By Kristen Maloney
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
The smell of pellet hops and barley permeates every room on the tour as the group moves deeper into the rich history of the Flying Dog Brewery.
“Our story is one for the books,” said Jim Caruso, the pub’s CEO. “Most people come here because they love our product, but what they don’t know is that the history of how we got here is much deeper than just beer.”
Residents of Frederick County, Maryland, as well as tourists from all over the country, travel to the Flying Dog Brewery to experience the substantial, unique history and culture the facility exudes.
In addition to its deep-rooted background, the brewery is also an example of environmental responsibility as it donates its unused products, such as hops and barley, to local businesses for their use.
“This is the only Flying Dog Brewery in the world,” said Kyle Bolte, lead tour guide of the brewery. “This one building in a small town in Maryland supplies the world with what is, in my opinion, the best beer ever created.”
This sole brewery of the Flying Dog brand was founded by George Stranahan in 1990 and originally existed in Aspen, Colorado, according to Bolte. Stranahan, an astrophysicist with a doctorate from Carnegie Mellon University, then moved the brewpub to a bigger, more equipped facility in Denver in 1994.
“After realizing most of their sales came from east of the Mississippi River, George Stranahan moved the Flying Dog Brewery closer to the people who like his product more than anyone,” Bolte said.
In 2006, Stranahan purchased the former Frederick Brewing Company in Frederick, Maryland, Bolte said. Flying Dog finally made its home in Frederick County in 2008, where it thrives today.
Perhaps more intriguing than the way in which Stranahan decided on the location for his brewery is the unique, unconventional method he used in determining the name of it.
As a thrill-seeking mission in 1983, Stranahan traveled with 12 companions, or “innocents” as he called them, along with a Sherpa from Colorado to Rawalpindi, Pakistan, to climb the second highest mountain in the world, K2, Caruso said. This mountain acquired the name “Savage Mountain” due to its dangerous reputation with a death rate of one out of every four climbers.
As Stranahan and his companions returned to their hotel after pursuing their treacherous adventure, they wasted no time diving into the liquor cabinet, Caruso said. After climbing K2, a mission that did not allow its participants to partake in alcohol consumption, Stranahan and his group paid particular attention to this activity that had been neglected.
“George saw an oil painting in his room of a dog that appeared to be flying, hence the name ‘Flying Dog,’” Caruso said. “The rest is history.”
The legendary name of the beer company would not be nearly as influential without the extraordinarily recognizable illustrations that appear on each bottle of beer that is distributed. These illustrations are unique to every different kind of beer Flying Dog produces as well as equally imaginative and culturally creative.
In 1990, Hunter S. Thompson, an outlaw journalist from the 1960s who lived next to the Flying Dog ranch in Colorado, introduced long-time friend Stranahan to Ralph Steadman, a British artist, according to Seneca Watson, front desk associate at the Flying Dog Brewery. Steadman began his career designing original illustrations for Flying Dog’s 34 different beer labels by creating his first artwork for the Road Dog Porter beer in 1995.
“It’s an honor to know that someone of Steadman’s caliber created a different design for each one of our beers,” Watson said. “It’s incredible to think that he did each one himself, and they are all unique.”
While the history of the Flying Dog Brewery is indeed memorable and remarkable, the commitment they made to their environment and community may be even more so. The seriousness of the brewery as it takes care of its public shows how much they truly care about the place they call home.
“The brewery contributes to the economy of this great city and its community,” Bolte said. “It boosts the economy through the production and sales of our products as well as helping out local businesses, such as when we donate our discarded grains to farmers to use as fertilizers.”
Flying Dog exercises its environmental responsibility muscle by contributing all unused mash of grains consisting of pellet hops, barley and specialty malts to local farmers and businesses, according to Bolte. These businesses then turn the donations into a profit, which, in turn, increases the economy for Frederick County.
“We enjoy helping out our community and making it a better place by donating our recyclable materials to local facilities and farmers who use them in their own trade,” Watson said.
While the quality of their environment is of great importance to those at the brewery, nothing takes priority over the satisfaction of the consumers, according to Bolte. The brewery even goes to such lengths as to special-order a specific kind of hops, pellet hops, to ensure consumers’ satisfaction.
“Our slogan is, ‘Good People Drink Good Beer,’ and we hold ourselves to that standard,” Caruso said. “We are determined to produce a great product that our consumers will enjoy and keep them coming back. Our consumers deserve nothing but the best from us.”
To guarantee the best product possible, the brewery operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week with numerous employees working around the clock in all parts of the facility, said Erin Weston, director of communication for the Flying Dog Brewery. Although the brewery is only open Thursdays through Saturdays for tours and tastings, creating these products is more than a full-time job.
“I think what makes us so successful is our work ethic and passion for what we do,” Weston said. “Not all companies have that. Every single person who works here does their best every step of the way. The work that is put into the making of the beer and its process really pays off in the end.”
Flying Dog’s product extends beyond the boundaries of the state of Maryland. Consumers from all over the country, and perhaps even the world, travel to the small region of Frederick County for the exclusive experience, culture and product the brewpub has to offer.
“As soon as I got here, this place amazed me,” said Watson, who moved here from central Pennsylvania to study at Hood University while working at the brewery part-time. “The rich history combined with an awesome product makes for a dream job that anyone would be lucky to have. It’s hard not to be swept up in it.”