FLAGSHIP FEBRUARY…sounds like just another contrived event, made up to make somebody some quick cash, doesn’t it?
You could not be more wrong.
Flag February was conceived by two guys named Jay R. Brooks and Stephen Beaumont and it addresses one of the things about craft beer and our buzz-seeking culture that has always concerned me the most. We as beer fans are kinda, well, trendy. I’m no better about this than anybody else. New beers get me all atwitter, especially if the “new” part is some emerging style or variation or technical approach that breaks some new ground.
But the downside of that is that true greatness in craft brewing – those beers that set a new milepost and help breweries make their mark in the craft beer culture – often get lost in our communal rush after Buzz and Novelty and staying Hip and Current.
Beers that become icons do so because they’re great. They stand the test of time and raise the bar on their styles and bring people pleasure over long periods of their lives. Many breweries have become adept at marketing. (I can think of a couple, right here in my home state, that landed with a major splash and then delivered beers that were just “ah-ight”, some so much of Ordinary that I couldn’t even name you their flagship beer) But while you can sell a lot of beer quickly by the power of marketing, if that beer is not substantial and delicious and a genuine crowd-pleaser, it will NOT come to be known as a “flagship” beer.
These beers are my Cause; my mission, in a way. The American Craft Community, for the THOUSANDS of beers that have now been produced, has produced a relative handful of truly iconic pours. That is, at least in part, because we sometimes forget just how game-changing some long-ago beer was to us, at that time…and, saddest of all, we forget to go back and remind ourselves.
For this month, I’ve chosen to stay in Washington with these little reminders. They’ll be (relatively) quick and compact…and the the starting place sorta dictated itself: one of the most truly iconic ales ever produced in US Craft Brewing, from a tiny brewery in Redmond, Washington, that conquered the world…
My First Flagship of February…
Mac & Jack’s “African Amber”…
The Pacific Northwest’s first unfiltered ale, dedicated to the Pursuit of Hoppiness.
Jack Schropp and Malcolm (Mac) Rankin were hellbent on producing a beer that retained its fresh hop character while sitting in kegs, in bar coolers, for the time necessary to drain that 15.1 gallons. Because this was first brewed in 1993(!), the solution was endearingly Old School: They put fresh hop pellets in tea bags and stapled one to the inside of each bung cork before filling. As the kegs came back, faster and faster as time went on, they’d change it out and recharge. It became a true American brewing icon; the first and only craft beer to literally outsell Budwesier, Miller, and Coors in its local market.
By the late 00s, the brewery was running over a THOUSAND kegs behind demand. They literally could not produce enough of this classic Amber to satisfy demand and it was only distributed in THREE states. By 2010, Mac & Jack’s – located in an old automotive shop in a Redmond, WA, industrial park – was the largest keg-only brewery IN THE WORLD and the 39th largest brewery in the US. African Amber is one of the most cloned recipes for home brewers in the country and it has only been available in bottles for the past two and a half years.
For the state of Washington, I’d submit that this is our state’s flagship beer. It is among the greatest successes of any individual ale ever produced in the United States and the reason is simple: It is Stunningly Delicious!