When Dogs Fly: DC Lucks Out on Local Beer
If you are like us, you may have a slight bias about buying beer at the grocery store, or at least you don't trod down the fluorescent aisles expecting to see high-quality craft beer sandwiched among the Schlitz, Smirnoff Ice, and craft-beer imposters produced by a certain industrial mega-brewery in St. Louis. Before Tuesday night's Flying Dog / Wild Goose tasting at the Brickskeller, we used to walk on past six-packs of Flying Dog in the cooler aisle with a curious interest, but couldn't bring ourselves to take it seriously. The beers we'd tried from them tended to be solid, but unremarkable–far too conservative to compete with more dynamic bottles filling shelves all over town. More than anything, what Flying Dog seemed to have going for it was cool, psychedelic labeling, but the beer behind it seemed to lack the same inventiveness.
Boy, were we wrong. Tuesday's tasting was a revelation, showing that Flying Dog has the mojo to compete with the best craft beers around. It should have come as no surprise; the brewery's been winning medals at beer festivals for almost 20 years, but somehow this brewery flew below our radar. Right around the time that much-loved local legend, Old Dominion Brewing Company, was purchased and relocated from the DC area to Delaware by its Anheuser-Busch-affiliated new owner, Flying Dog moved from its ancestral homeland in Colorado to Frederick, Maryland. Since then, its beers have been winning the loyalty of DC foodies, beer geeks, and regular folks alike as a new local option.
Tuesday night we got the chance to sample eight Flying Dog beers (and one Wild Goose ale). We were guided through them by head brewer Bob Malone, an old hand in the brewing game with 16 years of experience at so many breweries that he has trouble remembering them all. Among the offerings were several of Flying Dog's Canis Major series high-ABV "big beers" and a handful of the brewery's Wild Dog specialty beers, including a world premier of their newest creation, a yet-to-be-named Belgian Style IPA, and three versions of their Gonzo Imperial Porter, a tribute beer to '60s genius-madman Hunter Thompson. (His observation, "Good People Drink Good Beer," is Flying Dog's mantra, and his illustrator designs their labels.)
Here's what we thought of them.
- XPA: Extra Pale Ale – Put first in the tasting bill for a reason, this mild English-style ale was as drinkable as a glass of lemonade on a hot summer day, and would probably have as hard of a time achieving any alcoholic effects with only a 4% ABV. Not our favorite but we understand and appreciate its purpose.
Canis Major Series:
- Kerberos Triple – With traces of apricot and distinctly Belgian yeast, at 8.5% ABV this beer is sweet but not overwhelming. Tammy awarded her Lagerheads Gold Medal to this full-bodied Belgian-style triple.
- Double Dog IPA – You don't have to be a hophead to enjoy this specialty beer turned Flying Dog mainstay. Its combination of hops, pine, and citrus aromas and flavors pack an 11% ABV punch.
- Gonzo Imperial Porter – Our first of three Gonzos, this dark brew releases typical porterly coffee and cocoa aromas. At 7.8% ABV, it is sweet, and has a dry, smoky finish.
- Dry Hopped Gonzo – Straight from the firkin, this strong beer feels thick and heavy and tastes less like hops and more like molasses. It feels stronger than 8% ABV, undoubtedly a result of refermentation.
- Horn Dog Barleywine – Talk about big ones! This 12% monster was served eighth out of the nine, which means we barely remember it, but we vaguely recall being surprised at how balanced the beer was despite its maltiness and strong alcoholic presence.
Wild Dog Specialty Beers:
- Belgian Style IPA – Bruce's gold medal winner was this hybrid style, which fared well at its first foray into public consumption. Head Brewer Bob Malone described it as having "a lot of hops, a lot of malt, and a lot of yeast," and we thought you could taste them all in a relatively smooth package.
- Dog Schwarz – A conglomeration of recent trends in German beer styles, Dog Schwarz was meant to be the extreme of extremes: part doppelbock, part rauchbier, part black lager. The flavors came out but we found ourselves wanting to be able to focus on one of the styles instead of trying to appreciate all three at once.
- Barrel-Aged Gonzo – The most complex offering of the evening was this sweet, smoky, chocolatey black beauty. Aged in Stranahan (a Colorado micro-distillery) whiskey barrels, this Gonzo had hints of vanilla and an oaky alcoholic finish not present in its siblings.
Overall, the evening proved that the talented brewers at Flying Dog have done an outstanding job creating balance in even their most extreme beers. This observation has made us eager to seek out these complex brews, as well as want to give a second chance to some of their more traditional offerings. If you are interested in learning more about what Flying Dog has to offer and which of their wide array of brews may be the best match for your palate, check out Flying Dog's beer description chart. Better yet, write them and let them know which beers you would like to see more of. According to VP of Brewing Operations Matt Brophy, who was also at Tuesday's tasting, they are eager to accommodate. With your help, we should be seeing more of these wild dogs howling from the shelves and taps of neighborhood stores and bars in the DC area.