Maryland Beer: A barrel aged Barleywine shootout (PART III: Flying Dog)

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Into Bat Country

As you walk through the doors to Flying Dog’s Frederick, MD brewery you are immediately greeted with an artistic impression of a dog in heat, a “Raging Bitch” no less. Complete with engorged genitalia and nipples. Flying Dog has no qualms with pushing the boundaries of good taste. This theme is omnipresent through every facet of their business. It’s really quite refreshing. Much of this style and attitude is a tribute to the legacy of Hunter S. Thompson, who also was known for pushing limits. Every limit.

This isn’t some ploy to look cool either. The founder of Flying Dog, George Stranahan, was good friends with Hunter S. Thompson. Thompson even gave suggestions to Stranahan for Flying Dog. For example it was Hunter S. Thompson that BottleTextsuggested that Flying Dog use Ralph Steadman to do the label artwork. This partnership has become a signature of Flying Dog, and one the carries on the devil-may-care attitude.

It was Steadman who first wrote on the Flying Dog Road Dog label, “Good Beer, No Shit!” All of this may give some the impression that Flying Dog just doesn’t care what others think of them. To an extent, that’s true. But since Flying Dog’s acquisition of their Frederick brewery in 2006, they have become a true Maryland beer. They didn’t want to be that Colorado brewery that came to town, they wanted to become part of the community.

It was Flying Dog that brought real craft beer to Baltimore Orioles games. Flying Dog has a number of events throughout the year, that make it a joy having this brewery in my backyard. Gonzofest, 420 Fest, Summer Sessions concert series, and Movie Nights at the Weinberg just to name a few.

As you can see, Flying Dog cares about the important things. As I heard their Brewmaster, Matt Brophy, say laughingly at a seminar last fall, “I don’t care what my beer looks like.” This was in reference to what brewers do to make their beer look clear. Many brewers use finings – some of which are fish swim bladder derivatives. Which for one means that if you are a vegetarian, you need to think twice about the beer you are choosing. You might be getting more than you asked for. It is also another ingredient, that in the eyes of many. Just. Isn’t. Needed.

Clarity or lack thereof is one of the first things you will notice about Barrel Aged Horn Dog.

When BA Horn Dog is poured into a glass, it isn’t a sparkling crystal clear beer. It’s got cojones. It’s brown, dirty, and mean. This might upset some, luckily for me, I’m not one upset by this. Because as I pour it in my glass I can smell what I’m going to be tasting. And unlike the DuClaw and Heavy Seas offerings, it also has a big rich head (horn?) to be proud of. Rising from the glass are smells of malt, grape, leather, wood, dark fruit, and a hint of citrus. The smell is very inviting. So the logical next step? You guessed it. Taste.

Luckily I had just had a cask version of Horn Dog a few nights prior, so I could really get a sense for what the barrel aging had added. This raises a curious question to me. Did Flying Dog brew a modified version of Horn Dog just for the barrel aging? The hops have really held up pretty well for having spent a year in Elk Run Vineyards Port Wine Barrels.

While the hop presence is not overwhelming by any means, it is enough to give it a good balance. Just a bit of citrus bite, and a little grassiness go a long way here. Since the hops are competing with rich malt and dark fruit, they need to put up a fight.

Much like the Heavy Seas Cabernet Aged the barrel aging is present but more subtle than a bourbon barrel aged beer. I was also treated to flavors of dried fruit, grape, wood, leather, tiny bit of banana, and alcohol. This had the most alcohol flavor of any of the barrel aged barleywines I had sampled. Which as I’ve said before, I really enjoy. What impressed me the most, was while still on the malty side, it was really close to being balanced. Which I feel is very impressive. Since barleywines are on the malty side anyway, and once you throw them in a port wine barrel for a year, two things are going to happen. The hops will fade, and the barrel will impart its own sweet character.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the mouthfeel. Carbonation was medium, but noticeable. Had some warmth, and almost no astringency. The finish is medium. Once again it shows balance – balancing between sweet and dry impressively.

Overall this was a very impressive beer. The only place I could really knock it would be for being cloudy – but Flying Dog doesn’t care about that, why should I. The other thing that I really need to complain about here is availability. There were only 300 bottles of this. I wouldn’t have even drunk this at this time, but I am sacrificing it to writing about it. (Please feel sorry for me) I usually like to get at least 2 bottles of beer like this. One to drink now, and one or more to age for later. It’s unfortunate for me this is all I’ll have of this. But I really can’t complain that much, since I was lucky enough to grab one of the 300 bottles made available to the public.

The Shootout

As I have been drinking, and writing, and writing, and drinking, I have been keeping scorecards so that I could give you my comparative impression between DuClaw, Heavy Seas, and Flying Dog. I also had my wife,BAShootout eve, keep score as well. Interestingly enough, our scores came out very similar. And no, I was not coaching her. So here are the scores:

DuClaw Bourbon Barrel Aged Devils Milk
Aroma: 10/12
Appearance: 3/3
Flavor: 17/20
Mouthfeel: 4/5
Overall Impression:8/10
Total: 42/50 (Excellent) – Spouse total: 43/50

Heavy Seas Cabernet Barrel Aged Below Decks
Aroma: 10/12
Appearance: 2/3
Flavor: 17/20
Mouthfeel: 3/5
Overall Impression: 9/10
Total: 41/50 (Excellent) – Spouse total: 43/50

Flying Dog Port Barrel Aged Horn Dog
Aroma: 11/12
Appearance: 2/3
Flavor: 18/20
Mouthfeel: 5/5
Overall Impression: 9/10
Total: 45/50 (Outstanding) – Spouse total: 44/50

As you can see I enjoyed all of these. The Flying Dog selection, to me was clearly the best of the bunch. But luckily for Heavy Seas and DuClaw they aren’t really competing with that since the Flying Dog is all gone. I also have to admit that while the scores didn’t reflect it, I did actually enjoy the Heavy Seas more than the DuClaw. But the DuClaw’s technical merit gave it an edge on the scorecards. No matter what the score, each of these breweries should be proud of a very good product.

Upcoming Events

April 20th  – Flying Dog Brewery’s Four 20
April 30th – May 5th – Brooklyn Brewery MASH
May 11th – 18th – Frederick Beer Week
May 11th – FBW BeerFest @ Stillpoint Farm
May 18th – Maryland Craft Beer Festival

Related articles

Maryland Barrel Aged Barleywine Shootout Part I – DuClaw

Maryland Barrel Aged Barleywine Shootout Part II – Heavy Seas