8 January 2019

Enjoy the Core - Flagship beers in a FOMO Era : Polk's Opinion


2019 begins and once again we start our year in beer with a look at what we drink while we think.
 The last 4 years have personally been a tremendous period of exploring and finding exciting, unique craft beers from new and favourite brewers alike, but I was reminded last week of the other part of what we do. Drink those beers that got us here and those we have around almost all the time, or used to. Should we be going back more often to those original and introductory beers? Indeed and we should do it with an eye to seeing just how far we've come as consumers of this wonderful, happy elixir.
Enjoy the Core.
My first craft beer love
  We will always persue the new and different, the returning favourites and the one-off collaboration brews but it is the ones we pour week in and week out that we have come to talk about today. While the sheer number of breweries in this province means we are never short of the novel and shiny bright, new beer feel, we have favourites and that is okay too.
1st mad tom, 2014

  For me, the word core or flagship can mean a couple of things, especially given that not every beer hits the LCBO and your local craft brewery may have a beer that sticks around most of the time, enough that you have it pretty regularly anyway, and so it is core to you. When talking returning or seasonal beers, these factor into the conversation for the sake of their constantly appearing at a certain time each year to fill in a void in the beer calendar, but  For today, let's stick to the beers you can usually count on getting when you want them.
The Flagship journey begins with my first favourite beers...
my beer fridge circa 2014
  For as long as I can remember I was a Molson guy. My go to beers were almost always a Canadian or (blech) Molson Dry and I was content to sit around, day after day, just pounding back this tasteless, albeit well made and unchanging, macro beer. The odd foray into MGD or Stella when I wanted something fancy was not uncommon, although when a 24 of anything went on sale or had some cool swag, I would have no problem switching allegiance to save a couple bucks or get a new shirt. The market is filled with people like I was, like maybe you were too, buying case after case, unending and uninterested in Craft beer or any other such nonsense. As I started to drink heavily, I drifted to the discount brands to save even more money and increase the stretch of my beer money. Lakeport led to Brava led to Brava Light and that was rock bottom as 6 packs of BL would disappear within minutes and the beer barely registered on it's way down.
Brava Light birthday cake
An actual thing that I used to do
  Moving on and up, my trips into craft beer were slow and steady, pushing out the room I once made for the super light and crushable barley pops and I turned to PBR and Old Milwaukee as my own personal core and "cleanser" (what we called the cans we would drink between sharing a new beer) drinks, still loyal to the idea of drinking one thing all the time with little sparks of genius lighting the path far down the line. Slowly the tide turned and despite the Untappd check-ins and badge whoredom, eventually even certain craft beers became regulars amidst the pursuit of the new.

  My first loves and pints of much return were toasty and a little bitter as Great Lakes Brewery Pompous Ass and Grand River Curmudgeon gained a foothold in my heart.
I miss this

These were followed by Mill Street vanilla Porter and finally the big and piney Nickel Brook Headstock and Amsterdam Boneshaker before my much beloved Collective Arts Ransack the Universe gave me a hometown option I am still in love with to this day. I am an unabashed west coast loving IPA guy and it all stems from my core fridge beers moving in a slow but steady rise in bitterness. I buy the 1st one and the latter 3 fairly often and indeed in 2018 I talked about core beers over 180 times (out of 976 posts on Instagram) just because they still make me smile when I pour them in my glass. While they are decidedly hoppy in their nature, I love to look at the beers that helped bring to where I am now so I can see how much I've learned and if it is me or they who have changed.
vintage can, beauty beer

  Having said all that about my personal trip round the beer world, I was reminded of the core beer and their perceived decline in pursuit of the new when Stephen Beaumont (link here) tweeted about the drop in sales of certain classic American Craft beers like Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada Pale ale and had the idea of doing a Flagship February, sort of a look back at where we came from and what they meant to us then and now. A fine idea and one I am fully intending to get down with, as it is one I already do on occasion now. But more on that when February gets closer.
all time fave that is always on hand

  While I have no doubt market saturation fuels some of that and the sheer rise in options available to beer drinkers at a local level must come into play, I wonder if it is the same here in Canada, specifically Ontario. While I lack the data to say for sure, based on what I see in my extensive feed and the response I get to my own writing about those beers we get all the time, I don't think it is as bad as all that. A world that saw little in the way of choice at the LCBO and no local options would obviously have kept sales of personal staples like Muskoka Mad Tom or GLB's Canuck higher than they are now but that is not only the result of those who pursue what we like to call "Ticking" or checking in on Untappd or any other app for tracking your beer. There are simply more choices and that is excellent for beer drinkers. But still the question remains...
  Is it a bad thing to want to try and experience new and different beers?
  Isn't that what attracted us to craft beer in the first place?
  Innovation and the rise in the number of available options has had to have some impact on core sales but that doesn't mean we don't love them just the same. I seek them out fairly regularly and write about how much I have changed since I first tried them. Often I come to appreciate them far more now that I understand myself and my palate much better after exploring all that has passed through my glass. A look through the many good beer folk I know on social media shows a near constant thread of new beers but an equal number of them enjoying their local or first favourites. We love to share what we enjoy regularly and that is part of what we do on social media. Especially if it is your local craft brewery where you have come to know the people who work there and become a regular at the tap room.
Refilled many times with my favourite beers

  So while I will admit I feel like there is a decline in the long standing flagship beers of yore, it is not necessarily that we have turned away from them but rather that we now have close by and local options that have become our new regular beers. The changing landscape of craft beer in Ontario has been ramped up in the last 3 years and with the continued expansion into more towns and even neighbourhoods, we will see new favourite core beers emerge for those who live close by.
constantly one of the best

Life is all about exploring and learning, keep looking for new and wonderful creations but don't forget where you came from and who helped get you here.



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