I was first introduced to Flying Dog Brewery when they rolled out Gonzo Imperial Porter, their tribute to the late Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. The attitude and their beer—especially their Raging Bitch Belgian IPA, and Dog Schwarz, their Schwarzbier/Rauchbier hybrid—has kept me a fan ever since. I'm excited to have Brewmaster Matt Brophy take some time to tell us about what Flying Dog has been working on lately, the brewery's history with the Good Doctor and artist Ralph Steadman, and their recent fight for freedom of expression.
Who: Matt Brophy
What: Brewmaster and COO, Flying Dog Brewery
Where: Frederick, Maryland
How did you get into brewing? How did you learn?
I discovered homebrewing as a teenager and was captivated by the combination of art, science, and agriculture that is the craft of brewing.
What was your brewing experience before you started at Flying Dog?
I had worked at a small New Jersey brewery before moving to Colorado, working at Great Divide for five years.
Was there one beer that turned you on to craft beer?
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.
What's in your glass if you're not drinking Flying Dog?
Something hoppy or something Belgian. Maybe Avery IPA or Westmalle Tripel.
How would you describe your brewing style?
Adventurous but not ridiculous.
Where do you look for inspiration when you're creating a new recipe?
Sampling other brewers' beers is a great source of inspiration when crafting a new recipe. In some cases the beer I intend to create is unlike any other. In such a case I will create a mental picture of the beer's profile and work backwards, putting the raw materials and process together to achieve the intended goal.
Ralph Steadman's art has made Flying Dog's labels some of the most recognizable packaging in American beer. What's the brewery's relationship with Ralph?
Ralph Steadman is a dear friend of Flying Dog brewery. George Stranahan, our founder and owner, lived in Woody Creek, Colo., for years on the Flying Dog Ranch. Adjacent to the ranch he owned a separate farm, the Owl Farm. The Owl Farm would become Hunter S. Thompson's home and "Gonzo Ground-Zero" after George invited Hunter to live on the farm. Over the years, Ralph would visit Woody Creek, and shortly after Flying Dog Brewery was founded it became the natural order of things for Ralph to draw our labels.
Tell us a bit about Backyard Ale, the smoked amber ale Flying Dog created in collaboration with Chef Bryan Voltaggio and his restaurant, Volt. How did you come to work with Bryan?
We thought the idea of working with a chef to come up with a beer recipe would be interesting on so many levels. Bryan is a good friend of the brewery, and of course we love his restaurant. It came up in conversation as something we both thought would be cool, so we went for it. The purpose of a collaboration is to learn new insights or ideas from whoever you are working with, and I think Bryan and I both learned a lot throughout the process.
What's your favorite food to pair with Flying Dog beer?
Ridiculously hard question. Gonzo and chocolate? Snake Dog and spicy Indian food? Road Dog and a portobello sandwich? This question truly depends on the time of year, what you're up to, and what you feel like getting into.
Any new releases coming up in The Wild Dog series?
The Wild Dog series serves as a developmental portfolio...Wild Dog represents to us the ability to have fun crafting new beer as well as offer our kick ass fans something new and different to taste. Some of the small batch beers that you will see rolling out of our brewery in the near future include the Backyard Ale collaboration with Bryan Voltaggio we discussed earlier, the continuation of our Imperial IPA series that has thus far been a single-hop beer using El Dorado, as well as our newest batch of Simcoe.
Beyond that we'll keep rocking things like Barrel Aged Gonzo, locally roasted Coffee Stout, Farmhouse IPA, and Dog Schwarz to name a quick few of the recent releases. It is worth noting that both Double Dog and Raging Bitch came up through the Wild Dog Series "circuit."
Flying Dog sued the Michigan Liquor Control Commission after the commission banned the sale of "Raging Bitch" in the state. What's the response been from the craft beer community?
The craft beer community, as well as the wider community of journalists worldwide have been incredibly supportive of Flying Dog challenging a system that is wrongly set in place to control the free expression of ideas. We find that it's a simple and basic constitutional and freedom of expression issue and it seems the community as a whole agrees.