Flagship February…That Escalated Quickly
I was planning on waiting a few days to post about Flagship February to let other more eloquent folks circulate their comments, and then I was simply going to post a few of my favorite flagships. However, within a few short hours on day one, Twitter, of course, was host to a little kerfuffle with folks hurling insults at each other, typing in caps, and making accusations about the intentions of this seemingly innocuous endeavor. So, before I get to my flagships, just a little bit about this nonsense.
For background, in early January, beer writer Cat Wolinski posted an article on VinePair about modern beer drinkers that incessantly search for new beers, instead of returning to flagships. A day later, author Stephen Beaumont tweeted the suggestion to create “Flagship February” as an opportunity to celebrate, promote, and enjoy the flagship brews that were previously held in high regard, but are now often overlooked. Within days, the idea had spread throughout the beer community and beyond, discussed in articles by Food and Wine, Forbes and others.
Over the month of January, Beaumont worked to promote this idea around the globe, by getting breweries, bars, et. al. to sign on and participate. He further began to develop a website and content for that site. In order to fund this project, Beaumont accepted sponsorship. Not a big deal.
Once the Flagship February site launched, author Andy Crouch tweeted “I thought the #FlagshipFebruary thing was an organic social media idea, didn’t realize it had sponsorships from the big legacy brewers. Not a knock really, just an observation.” This wasn’t a harsh criticism at all, but it sparked some heated dialogue. The Good Beer Hunting Twitter account had a strong reaction, among several other tweets, it posted “STOP TRASH TALKING WRITERS FOR TRYING TO CREATE A VIABLE BUSINESS AND MAKE IT THROUGH THIS CRAZY LIFE”. Woah. Easy slugger.
Beaumont himself responded, and essentially noted that he was simply not trying to lose too much money for this effort. Fair enough. I won’t hate on him for getting sponsors. However, it was a poor choice to have Sam Adams Boston Lager as the very first flagship to be featured on the website as Sam Adams is one of the sponsoring companies, and since Sam Adams has caused so much derision in the beer community over the years. A footnote to his post notes “Today’s flagship beer was chosen by the individual writer with no input from the #FlagshipFebruary partners or sponsor breweries.” He also tweeted that he had written the Sam Adams piece before the company was one board as a sponsor. Nonetheless, with a whole month to post different beers, it would’ve made sense to choose something else for the first flagship in order to avoid the appearance of shenanigans.
Putting all the nonsense aside, I like the idea of this effort to remind people to buy a six pack of an old favorite every once in a while. And, there has been some humor sprinkled in here. Jim Plachy, himself affiliated with Good Beer Hunting, tweeted in the midst of the heated exchanges “The first rule of #FlagshipFebruary is don’t talk about #FlagshipFebruary”. Lew Bryson, prior to the launch of the site, was quoted in the Forbes article saying “I remember some beer snob bartender telling me ‘I don’t think Sierra Nevada has much to say anymore.’ Yeah, actually, it does. And one of the things it’s saying is ‘Shut up and drink me.’” Exactly! And with that, here are a couple of flagships that I intend on having this month. I hope others will be enjoying them as well.
Victory Prima Pils – During my first year of graduate school, I lived a few hundred feet from an excellent beer bar in Albany, NY called Mahar’s (RIP). The crowd was typically a mix of older beer nerds and college kids who didn’t know too much about beer, but were trying. Unfortunately for those college kids, the owner and one of the regular bartenders weren’t the most welcoming. One day I saw two kids order a black and tan. The bartender unenthusiastically asked “ok, how do you want it?” Not expecting this question, and clearly unsure of how to respond, one of them muttered “Guinness and Bud, I guess.” The bartender curtly replied “we don’t have Budweiser, and if we did, I would never use it to make a black and tan.”
Anyway, one day I ordered Prima Pils, and several of the elders laid into me about how I was a hophead and how those types of beers will destroy your palate. (They must be really disappointed with what has happened in the 15 years since then.) I didn’t really give a shit what they thought, because that beer was and is delicious.
There’s no question that Prima Pils is a classic. It’s delicious, and it never fails to disappoint. With the revival in recent years of pilsner in the craft beer community, it is easy to give credit to newer takes on pilsner, often with an added hoppy character. But we can’t forget Victory, who have been doing this for over 20 years.
Captain Lawrence Freshchester – Captain Lawrence opened shortly after I returned from graduate school to my native Westchester County, New York. It was interesting to visit their original tasting room at that time as the whole tasting room scene was evolving nationwide. Captain Lawrence’s tasting room was often packed with all kinds of people, pounding as many samples as they could, and it was clear that the culture in the beer community was changing as all different kinds of people (i.e. not just beer nerds) found breweries as a new place to socialize. Fortunately, the laws in New York have changed, and Captain Lawrence can now serve full pints.
While trends have come and gone since that time, Captain Lawrence has evolved to remain relevant, and has demonstrated how well they can do a variety of styles. In particular, they have mastered sour ales, stouts, porters and IPA’s. They’re also on the pastry game, particularly with the recent “Fudgie the Beer”, a stout made in collaboration with Carvel.
While I enjoy many of the brews in Captain Lawrence’s portfolio, their pale ale, called “Freshchester” will always be my favorite. It was on tap at my wedding, and it is my go-to for many different occasions, especially backyard barbeques. For me, it is the perfect balance of malt and hops. I greatly appreciate the fact there it has some amber color in there with crystal malt, especially in an era where crystal/caramel malts have completely disappeared from many breweries across the country. I would love to see this in a can.
Stoudts – Pennsylvania, particularly eastern PA, has always had a pretty respectable brewing scene over the years, and Stoudts has long been one of my favorites. Founder and brewmaster Carol Stoudt was the first female brewmaster in this country after prohibition, and her commitment to her craft, and her phenomenal work has solidified her as a legend. While they make a variety of beers, I find they excel most with lagers. While I love their pils, it’s the Gold Lager that is my favorite. It currently has a 3.9 rating on Beer Advocate. Applying the curve that is necessary to account for the imbalance given by trendy beer drinkers, this translates into a 5.0. When Stoudts opened, most US breweries were, to varying degrees, trying to copy styles of beer from the British Isles, Belgium and Germany, with mixed results. Stoudts has been consistently making a helles since then that is everything you want it to be. I hope they continue to do so for many more years to come.
Troegs Hopback Amber Ale – Troegs gets a lot of praise and attention for Nugget Nectar, which is what they refer to as an “imperial amber ale”. It’s good, but I prefer their year-round HopBack Amber Ale, which is similar to the Nugget Nectar, but I find it has greater balance. With a lower ABV than Nugget Nectar, it’s much easier to pick up a 6-pack of it for Flagship February to throwback this Friday night without having to worry about too much pain the next day.
Newburgh Brown Ale – This is an excellent, malty brew that’s hearty, but not too heavy. Just what a brown ale is supposed to be. I recently made a beer cheese with this ale, and it was amazing. I buy this several times a year, particularly in the Autumn, and partially because it’s hard to find darker beer that is fresh with low-abv. This is not to imply that I buy it as a last resort. Far from it. I’m grateful to live within the brewery’s distribution network. I would love to see this with nitro, or on cask.
Urban Chestnut Zwickel – Mentioned in my prior post on lagers, this zwickel has been a favorite of mine for the last few years. This traditional take on a German zwickel is a smooth ride, and it’s hazy. People seem to like that these days. It’s refreshing, but also has a strong backbone, making it a brew that can work year-round.