I was lucky enough to be invited down to The Cross Keys last night for a rare chance to meet Matt Brophy of Flying Dog, their Senior VP and Head Brewer. Events like this can often go the way of Beer Festivals; when done right, they can be great chances to meet people you admire and sample beer in a great setting; when done wrong they can be horrid, soulless, corporate junkets. Luckily, this event was done right. Good Beer, Good Food, and Good People.
Firstly, Matt turned out to be a genial and knowledgeable host - positively dripping with enthusiasm, he guided us non-stop through pretty much most of FD's beers (details of which you can find on thier site rather than me list them all here), feeding us comments on origins, ingredients and other minutiae that beer nerds like us love, whilst we drank and nodded sagely. Matt discovered brewing through the writing of US homebrew legend Charlie Papazian, and decided that a life in barley and hops was for him. After some formal brewing education he made the trip from New Jersey to Colorado and, after a stint at Great Divide Brewing, ended up at Flying Dog.
After a small introduction to the brewery and the legend of George Stranahan, we moved onto the beers; in order, the Woody Creek Wit started us off, but in my opinion was shaded slightly by the arrival of In-Heat Wheat - tons of banana and phenols on the nose, and a wonderfully smooth, almost Almondy aftertaste makes this one of my favourite FD beers. Thier flagship Doggy Style Pale Ale gave us that benchmark US Craft brew taste right off the bat - boiled candy in the body and floral yet bitter Cascade hops dominating everything else. Old Scratch Amber Lager proved to be a sweeter variation on the same theme. Tire Biter Golden Ale was an interesting one; very pale for US standards and with a slightly belgian horseblanket aroma offset with peppery hops, it paired up very nicely indeed with the Seared Scallop that accompanied it.
I found the Garde Dog a little uninspiring, and Road Dog Porter, albeit very tasty and with smoke and chocolate in all the right places, seemed very pale indeed to what should constitute Porter in my mind. However, Kerberos Tripel soon revitalised my taste buds - what a great beer. Sweet, with a nice belgian malt complexity and earthy aroma, this was one beer that I didn't want to stop drinking. But I had to, as the Horn Dog Barley Wine and Double Dog IPA's arrived. Horn Dog, although very sweet indeed, proved to be a lot smoother and more restrained than I thought it would be, and the Double Dog IPA did what it said on the tin - this was one huge IPA. Dogtoberfest provided more of that smooth, easy drinking craft beer that FD do very well when not running off to the limits.
The beers just kept getting bigger. Gonzo Imperial Porter took me back to my first taste of FD all those years ago, and matched perfectly with the little slice of coffee ice-cream that accompanied it. As the night wore on, and the volume in the room increased, a couple of really special beers rounded off the night. Dog-Schwarz, a smoked double lager, was a revelation - I'm not a big fan of smoked beers at all but this was balanced so well, it's kind of made me think that I need to reappraise smoked beers. Wonderful stuff.
I asked Matt whether he was planning to commemorate the fifth Anniversary of Hunter S Thompson's death in February - he told us that although that wasn't decided yet, they did have their own milestone - a 20th Anniversary, marked by Raging Bitch (gotta love those names) - which, as if by magic, appeared at our hands. The lady sitting next to me exclaimed it to be a true 'Breakfast Beer' - and upon sipping, I could see why. Pure, pure grapefruit - on top of a massively sweet, almost cloudy body. I guess it's an IPA with a belgian twist - almost like loading Orval with a shot of IPA and masses of hops, if that makes sense - but if FD continue to produce this, then the world could be facing an Amarillo hop shortage pretty soon. The aroma was something else, and I've never come across anything so fruity in a beer without it being a fruit beer!
A great night, all in all. Tasting the majority of FD's beers in one go like this has given me more of a sense of who they are, and their identity - which is what these events should do, but so often fail to do. My drinking partner, relatively new to the world of beer, came away a firm fan, and that's one more guy buying good beer. Our thanks go to FD, North, The Cross Keys (particularly the waiting and kitchen staff who were, quite honestly, amazing) and James Clay for landing such a coup. Let's do it again sometime.