Welcome to #FlagshipFebruary

by Stephen Beaumont

It all started with a tweet. Or, to be more precise, a pair of tweets.

I had just read a much-linked article on the website vinepair.com, written by Cat Wolinski, which bemoaned the declining sales of the flagship brands of many of the older and most well-established craft breweries in the United States. It was nothing new, really. Flagship beers like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Samuel Adams Boston Lager, New Belgium Fat Tire and others had been bleeding volumes for some time, a sad but, among industry insiders, widely recognized fact.

And yes, I use the word “sad” deliberately here, although perhaps not for the reason you might immediately suspect. I’m not concerned about the sales of Sam Adams Lager or Sierra Pale any more than I am with the numbers put up by Russian River Pliny the Elder or Central City Red Racer IPA. What I do think is unfortunate is that many younger beer drinkers are diving straight from the Bud Light kiddies pool into the double IPA deep end without first testing the waters of the foundational ales and lagers of North American craft beer.

So, thanks to that concern, and also because the next month on the calendar begins with an ‘F’ and I have an abiding love of alliteration, I tweeted out an off-the-cuff suggestion that we make Flagship February a ‘thing’ and devote the month to reacquainting ourselves with the ground-breaking and palate-evolving beers that birthed the flavourful beer renaissance, and then repeated the thought on Facebook.

I apparently touched a nerve.

Almost before I had a chance to consider seriously what I had done, people were lining up to support the idea. First off the mark was Zak Rotello of the Olympic Tavern in Rockford, Illinois, who commented within minutes that he could “make this happen…” and followed up moments later with a post declaring that classic flagship beers would be on offer at the Olympic for $5 a pint throughout February. Then someone – it might have been me – put the perhaps inevitable hashtag in front of the thing and #FlagshipFebruary was born.

After that fateful hashtag moment – which could have been the fault of Forbes contributor Tara Nurin – the Flagship February movement exploded and I was faced with any number of individuals suggesting, cajoling, insisting that I do something further about it. My response was to do what I imagine many people in the same unexpected situation have done, namely to go back to social media and ask for help!

Assistance arrived in the form of two friends: California-based beer writer Jay Brooks and the Toronto-based creative firm Porter Hughes, co-owned by another friend, Suzanne Porter. With this triad now in place, we attempted to tame the social media dragon.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, since as I write this we are still trying to get the website up and running and figure out how we can afford the expenses we have incurred. The important thing is: Why #FlagshipFebruary?

First of all, here is what it is not. It is not a campaign put together by the big breweries to support their craft brewery purchases. Secondly, it isn’t a well-meaning attempt to shore up sales of stalled brands. And thirdly, it is most definitely not an old beer guy – which admittedly I am – telling you young hazy IPA-swilling kids to get off of my lawn.

What it is, plain and simple, is a pause. What we, (Jay, Suzanne, myself and whatever breweries might wind up supporting this effort) are suggesting is that while chasing the new and exciting is fun and, in fact, a large part of what craft beer was designed to promote, we collectively miss out if we turn our backs on the solid, dependable and flavourful beers that paved the way to today’s hazy IPAs and kettle-soured goses. So, it is in our and the industry’s best interest if we take a moment occasionally to appreciate the flagship beers of the industry’s foundational breweries, or in the words of the flagshipfebruary.com website, “celebrate the beers that got us here.”

As I type these words in mid-January, I have no idea whether #FlagshipFebruary will be a runaway success or abject failure, but whichever fate befalls it, I am glad that I had the chance to back its movement. Because truly, if we forget where we came from, we risk getting lost on the way to where we are going.