Craft Brewing and the Canine: From Old Brown to Raging B*tch

There are two things that will never let you down in this world: your beer and your dog. Long have I held a deep adoration for both of these bubbly, cheer-invoking friends.

And it seems that great minds may think alike. In my craft beer explorations, I have come to realize that there is a distinct relationship between brewing and dogs. There are too many brands to count that sport dogs either in their name or on their label.

But why do dogs take such a prominent role in the world of craft brewing? What is it about these creatures that holds such a close connection with fancy beers? Here are a few of the many breweries that have a special connection with the canine.

Ode to the Old Dogs

Smuttynose brewing company is perhaps best known for their Old Brown Dog Ale, one of their very first beers created back in 1988. This beer garnered its namesake from the brewery’s own dog Olive, a Weimaraner and Brittany Spaniel mix who spent 15 years greeting visitors at the brewery. To this day she is pictured on the venerable ale’s label, a classic symbol of the company’s fond devotion to its faithful pet.

Craft Brewing and the Canine: From Old Brown to Raging B*tch image smuttynose old brown dog sixer 1024x8971Image courtesy of Smuttynose Brewery

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I recently had the opportunity to speak with the “Minister of Propaganda” at Smuttynose, JT Thompson. He explained that the idea for the Old Brown Dog image was directly related to the beer’s brown hue. Besides this, Smuttynose founder Peter Egelston says that Old Brown’s label paints a comforting, familiar picture to the consumer. He recognized the commonplace connection that the average American can drum up when they see that Old Brown Dog, whether it’s the fond memory of a past pet or the intrinsically loveable associations with this dog.

JT further rationalized the Smuttynose philosophy when asked about the overall role of dogs in this industry, “I think dogs play a great role in the craft brewing world because lots of people have them, both brewers and beer drinkers. Because the bonds between dogs and owners are so strong, putting a dog on the label triggers a reminder of that bond.”

And the brewery’s bond with their beloved old girl Olive is indeed a strong one. They reinforce their pet’s legacy with a tribute page on the website, celebrating Olive’s life and providing a testament to her role at the brewhouse.

Craft Brewing and the Canine: From Old Brown to Raging B*tch image Olivepage1Images courtesy of Smuttynose Brewery

Smuttynose even gives their fans a chance to share the puppy love with an Old Brown Dog photo pinup gallery, where users can submit pictures of their own pets to the site for all to see. This serves as a valuable way to engage with their consumer base, evidence that the aforementioned emotional connection with their beer’s image is a pungent marketing feat. And it’s all due to Old Brown’s remarkable charm.

Australian Black Dog Brewery founder James Booth has similar sentiments when it comes to the dog. His rural Victoria-based operation is greener than most, having opened in late 2011. After his hard work starting the business, James has chosen to brand his microbrews using the family dog, Macca. A loyal and valued member of his household for more than 12 years, it only makes sense that he’d assign such a role to his trusty companion.

Each beer produced by Black Dog pictures Macca on its label in a different playful pose. Booth even offers a “brew pedigree” that describes the ingredients, alcohol content and availability of each of his creations. And although James’ venture is just getting started, this branding strategy has set his pet up to become a craft beer celebrity in the future.

Craft Brewing and the Canine: From Old Brown to Raging B*tch image Black Dog Brewery Bounty 1024x7821

Craft Brewing and the Canine: From Old Brown to Raging B*tch image blackdogbrewing1Images courtesy of Black Dog Brewery

It makes good sense that giving the brand a face – especially a dog’s face – is a sure-fire way to get you recognized. Much like Smuttynose (and a slew of other craft breweries), Black Dog exhibits their delightful mascot in order to make an endearing link with the consumer’s sentimental subconscious.

Another intrinsically-advantageous element of the canine mascot involves its presence in brewery tours. When fans visit the establishment to get a first-hand look (and taste) of their favorite brews, the face of the brand is there to greet them with a friendly lap on the cheek. Many tourists will leave happier having had the chance to meet the mascot, and often get a photo or two next to him/her to tell their friends about.

Mr. Booth suggests that the very nature of a dog’s personality may be what makes it so popular with the working-class brewmaster. The inquisitive, upbeat and rambunctious qualities of man’s best friend lend themselves to an active lifestyle of working long hours in a brewery.

Now roll over, boy!

And then we have beer-makers that harness much different aspects of the pooch. Maryland’s Flying Dog Brewery began with one man’s outlandish adventure to the edge of the world. In 1983, Rancher and astrophysicist extraordinaire George Stranahan lead his group of “innocents” into the high peaks of K-2. At the celebratory libations of their journey’s conclusion, George took a deep fascination with a “full-on” oil painting of a hovering dog in their Pakistani hotel. It was this bizarre painting that served as the inspiration for what is now the Flying Dog brewing empire.

This brewery is an exceptionally potent example of canine-based marketing. Stranahan’s close relationship with notorious Gonzo journalist and deviant Hunter S. Thompson and subsequent connection with artist Ralph Steadman is what gave Flying Dog the graphic edge now sported on all of its labels and promotions.

Each and every unique brew released by the masterminds at Flying Dog is its very own (and often raunchy) breed. There’s an In-Heat Wheat Hefeweizen for hot summer days, Horn Dog Barley Wine Ale for the malty madmen, and even the Raging Bitch Belgian-Style IPA made infamous by hop heads everywhere.

Craft Brewing and the Canine: From Old Brown to Raging B*tch image flyingdoglabels 1024x2701Images courtesy of Flying Dog Brewing

Their connection with the hound is far more abstract than traditional dog-based breweries. Rather than idolizing a particular pet, this company pays tribute to the canine schema as a whole. Flying Dog portrays their Steadman-channeled ink-splatter animals as raw, untamed and riotous. This is something we don’t see much from breweries; a deviation that turns the domesticated companion on its head (or, rather, rolls over on its back).

A treat for the faithful

*Disclaimer: Alcohol, hops, and mash are known to be toxic to dogs. Dogs may have a sincere relationship with these goodies, but never feed them to your pet.

With as much that the dog does for the brewer, they do get something back every now and then. And what better than their own doggy beer? Non-alcoholic, of course.

There are now several companies producing specially-formulated beer for dogs. Bowser Beer offers six packs of puppy brewskies in “Beefy Brown Ale” and “Cock-a-Doodle Brew”. The beverages are made from beef or chicken stock, malt extract and glucosamine HCL. They tout the nutritional benefits of their pseudo-beers much as kibbles and bits does for their foods: improved joint health, Vitamin B for a sleek and shiny coat along with homemade-quality stock.

Bowser even provides custom-made labeling to give pet owners the opportunity to paste their dog’s likeness on the bottle.

Craft Brewing and the Canine: From Old Brown to Raging B*tch image doglabel11Courtesy of Bowser Beer

The dog beer phenomenon is growing, and a company in Holland is marketing a similar product that they call “Kwispelbier” (tail-wagging beer). Distributing to the US and UK, Kwispelbier and their partners at Lucky Dog Beer are spreading the love and allowing dog lovers to “share the moment” with their pets.

If only my own dog was bipedal and came to the bar with me…

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