Flying Dog 2008 Horn Dog

How often do you get to call a bottle of beer adorable?

Last week, I received a couple bottles of the 2008 vintage of Flying Dog‘s Horn Dog, the barleywine in their Canis Major series of beers. These were not your typical beer bottles, however. They were a bit more petite, a bit more precious, and way more adorable.

Although I’ve never seen them on the shelves here in Maine, apparently Flying Dog sells their four strongest beers (the aforementioned Canis Major series) in mixed 8-packs of 7 oz bottles. This means that, instead of picking up four bottles of either a barleywine, imperial porter, tripel or double pale ale, you can get 2 junior-sized bottles of each for just a little bit more. It is a very cool – if slightly gimmicky – idea, and it is definitely a bit easier on the liver to have a couple half-sized bottles of really strong beer than a couple full bottles. Plus, the itty-bitty bottles make me feel like a mythical giant, which is all kinds of rad.

The second-strongest beer that Flying Dog regularly brews, the Horn Dog Barley Wine is pretty hefty, despite the cute wittle package. Here’s a description of the beer from FlyingDogAles.com;

By far the biggest dog in the yard… Horn Dog Barley Wine is a dark and malty English-style Barely Wine that is aged for a minimum of three months before being packaged. Like a fine wine, this beer will only get better with age when stored at optimum conditions.

The bottles I had were from a two-year-old batch, so they changed quite a bit from the fresh version of the brew. Keep that in mind when you’re reading my tasting notes (although the real backbone of the beer should be fairly similar for ’09 and ’10 versions).

The Horn Dog pours a tawny brown, a bit darker than an amber but lighter than a porter or stout. Is it too vague to say it looks like a barleywine should look? The carbonation isn’t super-strong, but there are still plenty of bubbles lazily floating to the top of the beer, and the head – while thin – sticks to the top of the beer for a long time. I’m not sure if it’s because of the age of the beer or the brewery’s faithfulness to the English style of barleywine, but there is hardly any hop in the nose. That’s not to say the beer smells weak. Quite the opposite – there are really rich smells of dark fruits (plum, fig, date) and some caramel-toffee from the malt. The nose is formidable to say the least, and ends with a bit of an alcohol sting.

The first sip of the Horn Dog is sweet and boozy. The flavors of the fruits in the nose are all there, but mellow and almost overpowered by the sweetness of the malt. Anise and chocolate come out in the middle of a sip, and the finish is pleasantly rummy. I poured the beer a bit cooler than I probably should have, and by the time it warmed up to cellar temperature the flavors locked into harmony with each other. I’m not sure if everything is as mellow and in balance in a fresher bottle, but in this vintage brew everything just works together. With the ABV, the strong flavors and the mouth-coating texture, this beer is definitely a sipper – although I wouldn’t mind having 12oz of it at a time instead of just 7oz.

Thanks to Flying Dog for giving me a chance to try the aged/tiny version of the Horn Dog. It’s a tasty brew, and I doubly recommend trying it out if you can get the teeny bottles – when else will you have an excuse to pretend you’re Bill Foster while you’re sipping a beer?

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