I thought it might be fun to give the world at large an opportunity to get to know the Aleheads a bit more through the lens of a conundrum. Rather than solving a real-world beer puzzler, this week we’re going to depart into the world of fantasy brewing.
A brewery’s flagship beer is often their make-or-break creation. It is the face of the operation. It will be most beer drinkers’ first exposure to the brewery, and if it’s poorly chosen or badly constructed it can easily be their last. Often, in fact, a significant portion of a brewery’s profits come from a single well-known beer (think Sam Adams Boston Lager or, you know, Miller Chill). I was considering the other day what I would attempt to create as my flagship beer, should I be magically put in charge of a craft brewing operation. I suspect I’m not the only person to have considered such a concept, so I’d like to invite the rest of the Aleheads to offer up their possible creations: If you were starting your own brewery, what would you choose as your flagship beer?
BROTHER BARLEY MCHOPS
As always, Beerford’s Conundrum is trickier than it appears on the surface. The perfect flagship? Easy enough, how about a Triple IPA/Strong Ale hybrid with 200 IBUs and 18% ABV. Brother Barley’s Bombastically Bitter Barleywine! Awesome!
Oh wait…the brewery that launched that beer as a flagship would go out of business in a week. The problem with flagships is that they have to be highly profitable. While there are some great ones out there, most flagships fall into your “everyday” beer styles…your pale ales, ambers, brown ales, and basic lagers. Even when breweries take a slightly different tack (like Allagash’s White, Magic Hat’s #9 and Terrapin’s Rye) the brews are still generally easy-drinking session beers with just a little twist separating them from the other standard fare on your package store shelves. They’re beers for all occasions…inoffensive, average ABV, not overly hopped. You know, for kids!*
*Assuming said kids are 21 or older. Drink responsibly, kids!
Hence the conundrummy nature of this Conundrum. I want a great beer, of course…but it has to be accessible. After all, I’ve got rent to pay, grain to purchase, a massive water bill, and of course the salaries of my employees to think about. Plus, I’d like to make a little money in this fictional venture. So what’s my fake brewery’s flagship? Easy enough…the Crimson Tiger.
First, the name: An obvious amalgam of the Alabama Crimson Tide and Auburn Tigers. Confused? Well, of course you are. I’m not actually FROM Alabama…nor do I have any allegiance to the state or either football team (I’m a Pats fan…I don’t even particularly like college ball). However, since it’s my current home and assumedly where my ale factory will be situated, I need to appeal to the local denizens with a name that speaks to them. And nothing speaks to ‘Bama natives more than college football. Now I’ll grant you that “Crimson Tide” by itself is a pretty kick-ass name for a beer…but half the state lives and breathes Auburn and I can’t afford to alienate 50% of my potential clientele. The graphic on the can (obviously it’s canned…for all of the reasons we’ve touched on in the past) would, of course, have houndstooth print in the background (hearkening back to the Bear’s legendary porkpie hat) and the logo would be a War Eagle/Elephant hybrid. The tagline would read: “The one thing we can all agree on.” Lovely.
But how about the beer itself? It’s a toned-down Imperial Red…a lighter-bodied, lower-IBUed version of the Oskar Blues Gordon or Terrapin Big Hoppy Monster. Think of it as a “Colonial Red” if you will…strong and flavorful, but without true Imperial ambitions. Six hop varietals represent the Bear’s 6 championships (Centennial, Columbus, Chinook, Cascade, Warrior, and Simcoe as the dry-hop). A dizzying array of malt varietals represents the dizzying array of moves unleashed by the greatest athlete of my lifetime, Auburn’s Bo Jackson (2-Row Pale as the base, Munich for body, Rye for some spice, and whatever Crystal malts will give me the deep, rich, red color I’m looking for…I’ll let my brewmaster figure out the details…I’m just the big picture guy).
At about 7% ABV and 50 IBUs, it’s sessionable, but bold…hoppy, but accessible. The kind of brew you could drink at a hot summer backyard BBQ, a crisp Fall tailgate, or during a frigid New Year’s Day bowl game. Roll Tide. War Eagle. Toss me another Crimson Tiger, y’all.
DR. RIPPED VAN DRINKALE III
Wow, that’s a tough act to follow. I mean, Brother Barley used logic and a bit of insider expertise to formulate his response to this perplexing conundrum. I can’t really argue with his response since it clearly makes way too much sense, but I am gonna throw all that logic out the window and just use my usual half-assed approach. I won’t use research, I’ll definitely use opinions that may or may not be my own, and I’ll provide absolutely no logical reasoning to back up my claims. Cool? Cool.
To me, a Flagship needs to represent both a company’s mission statement as well their overall goal of profitability. Like Brother Barley said, I’d love to have three different stages of my Flagship Imperial Stout lined up on my bar, but what percentage of everyday beer drinkers are going to let me get away with that? Sure, you’ll sit at my bar and be pleased with my approach (Yes you will, don’t lie), but that bar will be closed down pretty quickly and there’s no way that I’ll be able to stack cases of my sweet ass beers on too many package store shelves.
So, let’s start out with my fictitious company’s official mission statement – “Our goal is to represent the brewing arts and present an array of beers that will be both approachable and exceptional to drinkers across the globe”. That’s the official statement. The unofficial statement, the one that my brewers and staff will live by, will be “Let’s make some gateway beers, get the public hooked, then we’ll start brewing what we want to get everybody good and hammered”. Yes, I’ll need to make accessible beers that will actually sell to a larger audience (Profit), but that doesn’t mean that I won’t push some cooler products on those folks once I’m a household name. It doesn’t really matter what my company name will be, but since I live in the Northeast, I’ll want to play that up a bit in my Flagship brew. I give you, Forever Fall Brown.
Here’s my illogical reasoning for this brew. New England = Fall. Brown = New England. It’s a Flagship, so I need to have the actual style of the brew in the title so anyone walking by the packaging on the shelves knows exactly what they’re looking at. That said, I don’t want to go too crazy and call this an “American/English Brown Ale Hybrid”, even though that’s exactly what I’m brewing. I’m pitching this to everyone, not just beer geeks, so I don’t want confusing words like “Ale” or “Lager” clouding up the judgment of savvy consumers. I think that Brown Ales are approachable to a fairly broad spectrum of drinkers and I can tailor this brew for the changing of the seasons or whatever I feel like come brewing time. The best part? The recipe is adaptable. In the Fall, I’m obviously stacking this brew next to the Forever Fall Pumpkin (Same Brown Ale base mixed up with some spices and fresh pumpkin puree). In the Winter, I’m Imperializing this bitch and stoking it up for the chilly days to come. I happen to love Brown Ales so I won’t be embarrassed by packaging this brew in 6 packs, 12 packs, 22’s, kegs, etc. Once the public is hooked on the Brown stuff, and my brewery is profitable and recognizable, then I can really start brewing what I want. This will be my “Keep the lights on” brew so even when I make some completely unsellable beers in the future I’ll always have this to fall back on.
SIR MAGNUS SKULLSPLITTER
I love beer. It’s a wonderful beverage. It warms me on cold nights, and it cools me on hot afternoons. The tiny bubbles in my beer make me happy when they’re near. Brown ales, red ales, stouts, porters, pale ales, IPAs, dubbels, triples, wild ales — you name it, I love it. To paraphrase a man much more famous than I, beer is proof that the universe loves us and wants us to be happy. It is a life long dream that someday I finally open up a brewery of my very own. And now, dear Beerford, you ask what I would sell as my flagship brew? What would possibly encapsulate the life skullsplitter? Well, it’s simple. Magnus Brewing Co. (located in Inverness, Scotland) presents: SCOTCH!
What is SCOTCH! you ask? Well, let’s classify it as a wee heavy that’s extraordinarily low on hops. How is it made, you ask? Easy. First, get some barley. Steep the barley in water, and then allow it to get to the point of germination. When the barley has properly germinated, dry the barley using smoke from a peat fire. Take the dried malted barley and ground it into a coarse flour (or “grist”). Add this to a mash tun and allow it to steep, thus creating a wort. Add yeast, and allow the wort to ferment. This is where it gets tricky and Magnus Brewing Co. really breaks from traditional brewing techniques..
Transfer the fermented wort (or “wash”) into a device called a “wash still.” Heat the liquid to the boiling point, causing the alcohol to evaporate and travel to the top of the still, through the “lyne arm” and into a condenser then let it cool and revert to liquid. Take the liquid and again heat it to the boiling point in a spirit still, and divide it into three “cuts.” Take the “middle cut” and place it in a cask for maturation. It’s best to use a sherry barrel for this stage of the process. Leave it in the barrel for 12-18 years. Serve it in a highball glass, neat.
SCOTCH! will be anywhere from 50-60% abv with a very low hop profile. Well, really, no hop profile, since there are no hops in it. Is it a daring choice for a brewery? I should say so. But let’s just say I have a hunch that it will have some fans of its own.
LORD MASHTUN COPPERPOT
I realize that flagship beers are supposed to be “accessible” to the masses.
But frankly, I’ve never liked the masses.
I also realize that making an extremely complex beer is more costly than a simpler beer.
But that’s what small-business loans from local banks are for.
I further realize that I’m much too impatient to be a successful brewmaster, and that anything I made would be marginally potable.
But that’s why I’m writing on a beer blog that no one will read.
Hear me out on this, though. My flagship is Beer 101 (101 IBUs and 10.1% ABV). Made with 7 varietals of hops and 4 malts, this is a mouthpuckering triple IPA hop bomb along the lines of Moylans Hopsickle, Dogfish 120, and Avery Maharaja. Just like any 101 course in college, if you like it, you might consider that subject as a major. If you don’t, you walk away and find another course of study. Similarly, this challenging flagship kicks your ass up front. If you like it, you’re an Alehead and you’re hooked. If not, well, thanks for trying. Why don’t you try one of our less aggressive offerings?
See, rather than hooking you on a weaker flagship in order to get you to try a more complex offering, I’m approaching this from the other direction. I want complex beer drinkers to be my main clientele. You don’t need to try a weak pale ale to warm up to the 101. Dive right into it! The 101 cuts to the chase, eliminates the need for middling beers, and gives the tastebuds of aleheads everywhere something to cheer about.
And please, if you have any common sense whatsoever, don’t listen to a thing I’ve just said.
I don’t think you could possibly pull out four more diverse flagship offerings than those the Aleheads came up with for us this week. Some, as usual, have a bit more logic behind them, while some stretch the definition of a flagship (or, indeed, beer itself) about as far as imagination will let us. Either way, I hope these have given you a further peek into the minds and tastes of a few of the Aleheads.
As for the McBrewin’ Brewery’s offering, I humbly submit Everyday Amber for your consideration. A simple beer, with hints of hazelnut and coffee in the nose, a modest caramel and roasted malt flavor with only a slight, earthy hop bitterness for balance, and 5% ABV. Is this beer a safe, conservative flagship offering? Sure. Will it boldly go forth and impress the crap out of aleheads around the world? Perhaps not. But will the average beer drinker who likes a pint or four of something tasty and sessionable in the evening go back to this again and again as a safe, solid, tasty brew; and perhaps on the strength of that solidity subsequently try some of our more ambitious offerings? I hope so. As soon as I start my brewery (and hire a brewmaster who can actually create such a beer for me), I’ll eagerly look forward to your review, faithful readers. Until then…