When you’re trying to link books and beer, Flying Dog has got to be one of the first breweries that comes to your mind. Brewery founder George Stranahan was buddies with gonzo writer Hunter Thompson, who would have “been one of his best customers…. if he had ever paid his tab“. This connection led to the commission of Hunter’s friend Ralph Steadman to design all the label art for the breweries. When you see a bottle of Flying Dog Gonzo Porter on the shelf, your mind can’t help but jump to the writing of the father of gonzo journalism.
I usually use a paragraph or two to describe the roots and personality of a brewery, but Flying Dog did such a good job of this that I’ll quote their origin story verbatim.
As George tells it, he and 11 of his closest friends and family decided to embark on what they called an “amateur mountaineering expedition” to climb K2 in the Himalayas. Under-qualified and unprepared, they started their journey with a Sherpa, a donkey, and a suitcase full of contraband. Naturally, half way through the trip the contraband was gone and the Sherpa and donkey had run off, leaving George and his group to fend for themselves. Luckily, everyone managed to make it off the mountain alive, and with a new outlook on life.
Like any good beer drinker would at the end of an experience like that, George and his group found a local Pakistani hotel bar to have a drink in. Now, alcohol is banned in most Muslim nations, but if you sign an affidavit stating you are the son of a Christian, it’s like a license to drink. George gladly signed away and got down to some serious drinking. That’s about the time he noticed a painting in the Flashman Hotel of a Flying Dog hanging on the wall that had been drawn by a local artist. Now, we all know dogs don’t fly, but nobody told this particular dog it couldn’t fly, just like no one had told George and his friends they couldn’t make this extraordinary journey. The Flying Dog became a symbol that George and his group used to describe what had happened to them with the mantra, “it is amazing what you can achieve if nobody tells you that you can’t.
What more can I say? The guys brew awesome beers with tons of personality. Hell, the Flying Dog bumper sticker I have says “Good Beer, No Shit.” Depending on your personality, if you ever see a Flying Dog rep you should either run directly to them or find a place to hide.
Along with a solid line of six year-round brews and four seasonals, Flying Dog produces a line of extreme beers. Called Canis Major (from the Latin “greater dog“, natch), the line is made up of a barley wine, a tripel, an imperial porter and a double pale ale. For today’s review, my tastebuds are aimed at that last brew – the Double Dog Double Pale Ale.
Double Dog pours rust orange, something akin to the underside of a car that’s put up with a few Maine winters. To stick with the winter theme, the billowing head is wonderfully snow white. Carbonation is pretty wild, and the head sticks to the side of the glass like you expect with a good IPA. As some other reviews have mentioned, the nose on this brew is simply incredible. There’s a lot of hop – specifically the big Cs of Cascade and Columbus – but theres a formidable caramel malt presence to balance things out. The alcohol is just barely noticable too, which isn’t a surprise in an 11.5% ABV beer.
After a sip, I can see why Flying Dog bills this as a “double pale ale” rather than a DIPA or Imperial IPA. Sure, the hop bitterness you’d expect in an extreme beer is there, and the finish is glorious citrus sweetness with a bit of grass and spicy tang. However, the up-front flavors really pour on the sweetness. Caramel and some sweet breadiness balance out the hops, making this one of the few extreme beers that balances out increased hops with a malt backbone. Tasty, except for an unfortunately all-too-noticable alcohol flavor. About halfway through a pint the bite isn’t as noticable (hey, did I mention it’s almost 12%?) but it keeps this beer from being quite as drinkable as it could be. Mouthfeel is deliciously chewy, and the flavors work together even better as the beer warms to room temperature.
I’d say the Double Dog is a good beer. A really good beer. The only thing keeping it from great is the alcohol, which is just cloying enough to keep me from enjoying the beer as much as I’d like. Still, it’s incredibly solid, and has much more balance in terms of flavor than a lot of extreme brews. Highly alcoholic and far from the norm – definitely a gonzo beer that Hunter would approve of.