A flagship beer in a brewery’s portfolio is usually its best-seller, or at least whatever beer it is most known for in the market. In the world of ever-changing tastes and a market full of drinkers who are trying for the latest and greatest beer releases, however, these steady beers are in danger of being left behind.
Last year, even the best-selling craft beer, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, was down nearly 6 percent from the previous year in terms of sales dollars, and Samuel Adams Lager is down 13 percent. If beer drinkers are too fragmented in their beer choices, it could start to threaten the financial stability of some of the larger breweries that depend on those core sales.
Thankfully, the beer-loving internet has come up with an idea to help. For the month of February, beer-related social media embraced the idea of #FlagshipFebruary. After several news stories and online conversations revealed that flagship brands in craft beer are flagging, an impromptu campaign emerged to encourage people to attempt to save them, or at least give them the praise and attention that these workhorse brands deserve.
Similar to last month’s #Tryanuary trend that encouraged people to go out and try new styles or breweries, the idea behind Flagship February is to take the time during what can be a very slow sales month to revisit those core brands that we may have strayed from. The goal is that each time you purchase beer in the month of February, you consider those flagship brands, and share your enthusiasm for them via your favorite social media sites with the aforementioned hashtag.
When I heard about this campaign, I turned my thoughts to what I considered to be the defining brands of some of Maine’s most well-known breweries. In some cases, the beers I would consider to be staples from a brewery might not be the first beer it ever brewed, or even officially its best-seller, but instead is the beer that it brews that is steadily available, popular and refreshing. In the spirit of Flagship February, here’s a rundown of five iconic Maine flagships (or close) that are well worth revisiting, really any time of the year.
If we’re talking about longevity and history, we have to start with a nod to Geary’s Hampshire Special Ale, referred to as HSA by most folks. This malt-forward English strong ale used to be only released as a winter seasonal and marketed as being available “only when the weather sucks.” There was a change of ownership in 2017 when David Geary sold the brewery and business to Robin and Allen LaPointe, but HSA survived the transition unaltered (aside from a packaging facelift) and is still widely available. It is one of the last pioneering English-style beers that has survived through the more recent craft boom that began late in the first decade of the 2000s, and highlighting it in its original “season” seems like a good fit. If you haven’t had one in ages, this seems as good a time as any for a revisit.
Some breweries have several brands that might be considered their flagship, at least by consumers. Baxter Brewing Company’s beer portfolio contains two very strong contenders that could fill that role – the Pamola Pale Ale and the Stowaway IPA. Pamola has the lower alcohol content of the two and, as a pale ale has a little bit more dialed back hop profile compared to the Stowaway. But both are classic, hop-forward beers that hit the spot, especially for fans of the non-hazy, West-coast style IPAs that became popular in the 2010s. If you’ve been feeling a little haze fatigue, either of these might be the cure you’re looking for.
The first beer that Banded Brewing brought to market over five years ago was Veridian, a piny IPA bursting with sticky hop flavors. Not to be overlooked, however, is one of its first lagers, which has become popular throughout all seasons: Pepperell Pils. The pilsner is a tricky style to get right. It can be light, but needs to have flavor, it is delicate and doesn’t leave a lot of room for error. Pepperell Pils has a refreshing bite, balance and a clean finish. If you haven’t sought this beer out in a while, you might have to look twice for it – the can design got a drastic makeover last year – but it can be spotted on the shelf by its bright red griffin on the label.
Lastly, and probably without much surprise, there’s no way that I could leave Allagash White off of this list. The beer is about as iconic as it gets for Maine’s breweries, and its popularity both in and out of state is evidence of its quality. This past weekend, Allagash White was finally launched in its new canned packaging, removing any final objections to the assertion that this beer should pretty much be taken everywhere.
If you find yourself in front of the beer cooler in the next few weeks, slow down when you reach the beers you’re already familiar with. It might be just the right time to enjoy catching up with an old friend – even one that looks a little different from the last time you hung out.