These days, craft beer is all about what’s new and next, but with so much innovation, some hopheads see the history and tradition of the industry fading away in favor of the latest trend, like hazy IPAs or low-alcohol session beers. With that in mind, a movement has cropped up online that encourages craft beer fans to look back at some more established styles that helped get us to where we are today — at least for the month of February, anyway.
Known as #FlagshipFebruary, that movement hopes to draw attention to craft beer’s so-called flagship brews, beers that aficionados might immediately associate with a particularly brewery. Nationally, that means beers like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and Anchor Steam from San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing. But whatever beer we’re talking about, co-organizer Stephen Beaumont, longtime beer writer in Toronto, says the idea is to give drinkers a sense of the context and evolution of craft beer by reacquainting them with good brews from its past.
“Someone who is just 21 now and is jumping headlong into hazy double IPAs, they don’t get a chance to know the traditional role of hops the way I got to know it,” Beaumont, 55, said. “That’s progressive learning, and I worry that people who don’t get a chance to get that flow of progression won’t understand what beer is all about.”
So Beaumont launched #FlagshipFebruary this year with fellow beer writer Jay Brooks and the creative agency Porter Hughes. Described as a grassroots movement, the push to get drinkers interested in previously released beers has been received well, Beaumont said, and dozens of bars have agreed to participate with monthlong promotions — including Philly’s Dock Street Brewery, Fergie’s Pub, Memphis Taproom, and Home Sweet Homebrew.
“I like new releases,” says Beaumont, who organized beer dinners at Monk’s Cafe from the late ’90s through the early aughts. “But at the same time, I think when you get so invested in that, you miss out on some really solid beers you just haven’t thought to have for a while.”
As one of America’s great beer-drinking cities, Philadelphia has plenty to offer in that category. Here are down some of the area’s most venerable, classic craft-beer offerings, from Yuengling to Dock Street. But, as Beaumont notes, newer breweries that offer flagship styles should also be considered. Check out our picks, and maybe grab a pint or six-pack. Because sometimes history is worth repeating.
Throughout D.G. Yuengling & Son’s 190-year history, arguably none of its brews made as big a splash as quickly as its popular Traditional Lager. Released in 1987, it’s one of the company’s newer offerings, and it has become a staple among Pennsylvanians. If you ask for a generic lager at virtually any bar in the commonwealth, you’ll probably get a Yuengling. So, love it or hate it, Yuengling is Pennsylvania’s flagship beer.
Tom Kehoe and the other folks at Yards Brewing Co. have been slinging high-quality beers out of Philly since 1994, but they really struck gold six years later with the release of their Philadelphia Pale Ale. On the market since 2000, the beer has a citrusy, refreshing character similar to grapefruit and is especially popular in warmer months, though it is available year-round. At just 4.6 percent ABV, you can think of it as one of the OG session beers — one from before session beers were a thing.
In 1996, Victory Brewing Co. launched with three signature beers: Victory Festbier, Brandywine Valley Lager, and the inimitable HopDevil. An aggressively hopped IPA available all year, HopDevil is one of Victory’s most popular offerings; in 2009, it accounted for about 40 percent of the company’s overall sales, according to PA Eats. , Victory has put out different versions of it, such as the brettanomyces-fermented Wild Devil, but it was the classic take that helped lay the groundwork for the current IPA craze.
If a state can have a flagship brewer, Pennsylvania’s is probably Carol Stoudt, founder of Stoudts Brewing Co., the state’s oldest microbrewery, and the first female brewmaster in the country since the end of Prohibition. After opening Stoudts in Adamstown in 1987, Stoudt began brewing Scarlet Lady Ale, one of five flagship styles available from her company today. An English-style ESB (extra special bitter), it’s all about balance and drinkability, and, despite the name, it isn’t all that bitter. So although ESB brews aren’t a trend, maybe they should be.