Flying Dog Beer

From Beatdom #7

Writers and alcohol have gone hand in hand since the advent of the written word. Absinthe fueled many a poet, Bukowski made a career out of being a barfly, and Kerouac showed us the ugly side of a love affair with booze.

There is a brewery in Maryland named Flying Dog that has taken this relationship to new levels. It’s not hard to see just by looking at their produce. Wild Gonzo art and a quote from its master adorn every bottle they sell, and a First Amendment battle was fought for four long years just to have a certain phrase printed on its Road Dog Porter. In a day and age were most breweries are only using super models or stereotypes to hock their brews it’s refreshing to see a company taking the road less traveled and taking a stand to promote literacy. I decided to take the time to see why this was. So I sent out a query and a few questions to see where they stood.

The first thing a person notices about your beer is the art on the label and the “Good people drink good beer” quote from Hunter S. Thompson. Could you please explain why the quote is on your bottles and how you got Ralph Steadman to illustrate them?

Hunter S. Thompson met Ralph Steadman at the Kentucky Derby in 1970. HST was looking around for an artist to do a Derby article for Scanlan’s with him. HST wanted someone with a peculiar sense of humor, because it was going to be a really twisted story. HST felt that it would require somebody with a “serious kink in his brain”.  Sanclan’s editor, Warren Hinckle knew just the person – Ralph Steadman, who was then working for Private Eye in London. HST relates the entire story in the interview “A Conversation on Ralph Steadman and His Book, America, with Dr. Hunter S. Thompson”.

HST’s article on the Kentucky Derby is titled “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved”.

Ralph would visit HST at his “fortified compound” Owl Farm in Woody Creek, CO and on one of his visits he met HST’s landlord, neighbor and friend, George Stranahan.

In 1994, Flying Dog Brewery (then called Broadway Brewing) was founded in Denver, CO.

In 1996, HST asked Ralph, on behalf of George Stranahan, if we would do label art of Flying Dog’s Doggie Style Pale Ale and the Road Dog Porter.

Ralph did, we all loved the art, and Ralph has been gracious enough to do label art for Flying Dog ever since.  I think he has around 19 labels for Flying Dog.

You had a four year legal battle to print “good beer no shit” on the Road Dog Porters. Could you elaborate on this?

Ralph was painting the Road Dog for the BBC and apparently because Ralph has his own lifestyle flamboyance the words “Good Beer. No Shit.” Because he could do it right on BBC television. It was probably related to the essay that HST wrote for the launch of Road Dog. At the end of HST’s essay, he quoted an ancient Celtic axiom that “Good people drink good beer. Just look around any public barroom and you will see: Bad people drink bad beer. Think about it.”

And so, Ralph was delighted that he was going to be able to put that wonderful word “Shit” not only on the label but in his handwriting on the BBC. He was going to show the stuffy BBC a thing or two by splashing the word “shit” across his art.

We put took Ralph’s art and put it on the Road Dog beer.  The state of Colorado called it obscenity and made us pull the beer off the market.

We then reprinted the label with “Good Beer. No Censorship”.

In the meantime, the ACLU’s Mark Silverstein, took on the case. So why would the ACLU take on this kind of case? When Mark Silverstein announced the ACLU victory over the liquor board he said “You may wonder why it seemed important to the ACLU to take on what might appear as a sophomoric kind of joke, the capacity to put the word “shit” on a beer label. It might not seem to be the most important first amendment case that we could have taken on. Let me tell you why the ACLU thought it was significant to take on the case.  When it comes to the First Amendment you have to smell the smoke come under the door before the fire gets here because if there’s smoke coming out of the door is the fire is behind it and we felt that “Good beer. No shit,” was not sophomoric, that it was true smoke under the door and we had to defend it.”

You are obviously lovers of literature at Flying Dog. Could you please tell us some of your favorite authors?

Hunter S. Thompson

Ayn Rand

Robert Heinlein

William S. Burroughs

Jack Kerouac

Cory Doctorow

Ralph Steadman  (The Joke’s Over, Tales of the Weird, Untrodden Grapes, The Grapes of Ralph)

What it is your favorite memory of Hunter S. Thompson? I understand

he was a good friend of the brewery, correct?

HST was a friend of George Stranahan, Flying Dog’s founder, for more than 40 years. Our focus going forward is on how to preserve HST’s legacy of fighting against all forms of authoritarianism; genuine reporting – Gonzo or otherwise – and truth in the media; and political activism – there’s nothing more effective than marching on city hall. Flying Dog is working with Anita Thompson, HST’s widow and the Gonzo Foundation, to preserve what HST stood for.

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To learn more about Flying Dog go visit there site http://www.flyingdogales.com

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Author: David S. Wills

David S. Wills is the founder and editor of Beatdom magazine and the author of The Dog Farm. He travels a lot, and is currently working as a professor in China. His latest book is called Scientologist! William S. Burroughs the Weird Cult. You can read more about and by David at his blog, www.davidswills.com or on Tumblr.

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