Welcome to Thirsty Thursday, a weekly column where we pick a beer from our fridge and review it, because in a world where two new breweries launch every single week, sometimes we need some help sifting through all of the hops.
Labor Day Weekend is almost upon us, which means summer is coming to an unofficial end and, before it does, we thought we’d pop open one last Summer Ale. But picking out the perfect beer proved to be somewhat difficult, so instead I embraced something a little weird and went with Dead Rise Old Bay Summer Ale from Flying Dog Brewery.
Flying Dog Brewery is no stranger to weird – but I will get to that in just a second.
Founded in 1990 by George Stranahan and Richard McIntyre, the idea initially began in a hotel room in Pakistan after summiting the world’s deadliest mountain and from there Stranahan and McIntyre ran with it, creating a brewpub in Woody Creek, Colorado. Stranahan, who earned a PhD in physics and was a professional photographer and a writer, had long been the owner of Flying Dog Ranch in a nearby town, so it only made sense to start it there. It was one of the first brewpubs in the Rocky Mountain region.
Woody Creek is best known as the home to noted author and journalist Hunter S. Thompson, an eccentric personality known for founding the gonzo journalism movement. Stranahan and Thompson were good friends, so much so that Thompson begged one of his other friends, who happened to be well known artist Ralph Steadman, to create a label or two for the brewery and include one of his now infamous quotes. Steadman agreed and then, live on the BBC, he marked four simple words on a canvas and it immediately became the mantra of Flying Dog – “Good Beer, No Shit.” Today, Steadman still creates the artwork seen on the company’s labels, while the company, according to its website, admits it embraces the weird and views craft beer as “an art form unlike any other.”
Fast forward more than two decades and Flying Dog is no longer located in Colorado but, instead, decided to fly halfway across the country and is now headquartered in Frederick, Maryland. The move was made mainly because of the high demand for their popular offerings. It’s currently the largest brewery in Maryland and, as of 2017, the 28th largest craft brewery in the United States, pumping out more than 100,000 barrels every year.
But enough about the history, let’s get to the beer. Dead Rise is certainly a unique beer and couldn’t be any more Maryland at its core. If you’ve never been to Maryland, the locals put Old Bay seasoning, which is made in Baltimore, on almost anything – mac and cheese, eggs, fries, but especially crabs. Well, this beer is brewed with Old Bay, something unique you won’t find anywhere else. Becoming a summer staple for Flying Dog over the last couple of years, it’s 5.5% alcohol by volume and 25 on the International Bitterness Units scale – and was brewed to support True Blue, a groundbreaking initiative to support Maryland Blue Crab industry. As you might expect, the logo features a crab, once again the work of Steadman, and contains just a brief summary of the name:
“Skillful in shallow waters, yet adept when it becomes deep and rough, Dead Rise boats were crafted to navigate the unique waterways of the Chesapeake. Our Dead Rise, brewed with Old Bay, supports the 5,500 watermen of the Bay.”
Before I opened it, I was unbelievably skeptical. I live about an hour drive from Maryland and I love Old Bay Seasoning, though incorporating the zesty seasoning with a summer beer seemed a little appalling. But let’s not forget, I did pick something weird.
Given my affinity for Old Bay Seasoning, the first thing I did when I cracked it open was give it the sniff test – hell, I practically stuck this beer straight up my schnoz. Almost immediately, I got a whiff of the standard malty beer smell, along with a hint of lemon. It took a few more sniffs to really smell that good, old Maryland crab seasoning but once I did, it was here to stay. This beer looks both orange and yellow in color – the head,which was hefty, is more like an off-white – and it is medium bodied with just a little bit of haze to it. From just the look alone, it looks just like a typical summer beer should.
When it comes to the taste, I’d say it really follows the smell. It’s light and crisp, with a malt undertone and some lemon mixed in as well. The Old Bay comes in right at the end, however I think I get the most of it after the sip, almost like it’s on my breath. Honestly, I felt like I had to work to really notice it, so I might have liked a little more incorporated into the beer. But it’s crisp and easy to drink, meaning you and your friends could easily kill a case while out crabbing. It’s affordable too, at $10 for a six-pack of bottle.
Scoring this beer was honestly a little tough and I felt like I had to take my love for Old Bay out of the equation. On one hand, I would have liked more included in the brewing process but on the other hand, I downed this beer at lightning speed and wanted another right after. It’s tasty. The overall score for Dead Rise on BeerAdvocate is 3.6 (out of 5) and I think that’s not too far off, as I would give this beer a 7.3 (out of 10) – it’s weirdness is worth exploring. To steal a quote from Thompson, who I forgot to mention is one of all-time favorite authors: “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”
Stay tuned for next week, because I might just try something from your favorite brewery.