Death of the Flagships: But Why?

Death of the Flagships

I must admit. I have had this post swirling around in my head for well over a year now… maybe even longer. I’ve often talked about the downturn of flagship beers in great length to many-a-folks who belly up to the bar with me and on Twitter with fellow craft beer minded individuals. Now it’s time to document it all and get it out to the masses, because it’s a recent phenomena that’s really disheartening to some and to others it’s “goodbye. good riddance!” It’s an emotional parting of something classic and sacred yet on the other hand a parting of something boring and forgettable.

The Revolution is BrewingBrand Loyalty Is Weakening

“Boring and Forgettable?! How dare you say my favorite go-to beer is not well-crafted and delicious!” I expect to get that reaction from a few readers, because beer choice is sometimes an emotional thing. It’s a personal preference and one can become quite passionate about a beer brand and its lineup. It’s what the marketing and advertising gurus call Brand Loyalty. An emotional bond that’s formed by a consumer and a specific brand. The consumer identifies and connects with what is being sold and will buy it ALWAYS over all other products and brands available. It’s what every brand strives to achieve with its consumer base.

But the tides are shifting in our modern day craft beer revolution. With over 4,300 breweries operating in the U.S. and more in the planning stages, competition for brand loyalty is fierce. Consumers are being tugged in every direction for their business. Competition is good, don’t get me wrong. However, it is a contributing factor to the death of some flagship beers that were big sellers in the past and now are not. Call it Cause and Effect. Call it Darwinism’s Survival of the Fittest. A necessary evil, I suppose. A weeding out of sorts.

Dogfish HeadPreferences 20 Years Ago Were Different

In the past 20 years since the last major uptick in new breweries opening their doors, there’s been a lot of status quo going on. Yeah. I know there’s been some wild and off-the-wall stuff being produced by some breweries. But as a whole, it wasn’t a trend per se in the craft beer industry. At least not a marginal one.

We were OK with drinking basic brown ales, red ales, IPAs with oh-so-much pine bitterness, toasty pale ales, stouts, and wheat beers. (Yes. I know YOU might not fit into this category and were on the cutting edge all along. Kudos to you! Seriously.) As long as the beer was considered a microbrew or craft, that’s what mattered. We were supporting the little guy. We were preachers of “Good Beer.” Missionaries to change what the masses of America thought beer should be. Our own little counter-culture.

And, to the classic microbeer’s defense it was a million quadrillion times better than what the bland macro breweries were trying to shove down our throats! We frowned upon Miller Lite and Budweiser. We quickly ordered a Dogfish Head 60 Minute, Magic Hat #9, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale or _______ (fill in the blank of your favorite go-to in the 1990s). The beer was flavorful, it was fresh and the sale of it propelled the movement to DRINK GOOD BEER!

Flying Dog Brewhouse RaritiesDemand For Something New. Something Better.

Fast forward to the 2010s and what one person likes to drink can be far different from the next person. Vastly different. There is an overwhelmingly eclectic selection of craft beer brands and beer styles to choose from now. Increased choice has flooded the markets and beer store shelves. “Oh! What’s that? I never had THAT before!!!”

Beer distributors who sell cases of beer (containing 24 bottles) are finding that their inventory of craft beer is sitting longer before selling or not selling at all. Just check the packaging dates on the cardboard case and more often than not, you’ll discover the beer isn’t exactly the freshest. In some states, distributors are now able to sell 12 pack cases and are seeing growth in this option. Variety packs do very well, too. It’s a testament that the craft beer drinker would rather drink something different instead of the same exact beer over and over again.

Diversity in choice is a good thing. It spurs innovation in this ever-evolving craft beer industry. But it’s also a double-edged sword. Diversity and the demand to drink something different is one of the reasons flagship beers are being phased out one by one.

Even brewers themselves want to brew something different – the next big thing in craft. Pushing the envelope, stretching their creative abilities, stretching their skill level and getting recognition among the masses for their efforts is important to them. They understand that variety sells. It engages and satiaties today’s craft beer drinkers. Tierney, Colleen N, and I, along with various brewers, touched on this growing trend in the ‘Brewed in the Burg’ documentary.

The smart breweries have recognized the ever-changing palette of us beer drinkers and have re-engineered some of their flagship recipes. Take Stone Ruination, for instance. The brewers at Stone re-imagined their recipe to fulfill the consumers desire for more juicy and pronounced hop flavor. “For the second incarnation of our groundbreaking India pale ale, we employ dry hopping and hop bursting to squeeze every last drop of piney, citrusy, tropical essence from the hops that give this beer its incredible character,” touts Stone’s website. > Read More about Ruination 2.0.

Heady TopperBeer Trading. Increased Accessibility.

Through social media contacts and beer trading websites, craft beer enthusiasts can get access to what was once the rare of the rares. Just find someone who has the brews you’re looking for, offer to trade them for some brews you’re able to get and within a few days you both send each other the agreed upon brew via mail.

Often, those beers you can snag easey peasey, others in the country don’t have access to buy them at all. I’ve even been asked by some folks to send them Troegs Mad Elf because it’s impossible for them to find where they live. And, to me, Troegs Mad Elf is so very “Yeah, I’ve been drinking that every winter and am officially over it.” Great beer, but “had it.” Hey, if I can try something from Crooked Stave by trading someone a Mad Elf for it, you bet I’ll do that. Beer Mail!!! 🙂

The increased accessibility of unusual beers through beer trading is shifting the focus from mainstay, flagship brews to snagging the latest and greatest can or bottle release. Folks will stand in line for hours just to have the opportunity to purchase a 4-pack of The Alchemist’s Heady Topper or Focal Banger. It has a big trade value and nets you a trade for something else harder to get or extremely desired.

I don’t trade beers often. I also hate standing in line for beer. On occasion, I’ve been known to wait 3-5 hours to buy a beer (especially for Hill Farmstead, Tree House or Tired Hands brews) but hardly ever. Regardless, it is a thing for some craft beer hunters.

Whalez BroEducation & Word of Mouth

People are becoming more educated about craft beer. The internet and social media spaces are full of info about every beer out there. We’re a knowledge-hungry bunch devouring podcasts, articles, books, magazines, blog posts, tweets and what have you. All in the name of learning. We want to know what beers people are raving about and what the next big thing will be in style or brew release. Lists upon lists are made by us enthusiasts noting all the beers we want to hunt and capture… I mean “enjoy.”

Just talk to someone sitting beside you at your local craft beer bar or brewery tasting room. The conversation will likely divert from the friendly “What do you like to drink?” to bragging about the Whalez Bro! beers you’ve each conquered. Or it slants to “Hey. Have you tried XYZ beer before? It just came out and man, you should really try it.” Now, I’m not saying that all conversations happening at your local waterhole are about that. Just that more and more I’ve either overheard this going on or engaged in similar conversations. Not a bad thing. It fosters a desire to explore new flavors and styles as opposed to just drinking the usual “because I know I won’t be disappointed” brew.


My Untappd ActivityInformation sharing helps you create a personal beer wishlist to keep track of what you want to try. I created my wishlist in the social sharing, beer check-in app called Untappd. I simply love, love, love this app! It’s great to be able to not only create a beer wishlist but you can document what beers you have drank, note what you liked/disliked about it and see what other people are drinking. Checking-in your beer is for some a sort of competition. “How many unique check-ins do you have?” “Like 10,000!” Gulp. What?! My measly 1792 unique beer check-ins seem, well, so completely inadequate. I better hurry up and drink more so I can get more check-ins.

I can’t help but to think that the race to check-in brews is a BIG contributing factor to mainstay beers being consumed less often and potentially disappearing from the store shelves forever. We’ve all done it. We’ve passed by really great beers that we drank in the past so we can indulge in something new and different. “Oh. You have Russian River’s Pliny the Elder? Nah. I’ve had that. Let’s go with a Tired Hands ‘We Are All Infinite Energy Vibrating At The Same Frequency” IPA, please. I’ve never had THAT before!”

I certainly am guilty of it. In NO way, shape or form do I feel guilty about it. I’m naturally curious and have made it my mission to try new things and experiences.

sorry not sorryWill This Trend Continue?

Absolutely it will. In fact, the decline of many flagship beers will increase exponentially over the next 5 to 10 years. I rarely ever buy cases of beer anymore. I get bored half way through and end up stashing away 12 of the 24 bottles of it. Then, eventually, I get tired of it sitting in my beer closet and proceed to drain pour the bottles a year later. After all, it’s taking up precious space. Space that’s needed for all those newer selections I just purchased from a bottle shop during the latest beercation. Bottles that I’ll inevitably take to a bottle share party where you’re expected to bring something new, rare or unusual.

This scenario may be a little extreme and probably doesn’t characterize many of the craft beer drinkers out there. But I know enough of them that do this. And, we’re all contributing to the Death of the Flagships. #SorryNotSorry

(Follow Me On: Twitter & Untappd: @dzyngrl | Instagram: @dzyngrl14)

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