Lisa Morrison’s Ode to Vacation Beers
Lisa Morrison's Ode to Vacation Beers
I always love getting that phone call. Or better yet, when they actually walk into the shop, all tanned, looking rested, big smiles on their faces.
“We just got home from the most ah-may-zing vacation in (fill in the blank), and we had the best beer there,” they say, eyes misty with memories of beaches, communing in nature, shopping local boutiques or excursions on cobblestone streets. “The beer was called (fill in another blank). It was delicious!”
I smile knowingly, watching their eyes gleam with expectation while I wait for the inevitable question.
“Do you sell it?”
Happy dances, high fives and other celebrations ensue when the answer is “Yes!” And, thankfully, a lot of times, it is. Being one of the first craft-oriented beer stores in the United States, and for sure in Oregon, Belmont Station has a reputation for rekindling the vacation beer memories of many an intrepid traveler. Since original owners Don Younger and Joy Campbell first opened its doors in 1997, next to the legendary Portland craft beer bar, The Horse Brass Pub, one of the store’s missions has been to offer as many of those far-flung beers as we can, alongside local and regional flagships and a constant stream of new releases.
“That’s all great,” you might be thinking to yourself. “But what does this have to do with Flagship February?”
Well, dear reader, those vacation beers are often flagship beers.
In his essay about what makes a beer a ‘Flagship,” Jay R. Brooks writes, “With beer, a Flagship is the beer that defines a brewery … In most cases, it is their best-selling beer and often the one that outsells all their other offerings by a wide margin.” As such, these are the beers most people discover while enjoying all the other pleasures and activities their vacations have to offer.
In some cases, that vacation beer isn’t just the flagship for a brewery, but for an entire city — and sometimes even the whole country — providing a great source of local, national and sometimes even regional pride.
Indeed, each year, our Flagship February essays are showered with praise for world-class beers from, well, all over the world. These often are the beers that people are looking for when they walk into Belmont Station, or any beer store, in search of that delicious souvenir.
I miss those smiling, touristy faces. Under pandemic restrictions and lockdowns, we are seeing a different kind of vacationer. Because travel is mostly out of the question, people are bringing the food and drink they would have enjoyed in a faraway land into their own homes. Flagship beers are seeing a resurgence at the shop as customers rediscover a long-forgotten vacation beer or plan a virtual trip by way of a well-stocked beer fridge.
More breweries are canning their beers due to limited draft opportunities. Thanks to that, we are seeing some flagship beers that have never made it to Oregon before. As I write this, another run of Heady Topper is heading our way. We never saw anything from The Alchemist in Oregon before the pandemic unless someone brought one back from vacation. Within Oregon, Pallet Jack IPA – Barley Brown’s draft-only flagship – has been captured in cans a few times during the lockdown, much to the excitement of beer lovers who were lucky enough to get their hands on some of those limited run ales.
As for my own stay-at-home getaways, we recently enjoyed a virtual vacation in Belgium, courtesy of some homemade stoofvlees (a rich Flemish beef stew made with beer), served with classic Belgian frites (reality: they were frozen Ore-Ida, cooked in the air fryer) and some tasty Belgian flagship beers including De La Senne’s Taras Bulba, one of our earlier flagship beers this year, heralded eloquently by Luc De Raedemaker. It was a delicious diversion, and between the memories of previous Belgian adventures, some great food and wonderful beers, we almost felt like we were eating in a quaint Belgian café instead of the same old kitchen table.
And, when it comes right down to it, flagship or not, isn’t that what beer is all about? It elevates our moods and lifts our spirits, making everyday things just a little more special.
Flagship beers were chosen by the individual writers with no input from the #FlagshipFebruary partners or sponsor breweries.