In our first installment of Noted Brewers of America, we decided to sit down with Matt Brophy, the brewmaster for Flying Dog, a brewery Playboy has a friend in common with: Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson used to live down the road from founder George Stranahan’s Flying Dog Ranch in Woody Creek, Colorado.
Like Thompson, Stranahan’s interests included “explosives, high-powered weapons, politics, football, whiskey, and beer” so it was no surprise that the two became notorious friends. Upon the launch of Road Dog, a Scottish ale that is still made to this day, Hunter wrote an essay, “Ale According to Hunter,” as well as a toast where Flying Dog’s slogan, "Good People Drink Good Beer," finds its roots. [Editor's note: both pieces of writing can be found on The Flying Dog site here: flyingdogales.com]
Although Flying Dog has moved from Colorado to Frederick, Maryland, they’ve stuck to their Gonzo heritage and are continually producing some of the best craft beers America has to offer.
Playboy.com: For someone who is unfamiliar with your beer, what you can expect from a bottle of Flying Dog Ale?
Matt Brophy: A unique hand-crafted product that has a sort of flavor profile. We’re true hop lovers so many of our beers are hop-centric.
Playboy.com: How did you become a brewmaster?
Brophy: I started home brewing at the age of 17, which eventually led into a professional brewing job at the age of 20. I worked with another brewery and then started with Flying Dog Ale in 2003, so I’ve now been with the organization for about 10 years.
Playboy.com: What’s the best part of your job?
Brophy: It definitely has to be the team that I work with. When you have a group of individuals that are so passionate about what they do it’s just awesome. It’s a group that has its own culture. At the end of the day when everyone is having a beer together, it’s amazing; you’re actually happy to talk about work. You talk about your day over a beer and the new beers that you’re working on and brew up some concepts…Yeah, I’d have to say that the people we work with is the best part of the job.
Playboy.com: Where do you look for inspiration for new kinds of brews?
Brophy: The inspiration is again really the culture of the organization, what we’re into at the brewery. We have a series that’s called brew house rarities: we have an annual meeting where anyone in the organization can pitch a concept for a beer that they’d like to do and then we choose twelve of those concepts to be brewed by the person who suggested them over the course of the year; we release them monthly. Those are small-batch brews and it gives us an opportunity to try new things. But the inspiration really comes from within. We’re also inspired with what other craft brewers do, so it’s all a combination.
Playboy.com: Was your Pearl Necklace Oyster Stout a part of brew house rarities?
Brophy: It was actually a collaboration brew. We collaborated with the Oyster Recovery Partnership, which is a nonprofit organization out of Cambridge, Maryland. The organization’s main goal is to repopulate the Chesapeake Bay with oysters. Originally the bay had been abundantly full of oysters which are what kept it clean. If you didn’t know, each oyster filters about 50 gallons of water a day and these days we’re at 1% of what the population looked like a century ago. So the Oyster Recovery Partnership takes used oyster shells and grows oysters in them through an embryotic state. They’ve introduced six billion oysters since they started in 1994.
We also work with Rappahannock River Oyster Farm down in Virginia and use their oysters in the beer. We look at collaborations as a learning opportunity and a part of the whole process of creating better beers. We’ve wanted to do a stout for a while, so we figured it would be interesting to try out an oyster stout and have a portion of the proceeds go to the Oyster Recovery Partnership that has a direct positive impact on our environment.
Playboy.com: Flying Dog has some of the most unusual beer labels I’ve ever seen. Can you tell us about the artist and the story behind the artwork?
Brophy: Our company was founded by George Stranahan back in 1990 in Aspen, Colorado. George was good friends with Hunter [S.] Thompson, whose house was up the road. Thompson started working with Ralph Steadman in 1970, covering the Kentucky Derby. They became really good friends. So George asked Thompson if he thought Ralph would do some of the labels when he was starting the brewpub back in 1990 and, in Thompson fashion, he told our founder that there was no chance in hell that was going to happen. Six months later the proofs for our Doggy Style Pale Ale label showed up on George’s doorstep.
Playboy.com: How difficult is it for craft beers to survive when there are so many larger names cornering the market?
Brophy: We’re in a huge boom cycle right now for craft brewing. There are over 2,000 craft breweries in the country. Craft beer in 2011 exceeded the five percent by volume number of total beer sales in the U.S. And the Brewers Association expects that to double by 2017 or so. The big guys are kind of scrambling because five percent of the market, and then double that to ten, is really cutting into their sales. I get the question about competition a lot, craft brewers as competitors, and at the end of the day, if we’re growing this quickly, rising tide and we’ll just have to see which boats float.
Playboy.com: If you could go anywhere in the world for one last meal and one last brew, where it would be and why?
Brophy: I think I’d have beer and cheese at the West Mall at a place called The Abbey. I’d have a West Mall Triple and some of the cheese that they make on-site at The Abbey.
For more information on Flying Dog Ale, merch, events and its brew pub locations, visit their website: flyingdogales.com
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