obviously resonated with a lot of people, at least judging by the way the hashtag exploded on social media. And to our point that intent matters more than age, some of the beers being celebrated were from young breweries that a lot of people might not expect to even have a flagship brand! Beyond simply drawing attention to classics like those we identified above, there is a very real possibility that #FlagshipFebruary has actually helped bring the very notion of a flagship beer back into the mainstream.

Jay: I mentioned that I made a point of drinking at least one flagship per day, and I did that almost exclusively at bars. Since I usually asked the bartender to take my picture, I would explain what it was I was doing and, at over half of the bars I visited, the person behind the bar had heard of Flagship February! Obviously, that was pretty gratifying, but not only did those people know about it, they were also very supportive and some had even made changes to their lineups, bringing in an extra flagship beer or three throughout the month.

And these were small, neighborhood bars, often not on the national beer radar, so they were quietly supporting this idea without fanfare, without even signing up on the website to tell other people about what they were doing. They were just doing it because it was something they felt strongly enough about to want to participate.

That was a delightful surprise, especially because I heard that same story several times.

Stephen: That’s not only great news, Jay, but also an excellent point. From the moment we started this crazy movement, I figured that the bars and taprooms were going to be the real stars, and honestly, I was a little let down when the month was halfway done and we only had 150 registrations. But the more I spoke with people from various breweries and beer drinkers from around the world, the more it became clear that the registered events were only a fraction of what was really going on. As someone said to me the other day, people are already talking about #FlagshipFebruary like it’s been around for years!

Jay: I think that’s because it feels like such a natural idea. With so much else going on in beer, it’s easy for all of us to take our focus off more established beers when there’s always something new to try. But I also worry that if not enough people are drinking these beers, even once in a while, bars will stop carrying them, and the diversity that we fought for over many decades will evaporate.

I love IPAs as much as anyone, but a bar that only serves them, for example, is no different than a bar with only mass-produced light lagers. Well, maybe a little different, but you get the point. I think the goal should be choice. I want to walk into a bar and let my whims decide what to drink, and that’s harder to do if what beers are available to me are more limited. For me, the best bar has a wide variety of different beers: a few IPAs, a milkshake stout, sure, but I also want a solid pale ale, a porter, maybe a brown ale, a witbier and certainly a crisp pilsner. And so any bar with just a few flagships will automatically create a better overall taplist.

Jay Brooks having a Lagunitas IPA at his hometown bar, the Flagship Taproom.

Stephen: Really, that’s what these past forty or so years of craft beer in North America have been all about: Variety. It’s not just who has the strongest beer (1990s) or the most IBUs (2000s) or the weirdest ingredients (2010s), but the choice between all those and so many others, as well.

There is a bar up the road from where I live, called Bar Hop, that regularly stocks all sorts of special releases and one-offs, but also always has a solid kölsch-style beer, a pilsner, a malty Belgian or two, a pale ale and an assortment of other tried and true classic beer styles. Sometimes I go for what’s new, but just as often I order something I’ve enjoyed dozens of times before, and will no doubt enjoy dozens of times again in the future.

In the same way that I will occasionally watch repeats of my favourite tv shows in between new episodes of The Orville and Kim’s Convenience — the latter a Canadian show worth looking up, by the way — I like returning from time to time to a classic from my early days as a baby beer writer. Like Susan Boyle noted in her essay, I’m also a “taste junkie” who gets his kicks from trying new things, but that doesn’t mean I don’t also enjoy relaxing over a really good beer that I don’t need to think too much about.

Jay: I love that phrase, “taste junkie,” as it captures so much of what I think the beer landscape should aspire to, having something for everybody. And my biggest takeaway from the month is trying to get back to that balance between classic beers, the new experimental ones and everything in between. True variety and choice depends on a wide selection of varying kinds of beer — of tastes — and I hope in the months between now and next year’s #FlagshipFebruary that more people will think to have a tried and true classic every now and again, and will choose from everything that beer has to offer.

Stephen: You know, even before we got to February, some people were saying this should be a year-round thing, maybe a #FlagshipFriday, and after this discussion, I’m inclined to agree. Just like February is a good time to annually remind ourselves that flagship beers are just as worthy as they’ve ever been, the first Friday of every month would be a stellar moment to remind ourselves of this on a more regular basis. Of course, we just had a whole month of flagships, so let’s skip March and get #FlagshipFriday started in April.

Step aside, February, you’re old news now. Until February 1 of 2020, and beginning April 5, make way for #FlagshipFriday!

Stephen Beaumont is a veteran beer writer, author of Will Travel for Beer and the author or co-author of a dozen other books, including The World Atlas of Beer. He is also the founder of #FlagshipFebruary.

Jay R. Brooks is a syndicated beer columnist, a co-founder of San Francisco Beer Week and the author of several books, including California Breweries North. He is also a founder and current president of the North American Guild of Beer Writers and developed and taught a Beer Appreciation certificate course for Sonoma State University.

Flagship beers were chosen by the individual writers with no input from the #FlagshipFebruary partners or sponsor breweries.

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