Stephen Beaumont & Jay Brooks on Flagship February II

Flagship February II

Stephen Beaumont & Jay Brooks

As we close the book on our second Flagship February, Stephen Beaumont and Jay Brooks take some time out to have a dialogue about this year’s celebration of the beers that got us here.

Stephen: You know, Jay, Flagship beers are one thing, but the bars in which people like us first discovered those Flagships all those years ago just aren’t fully appreciated today, and neither are the people who took that leap to bet on the viability of great beer back in the day, like Tom Peters in Philadelphia, Michael Roper in Chicago, the Toronado’s Dave ‘Big Daddy’ Keene, along with others overseas, like Peter van der Arendt in Amsterdam. And, of course, the fellow I wrote about way back on February 1, George Milbrandt at Toronto’s C’est What.

That’s why I’m so glad we gave our writers a double mandate this year: a classic Flagship AND a classic beer bar!

Jay: I heartily agree. When we started this last year, I decided to visit a different bar near where I lived every day and order a flagship beer. At first, it was simply a way to celebrate the idea we were promoting, that it was important to remember the beers that got us to this point. I visited some great classic beer bars, some local dive bars and everything in between. But that proved to be a potent reminder of just how important those pioneering bars were in helping to introduce people to better beer. And while today you can walk into almost any bar and find several flagship beers, that was not always the case.

Stephen: Exactly! Which I think strikes at the heart of what Flagship February is all about: Not promoting specific beers or trying to wean people off the haze craze, but to champion the people and the beers that got this whole beer revolution started, in the U.S. and Canada and truly all around the world!

Stephen Beaumont Thursday afternoon at the San Diego airport with a Stone Ripper.

As I type these words, I’m in a hotel in San Diego County, which is of course awash in beer and breweries these days. But I remember when the struggle to get people to drink things like Stone Arrogant Bastard, AleSmith Horney Devil and Port Mongo was real, and needed people like Tom Nickel of O’Brien’s Pub to champion them.

Jay: I think that’s a story that’s repeated everywhere you go. In the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, we’ve got Judy Ashworth from the Lyons Brewery and Dave Keene from the Toronado to thank for how good our beer scene is now. That they were willing to take a chance on the upstart brewers challenging what beer was supposed to be, made all the difference in those heady days when few bar owners were willing to make room for untried and untested types of beer. It’s almost impossible to understate how important that was. If breweries made great beer but could not find anyone to sell it, there was almost no path to success for them.

I believe that created a symbiotic relationship between them, one which was very beneficial to both. Breweries had someone who not only sold their beer, but also believed in it and promoted it in a way that just putting it on a shelf never could.

These bar owners and their staff were on the front lines, educating people about many classic beers that would become flagships, and deserve a lot of the credit for the growth of craft beer.

Stephen: Speaking of educating people about beer, how about the writers who contributed essays this year, largely the same group as last year, although with a couple of newbies in the mix? Not only did they all do a great job on their assignment, but many of them were also at it back in the day, explaining beer – over and over and over again – to people raised on blandness, or watching as their traditional beer culture ebbed away. That’s one reason I think this year’s Flagship February was so cool: It brought together the beers, the places and the voices!

Jay: I love that we’re creating a record of the impact these beers have had on so many people, told through often very personal stories. I believe that the educational component of promoting better beer was one of the most important aspects of why it succeeded. And it wasn’t always easy. Before craft beer took hold, what most people thought of as beer was very narrow in terms of how it looked, smelled, and tasted.

It was a Herculean task to change peoples’ pre-conceived notions of what beer was supposed to taste like, especially in Canada and the United States, and while we’ve detailed many of those pioneering flagship beers, along with the publicans and bar owners who championed them, the final piece of the puzzle is unquestionably the writers who told the tales of the beers and brewers who made them. Names like Michael Jackson and Fred Eckhardt continue to be revered throughout the beer community, precisely because they helped to give context and history to what was in their glass. I think we’ve had another twenty-eight terrific examples of modern beer writers trying to carry on their legacies, and succeeding.

As far as beer has come since the 1970s, education remains one of the most enduring priorities to its continued success. You can like a piece of music or a film just because you find it enjoyable, but the more you know about music theory or visual storytelling, the richer the experience will undoubtedly be. And that’s certainly true with beer, as well.

Jay Brooks at home with a Firestone Walker FlyJack Hazy IPA.

You can knock back a cold Helles on a hot day and be satisfied — and I highly recommend that you do — but I also think the experience can be so much more with a little knowledge. Understanding the style, its traditional ingredients, what steps the brewer took to adhere to those or break from them is all part of the brewing arts, and that can take the simple pleasures of drinking a good beer and elevate it to something that can be appreciated on many more levels. In the end, of course, beer is just beer, as many people like to remind us, but it doesn’t have to be, and we can all choose to make the experience of drinking it whatever we want. If you’ve read these stories throughout Flagship February, and to end of this dialogue, you probably already think of beer as more than just something to quench your thirst. And for that, you can thank the brewers, the bars where you enjoyed them, and maybe even some of us who told their stories.

Stephen: All I have to add to that, Jay, is that occasions do matter, and in addition to understanding the beer style, knowing a bit about how it is normally enjoyed, in a stange for a kölsch or a pint at the pub for a cask-conditioned English bitter, sipped and savoured or gulped and relished, also impacts the beer experience.

Ya, it may well be ‘just beer,’ but I think that ‘just beer’ is a pretty terrific thing!

Stephen Beaumont is a veteran beer writer, author of Will Travel for Beer and the author or co-author of thirteen other books, including The World Atlas of Beer, the third edition of which will appear this fall. 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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