I’ve lived in the Washington D.C. area off and on for twenty years and even though the Frederick Brewery is only 45 minutes away and has been there most of that time, I’ve never visited. That will change next weekend when I attend GonzoFest, a beer festival and chili cook-off hosted by the brewery’s newest owners, Flying Dog Brewing.
Since 1990 the Flying Dog Brewing Company has built a reputation on a claim considered profane by regulatory authorities: “Good beer. No shit.” Company collaborators include a crew of rapscallions the likes of gonzo guzzler Hunter S. Thompson and artist Ralph Steadman. It’s no wonder the company is obscene.
Last year, Flying Dog cut its leash and bought the bankrupt Frederick Brewing Co. in Frederick, Maryland, where the Blue Ridge and Wild Goose beer brands are also produced.
Earlier this year Flying Dog beers started flying right into my mailbox, making me one happy beer blogger, particularly when I get to taste things like their Wild Dog Collaborator Doppelbock.
Well, now the whole pack of pups is blazing a trail eastward, leaving their lair in the Rockies for a permanent home on the edge of the Blue Ridge mountains. According to an email I received from the company yesterday, all of the company’s production will be “concentrated” in Frederick as of January 2008. As a Washington D.C.-area beer activist, that makes me even more happy to lap up their suds, seeing as they are soon to be a “local” company.
It seems a bit strange, however, that a company with deep Colorado roots is just up-and-transplanting-itself to Maryland. Apparently 70% of their production is already coming out of Frederick though. And the company did offer to relocate their entire production team to Frederick, many of whom are at least exploring the option. The rest got a severance deal and a Holiday Going-Away party – Merry Christmas indeed.
Company president Eric Warner had these responses to some customer questions about the company.
Do you ever worry that with Ralph Steadman’s artwork and the kooky beer names, it comes across to many people as a gimmick? That the presentation is more important than the resultant brew, that you favor appearance over content?
“Our philosophy from day on was beer is art. The original vision was to have a different artist for every label but Steadman’s art reflects the brand so well it was a no-brainer. Our brand isn’t for everyone. There is enough beer labels out there with little pastoral mountain scenes. We like to do things a little differently.”
Hmm. . . pastoral mountain scenes? You mean like the ones that appear on the Blue Ridge and Wild Goose labels that you produce at the Frederick Brewery? Yikes, glad I’m not contract brewing with you. (As an aside, I wonder if Bob Tupper’s beers are going to end up being brewed at Frederick?)
Steadman’s images will always be inextricably connected to Hunter S. Thompson, the poster child for dysfunctional but creative excess. Aren’t you concerned that potential customers of your products will feel you might be encouraging the same kind of dangerous excess by associating your products so strongly with that image?
“People seem to be using our products
just asmore (edited 12-30-07; Warner’s original statement was misquoted in the company’s newsletter; see Warner’s comments at the end below) responsibly as the guy who gets wasted on a 30-pack of domestic swill. At the time of year when we get together with our families, who isn’t dysfunctional? There was a public side of Hunter that people like to see as dysfunctional but he was as real as it gets. So even if he was counter culture he exposed a lot of the dysfunction in our society and political processes so if that is what people associate with our brewery, so be it.”
Hmm . . . so Flying Dog customers are just as responsible “as the guy who gets wasted on a 30-pack of domestic swill.” People “like to see” the public side of Hunter as dysfunctional? Excuse me, but the man committed suicide by shooting himself in the head while his son, daughter-in-law, and grandson were in the next room. He was also a strong gun advocate. I mean no disrespect to Thompson, but I’m afraid Warner’s answer to this question only serves to reinforce the questioners doubts about the wisdom of associating a suicidal gun and alcohol proponent with a “gonzo” beer brand.
What are your plans for transitioning into a more eco-friendly business, for example by using solar power within the brewery to produce an excellent nut brown ale (hint) or your current line of fine brews?
“Although the Maryland brewery wasn’t “Green Built” part of the reasons for the move is it is a newer, more efficient facility. As alternative energy sources become more accessible and cost effective we will look to tap into those as well. Like most other craft breweries, right now we are most focused on the staggering disruption in the malt and hop markets so our biggest challenge is getting the highest yields out of those products without compromising product quality. As breweries achieve this it is in itself more eco-friendly saving on energy use in transportation and production.”
So in other words, you’re not planning on doing shit for the environment? How inspiring. Especially when so many other breweries have already made significant commitments to all manner of environmental business practices, including buying green power. And ingredient costs are the cause of this belt-tightening approach? Yet the company grew more than 20% in 2007.
This move is a mixed bag if you ask me. It seems sad to have a uniquely Coloradan story (albeit a twisted one) get spliced into western Maryland. I’m happy to have the Frederick Brewery pumping out lots of good beer just 30 miles from my home. But it seems my gain is Denver’s loss.
Looks like rain. Raining beer, that is, at GonzoFest in Frederick, MD at Flying Dog’s annual party.
In past year’s the music stage was in a decent-sized tent, so don’t let that little rain keep you away. In fact, you know the number one ingredient in beer, right? Water. So thank Ninkasi for the rain and come on out and drink some beer.
Cake fans will be pleased to know that Duff, of Charm City Cakes in Baltimore — you know, the people featured in that Food Network show Ace of Cakes — will be playing bass in his band “soihadto” at 7:30. No idea how these guys sound. I can definitely picture a guy like Duff drinking beer (I mean with a name like that, right?). Playing in a band, though? Well, maybe on bass. We’ll see.
Tickets are $30 at the door and include the cost of beer. Details about the beer, the venue, the bands, the chili, and more are online here.
Last year, long-haired cool dude went to GonzoFest, ate a habanero, and bit the dust. Next Saturday you can go to GonzoFest and choose your own adventure.
What: GonzoFest = craft beer, live music, chili cook-off.
Where: Flying Dog Brewery, Frederick, MD.
When: Saturday, September 12, 3-9pm.
Why: Drink beer. Hold the peppers.
How much: $20 advance tickets online, $30 at the door.
More details: GonzoFest website.
Lines tend to be long, and this outdoor party is not exactly a family event. So this Woody Creek Whitey will be getting there on the early side to avoid the shenanigans, and covering my ghostly Irish scalp with a straw cowboy hat to fend off the cancer. If you see me, say “hi” and we’ll share a Wild Dog.
I’m doing research for a book I’m writing about coffee and came across this gem of a quote from Frederick the Great regarding the benefits of drinking beer rather than coffee. I’ve seen it before but only a snippet. Here is a more complete quotation provided by Antony Wild in his book Coffee: A Dark History (Norton, 2004):
It is disgusting to notice the increase in the quantity of coffee used by my subjects, and the amount of money that goes out of the country as a consequence . . . My people must drink beer. His majexty was brought up on beer, and so were his ancestors, and his officers.
Frederick waged a campaign against coffee due to what he felt were its deleterious effects on the working class. His solution, aside from beer, was a vaguely coffee-like drink brewed from chicory root. Judging from his dour demeanor in the painting above, perhaps he could have used a jolt of caffeine to liven him up a bit.
Napoleon later took up the cause of chicory root as part of his crusade for continental self-sufficiency, a strategy which he developed largely as a consequence of his failure to conquer Asia and his loss of colonies from which to extract cheap resources. The latter failure inspired his own disparaging quote regarding coffee: “Damn coffee! Damn colonies!”