We spent the morning of Wednesday, 3/19/14 at Bluejacket in DC and then fought some brutal traffic as we made our way up to Flying Dog Brewery in Frederick, MD. We met with their director of communications, Erin Weston, who told us that Flying Dog originally started in 1990 as a brewpub in Aspen, CO then became a production brewery in Denver in 1995. After taking note that their facility was in dire need of repair and was too small for them to grow anymore, they made the decision to move their entire operation across the country to Maryland in 2006. There was about a year overlap when they were still brewing in Colorado and had begun brewing in Maryland, and that, coupled with the fact that they were able to mimic water profiles upon the move, lead to a seamless transition.
As of now, Flying Dog uses a 50 bbl brewhouse and they are installing a 15 bbl pilot system in April to be able to make smaller batches to serve in their taproom. Recently, four new 250 bbl fermenters were airlifted in through their roof then installed, increasing overall capacity by about 10%; they produced around 70,000 bbl last year and should be able to pump out 80,000 bbl this year. The brewery offers quite a few year-round beers and seasonal releases. Distribution is focused in the mid-Atlantic area from New York to North Carolina, but Raging Bitch Belgian Style IPA, Doggy Style Pale Ale, and Snake Dog IPA are the core 3 that make it out further, such as into Texas and Colorado. They also started canning a couple of beers two years ago, but those cans are only available throughout the mid-Atlantic region. Every bottle of Pearl Necklace Oyster Stout sold enables the Oyster Recovery Partnership (ORP) to plant 10 oysters in the Chesapeake Bay.
Brewhouse Rarities is a series where any employee of Flying Dog, from accounting to packaging, can come up with an idea for a beer concept. Every summer the company rents a cabin in a local mountain range where everyone pitches their ideas. A select handful of the brewing team then chooses which styles they’re going to do that year and we got to try the newest one in the series called Mint Chocolate Stout before it was released to the market on March 25. A Mango Habanero IPA started out this year and was draft only, and the Mint Chocolate Stout we tried is the second release this year which is packaged in six packs of 12oz bottles. Last year there were 12 Brewhouse Rarities, but they are cutting back and doing 8 this year. They also had a series of single hop imperial IPAs, but eventually landed on the perfect blend known as The Truth which is only available in Maryland and DC.
Flying Dog hosts a movie series of cult classics at a historic theater in downtown Frederick, where there is a happy hour in the lobby enabling you to drink Flying Dog during the movie. The movies have to be at least 20 years old to qualify and The Jerk, Die Hard, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail are some examples. They also hold a summer concert series at the brewery where around 2,000 people show up and party outside to good music, beers, and food trucks. Last year they had Of Montreal, Deer Tick, and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, and we were told that JJ Grey and Mofro is confirmed for this year. Big thanks to Erin for giving us such a detailed look into Flying Dog, and be sure to read more below about the artwork and origin of the brewery’s name.
It was impossible to not immediately take in all of the insane artwork that fills their building and labels, which is all done by Ralph Steadman. Ralph has been doing their artwork since 1995 and is the artist who became notable for illustrating the works of Hunter S. Thompson, like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. George Stranahan, the founder of Flying Dog, had a ranch just down from Hunter’s and, after Hunter found out George was going to start a brewery, he introduced George to Ralph. Flying Dog usually sends Ralph an overall concept for a new label along with the type of beer and what goes in it, then he just runs with it and comes up with the art. Ralph had done the artwork for Road Dog Porter live on the BBC and, when he was finished with the artwork, he put the words “Good Beer. No Shit.” on the bottom of it. It was immediately flagged for indecency and Flying Dog has since adopted that as their tagline. Also, the label for the Flying Dog Pale Ale was one of the first pieces Ralph did for them, and the wings on the dog ended up becoming a part of their logo.
FLYING DOG NAME:
George Stranahan, who is the heir to the Champion Spark Plug fortune, came up with the name Flying Dog after an expedition to K2 in the Himalayas in 1983. He had taken a group of 12 “innocents,” including his daughter, to hike to the summit of K2 where one out of every 5 people to attempt making it to the summit dies. Rumor has it that 10 days in the Sherpa was essentially like ‘Screw you guys, I’m out,’ the donkey ran off with their provisions, and they were out of the alcohol they had taken up there. When they finally got back down to their hotel in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, they had to sign affidavits saying they were Christians to be able to drink since they were in a Muslim nation. Then, after they had got their drink on for quite a bit, they saw a painting of a Pakistani artist’s interpretation of an English Bird Dog which was literally a dog with wings. That’s where the Flying Dog mentality came from – everybody doubted them, said they couldn’t do it, but they did it – and that’s what being a flying dog is to him.
Author: Michael Roberts