What We Mean When We Talk About the ‘Death’ of Flagship Beers

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Not once, but twice last week I read about a presumptive sweeping movement in the beer industry: the death of the flagship brand.

First, it was Chelsie over at Stouts and Stilettos, followed by Derek at Bear Flavored. Two different takes and perspectives on the cultural rejection of the notion that breweries, as a business, might have One Beer to Rule Them All.

Is there truth to this? Maybe a little, but no more than what we could glean from when Andy Crouch wrote about this same topic in 2012 :

So in the end of an era for some pioneer brands, where consumers appear ready to fully embrace their long-developing beer brand promiscuity, the first era of the flagship is over. The ultimate result of the evolving craft beer consumer’s fickle palate is the end of relations with these former beaus, only to be replaced with a new, younger and hipper string of beer relations.

Let’s for a moment assume we’ve spent the last four years witnessing the Death of the Flagship. The most important point we should talk about is addressing the audience for which “flagship” matters.

I am the 1 percent. If you’re reading this post, chances are you’re the 1 percent, too. We are the ultimate minority, the beer enthusiast who thrives on promiscuity and badges on Untappd. We want to learn about new beers from new breweries to fill our portfolio of experiences, often at the risk of ignoring heritage brands or simply buying beer in “bulk,” opting for single servings instead of six-packs.

There is nothing wrong with that. However, there is still 99 percent of the beer drinking public out there for which that behavior is not the norm.

Then again, this topic is wildly complicated. What we need to be asking, then, is what do the numbers show? Are flagships dying? Maybe, but not like you think.

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Zymurgy’s “Best Beers” List Loves Hops, Clings to Heritage Brands

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Death, taxes and Pliny the Elder being voted as Zymurgy’s “best beer” in America. All the things you can count on for the past eight years.

In fact, to see any change at the top of this list, you’d have to go all the way back to 2009, the last year the top-two beers *weren’t* Pliny (#1) and Bell’s Two Hearted (#2).

What makes the annual poll unique, however, is that it’s voted on by members of the American Homebrewers Association, not the public at-large from around the world, like Beer Advocate or RateBeer. On that point of information alone, you can surmise why Zymurgy’s list always includes unforgettable heritage brands made by the likes of Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head. In just about any other scenario, beers made by these breweries are long past their expiration date of relevance to the Beer Nerds controlling review boards. Not so much on this year’s list – again.

BUT … the results are still similar in at least one way: these voters love their IPAs. More than 18,000 online votes cast with up to 20 allowed per voter picked the favorite commercial beers available for purchase in the United States.

Let’s see what’s trending.

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Let’s Build A Wall! U.S. Brewers Going After Mexican Import Market

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It’s getting hot out there. People are thinking beaches. Naturally, they’re thinking about beer, too.

With temperatures continuing to climb toward the summer months, what better time to “find your beach” then now? Fittingly, it’s a frame of mind successfully captured by Corona when it comes to pairing beer with an occasion. Of course, many of its peers are doing the same at a time when Americans are aiming to relax on some sand or in their backyard. As the mercury rises, so too have sales of Mexican beers.

Corona Extra, which has long been the top-selling imported beer, was joined by Modelo Especial last year to form a one-two punch at the top of import rankings. They’re not alone.

“For Mexican imports, it isn’t one brand that is driving growth, but rather nearly every brand within Mexican imports is growing either through distribution expansion, new marketing efforts and shifting consumer interest,” Danelle Kosmal, vice president of beverage alcohol practice for Nielsen, told Beverage Industry.

According to IRI data, Mexican imports represent 65.6 percent of the dollars spent on imported beer and 65.9 percent of the volume of imports brought to supermarkets and other stores in the U.S. In 2015, Mexican imports grew by 15 percent year-to-year in dollar volume. Slowly, those numbers continue to grow, too, buoyed by the country’s sizable Hispanic and Mexican population.

While sales of Mexican beers have chipped away at the market share of other foreign brands, it’s doing something of the opposite for U.S. brewers: It’s acting as inspiration.

Businesses are apparently thinking one way to make American beer great (again?) is by capturing some of this market.

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Your Beer of Summer is a Fruit IPA Because We All Keep Drinking Them

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Peaches are in season right now. Blueberries aren’t far behind. Watermelon is damn near the official fruit of the next few months.

The tastes of summer are here, but they aren’t just for our plates or serving bowls. More than ever, they’re for our pint glasses, too. Ballast Point might have started the trend with Grapefruit Sculpin, but now there’s New Belgium’s Citradelic, Green Flash’s Soul Style and Stone’s Enjoy By variant that includes tangerine. Fruit flavor isn’t only coming from the hops that we use, but increasingly fruit itself.

But why?

As more breweries skew toward our innate preference for sweetness to sell a variety of beers, it’s becoming clearer that this niche isn’t a flash in the pan trend. Breweries are going all in on new brands that play to our basic interests in food, offering us the pleasure of intoxicating brews mixed with a biological preference toward fruit.

It’s a match made in heaven: craft beer’s most popular style married to flavors we crave.

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Your Handy Guide to Explain Why Millennials Are So Important to Beer

millennial flow chart

Lazy. Entitled. Selfish.

You could create an entire thesaurus with adjectives people love to use to describe Millennials, those selfie-taking, skinny-jean wearing, stay-at-home narcissists ruining society. What good do they do anyway?

“The pendulum will swing back,” I constantly hear from people trying to describe why their favorite thing will be a younger generation’s favorite thing because that’s how we make America great again.

Think pieces and hot takes by adults over 40 about how Millennials are ruining everything are a dime a dozen, bound together by a common denominator of nostalgia for “the good old days,” whatever they were, and a general lack of compelling data. Or, at least, selectively cherry picked data that helps to emphasize a particular point about how Millennials are wrong about something and whenever they grow and mature they’ll see the true path.

But lets for a second assume that all these businesses and marketing agencies touting the importance of courting a generation with trillion dollar buying power have some merit. What are we to do when those adorable curmudgeons come along? Let’s hit some talking points!

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Liking Sam Adams’ Beer is Now a Political Act

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“No thanks, I like my IPAs good…”

It was a comment left by my brother (mostly serious, partially in jest) on a recent photo I posted on Instagram showcasing Sam Adams’ Rebel Raw IPA. He gives me crap (jokingly) about my affinity for breweries like Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada, but he also lives in something of a beer Mecca in Seattle, Washington.

But he wasn’t the only one to tease, as I got some pushback on Facebook, too.

And there was this on Reddit:

reddit comments

I know the conversation based around the question “is Sam Adams ‘craft'” gets people all kinds of wound up, but more than ever, the assertion that Boston Beer’s flagship brands should even be relevant just feels a bit too much. Even if it’s an argument spurred by beer lovers deep in the trenches of nerdom, having to justify an appreciation for one of the iconic breweries in the country makes the situation just a little too … political.

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Endless Love: The Search for Knowledge and Avoiding a ‘Beer Midlife Crisis’

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I am writing this from the grand hall of the Philadelphia Convention Center, where I’ve spent the last four days attending this year’s Craft Brewers Conference. I am here on an official capacity as a member of the media. I am still trying to wrap my head around it all.

I traveled just over 400 miles from North Carolina to get here and, by the time you read this, I will have traveled another 400 back.

The challenge of comprehending my place within beer – and the fact I have a place at all aside from Average Joe Drinker – gets pause from me every day. From whatever questionable beginnings of this blog to where I am now, I’ve somehow managed to carve out a niche. Because I write about beer sometimes.

I am still trying to wrap my head around it all.

So as Friend of the Program Oliver Gray prompts me to question the potential of my Beer Midlife Crisis as host of this month’s Session, I luckily fall – perhaps still bewildered – on the opposite side of his curiosities:

Do you find it hard to muster the same zeal for beer as you did a few years ago? Are you suffering through a beer-life crisis like I am? If so, how do you deal with it?

I’ve embraced the madness, whatever that means.

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What *Should* the Brewers Association Do to Address Gender and Race?

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To many, the beer community is an accepting one. Despite an industry crowded by demographics skewed white and male, it still advocates to bring everyone into the fold, no matter race, ethnicity or gender identity.

But we have a problem.

As individual businesses and members of the community work to police sexist or racist actions, one of the most important organizations to help guide this collective action has, for the most part, stood quiet. Recent questions posed to leadership of the Brewers Association about how the group looks to tackle issues of gender and race were met with somewhat uninspired responses. But I understand.

The Brewers Association, representing thousands of small and independent brewers across the country, has a lot on their plate, from governmental affairs, advising in times of multinational mergers and more. As Julia Herz pointed out in our conversation, it’s a matter of “pecking order.”

However, given the frequency of discussions around sexism and, to a lesser extent, race, it also seems like a time when leadership would be valuable in these areas. As the industry and people within the community continue to evolve, we can’t be left with today’s status quo.

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What Is the Brewers Association Doing to Address Gender and Race?

judging

There are a lot of conversations happening about race and gender all over the country. The beer industry is no different.

It seems that we can’t go a month – let alone a couple weeks – without some dust up on social media, where someone says something stupid or names a beer in poor taste or gives the OK to produce inappropriate bottle or can labels. There are examples from all over, including some in-depth coverage on this blog going back to 2014 and even just recently.

The conversations around these issues are front in center in today’s American political arena. As the U.S. inches forward in this year’s election cycle, voices are shouting from all over the country on all sorts of sides, on all sorts of topics. It can be hard, but conversations about race, ethnicity and gender identity are important.

Which is why, while at this year’s Craft Brewers Conference, I thought it was necessary to try and find out what the Brewers Association is doing to impact these issues in a positive way for their small niche of the world.

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The Revolution Will Not Be Televised Because It Already Happened

At 9 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, like a lemming to the sea, I joined a never-ending river of bodies flowing toward the same destination. Across four joined ballrooms, with thousands of seats set up carefully in rows, we came together to hear the keynote remarks of this year’s Craft Brewers Conference (CBC).

Leaders of the Brewers Association (BA) each took turns on stage with various takes on the same theme, appropriate given the location of this year’s conference in Philadelphia, a cradle of American independence:

At times, the conversation even went a step further, enlisting very specific word choice to describe where craft beer is headed.

Herein lies the problem. There is truth in BA’s war cries calling out multinational companies like AB InBev and the clear advantages it holds over American brewers who don’t have similar resources. But when,

  • you rally upward of 15,000 people for a conference to celebrate the successes of an industry,
  • and have 850 vendors come to sell their wares and expertise,
  • and see your niche of an industry grow year after year,
  • and you partner with the Smithsonian to create an exhibit to highlight the “impact of small and independent craft brewers who continue to advance the U.S. beer culture and inspire brewers worldwide”

… is it fair to ask if the revolution is over? Isn’t this the new normal, and it’s time to grow from here?

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