Beer (and) Man’s Best Friend
For Beer Dogs Everywhere
By nature, the dog is a pack animal. You are a six-pack animal. No wonder you and Fido get along so well.
We’ve had millennia to perfect our relationships with our dogs and with our beers. We turned our big brains to the domestication of both canines and barley around the same time in human history—around 10,000 years ago, give or take a couple of thousand years.
Out of the process of domestication, we created remarkable diversity—breeds of dogs and styles of beer that suit local needs and resources. But they are all variations on a theme: no matter the superficial differences, all dogs are members of the single species, Canis domesticus; all beers are based on fermented grain.
And, in their different ways, the willing dog and the welcome mug of beer help address the human wish for companionship. It is no wonder that brewers have often put the two together when selling their wares.
A Man’s Best Friend is His Dog:
For some of us, dogs can be relied upon for the qualities that seem hard to find in people: unconditional loyalty, undemanding company, and tireless support. For many brewers, the most natural dog to associate with their beers is their own.
When Pete Slosberg launched Pete’s Wicked Ale in the 1980s, he and his partner agreed that Pete’s English Bull Terrier, Millie, would be the beer’s mascot. “We wanted her for completely different reasons: I thought she was the neatest looking breed; my partner thought she was the most ridiculous looking breed. But at least we agreed she’d look good on the label.” says Slosberg.
About a year later, while watching TV, “we got our first view of what was to come,” Slosberg says, when a dog handler introduced another English Bull Terrier on the Letterman show—white coat, pink eyes, convex nose, black eye-patch on the left eye. That dog was called Spuds McKenzie, and he was the new mascot for Bud Light.
In time, Pete’s was contacted by Anheuser-Busch about the potential confusion that could arise from two companies having the same breed of dog on their beer labels, and suggested that Pete’s remove Millie. “We believe we were first,” says Slosberg, “but reality is, if A-B was spending millions to promote Spuds, the public would believe Spuds came first. We could fight a case and win, but lose the company in the process.” Millie retired.
Eisenhower observed “What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” Clearly, the size of the owner’s wallet matters, too.
When bars and pubs are named in honor of the good times dogs and humans spend together, the allusion is often to field sports: Fox and Hounds, The Angel and Greyhound, Dog and Otter.
But Greyfriars Bobby’s pub in Edinburgh is a tribute to canine fidelity. In 1858, John Gray, a destitute shepherd travelled into Edinburgh together with his Skye terrier, Bobby. The old shepherd was cared for at the Greyfriars Church until he died, and was buried in the churchyard there. As told in a Disney weepie made in the early sixties, his little dog stayed near the grave for the next 14 years. The Lord Provost of Edinburgh paid Bobby’s licence fee personally. A small bronze statue of a terrier—now shiny from petting—stands outside the pub.
Another dog-pub connection is part of the language in Northern England, where “taking the dog for a walk” is a euphemism for going to the pub for a quick pint. In the 1980s, Newcastle Brown Ale built an ad campaign around the phrase: it was so successful that Newcastle Brown claims to be known colloquially as “The Dog.”
Dogs were first domesticated to work for us, not to be our best friends. They controlled vermin, guarded livestock, and they brought down prey too large or dangerous for human hunters to tackle alone.
Stroh’s Brewing Co. identified the modern equivalent of the dog who brings his owner an antelope for dinner: the dog who can bring his human a cold beer. Peter Blum, the archivist for Stroh’s, recalls the “Alex” TV ads of the 1980s. “These fellows are playing poker. One guy says ‘Alex, get me a beer.’ The dog goes into the kitchen. You hear the sound of the refrigerator opening. ‘That’s Alex opening the refrigerator,’ he says. Then you hear a bottle popping and a pouring sound. ‘That’s Alex pouring the beer.’ Then you hear the sound of a dog lapping. The guy yells, ‘Hey, that better be your water!’”
The Alex ads were so popular that Alex became a spokesperson—or spokes-dog—for Stroh’s. “Then the company became afraid they’d be too closely associated with dogs,” says Blum, “so they pulled the ads. Stroh’s vacated the ‘dog spot,’ and left it open for Bud Light and Spuds McKenzie.”
Bob Sokol of Austin, TX, trained his German shepherd-mix, Amyl, to finish the job Alex started. In 1985, Bob and Amyl appeared on the “Stupid Pet Tricks” segment of the David Letterman Show, where Amyl demonstrated how to throw away his human’s empty beer cans. You can relive Amyl’s night of fame at www.bobsokol.com.
Lots of brewers and breweries seem partial to working dogs, particularly big retrievers. Black Lab Stout from Lucky Labrador Brewing Co. (Portland, OR) gives two wags for the breed. Spanish Peaks Brewing Co. in Boseman, MT (motto: “No Whiners”) puts owner Mark Taverniti’s dog Chug on the labels of all Spanish Peaks beers, including Black Dog Ale. Chug receives photos of other black dogs, care of the brewery office (called “the Kennel”).
Chug isn’t the only beer dog with a web presence: Olive, the original canine behind Old Brown Dog (Smuttynose Brewing Co., Portsmouth, NH) also accepts photos from dog-loving fans. And where most dogs must be content to produce litters of pups, Olive’s namesake American style brown ale (5.7% ABV and more highly-hopped than the English variant) helped “give birth” to Abita’s Turbo Dog beer.
Another Yankee brewery gives a nod to nautical dogs: Sea Dog Brewery (Camden, ME) is named for Barney, the brewery dog, a Great Pyrenees with an unusual affinity for water. Though Barney is gone, he grins from under a sou’wester on all the Sea Dog labels.
It’s a Dog-Eat-Dog World:
Bad Dogs, Tough Dogs
Not all of our associations with dogs are friendly. Dogs have a rich repertoire of threatening gestures meant to intimidate: raised hackles, growls, snarls.
Beers named for dogs’ dark side should have a flavor that bites back: Pitbull Dry Lite Ice (Hartford Brewery, Hartford, CT) doesn’t sound able to deliver enough snap to match that famously macho breed.
By contrast, Big Bad Dog Old English Ale (Blue Cat Brewpub, Rock Island, IL) promises enough flavor to strain your leash, as does Mad Dog from England’s Bull Mastiff Brewery.
We have tough, Churchillian bulldogs (Bulldog Brewing, Fresno, CA), menacing large dogs (Big Dog Brown Ale, Copper Tank Brewing Co., Austin, TX); dogs in a fix (Dog Pound Brew, Evansville Brewing Co., Evansville, IN; Dog Pound Porter, Old Harbor Brewing Co., Ipswich, MA); and a dog who just got fixed (Howlin’ Dog Brown Ale, Hangtown Brewery, Placerville, CA).
If you’re a “Gladiator” fan, Maximus Ale (Lagunitas Brewing Co., Petaluma, CA) has the right name, but only a minimus dog on the label.
And if you’re spoiling for a fight—a dog fight, certainly—your destination is Angry Dog Pub in Dallas.
A few years ago, there was a whole pack of mean red dogs. The leader of the pack was Red Dog lager from the homey-sounding Plank Road Brewery, but the hound was actually sired by the big dogs at Miller Brewing Co. Its bulldog displayed the obscure but oddly emboldening motto, “You are your own dog.”
Right behind the leader came Red Dog Alt from Molson in Canada, Red Dog Ale (O’Ryans Tavern & Brewery, Las Cruces, NM), Red Dog Draught (Plains Brewing Co. New Zealand), and a Red Dawg from Onalaska, WA, plus a couple of reddish wolves and foxes for back up.
You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog:
Down Home Dogs
Sweet Betsy from Pike crossed the broad prairie with “an old yellow dog.” The film “Old Yeller” (another weepie—don’t cat movies ever make us cry?) told the story of a mountain boy and his faithful hound.
But, even though most beer is yellow in color, no one (with one exception) names their beer “yellow.” There is no Yellow Dog beer. The down-home dog beers establish their country-credentials in other ways.
Bubba Dog Wheat Beer from the now-closed Yellow Rose Brewing Co. in San Antonio encouraged Northern city folk to actually say “Bubba.” Beer lovers could buy Hound Dog brewing supplies (Topeka, KS), drink at the Dog House (Third Ward, WI), and take a shortcut to good beer with the Lazy Dog Easy Beer Homebrew kit.
Those Who Sleep With Dogs, Rise With Fleas:
One English MP said of a colleague, “He has all the qualities of a dog, except loyalty.”
With one insult, his opponent is revealed to be servile, opportunistic, shameless, unhygienic, smelly.
Because of dogs’ less savory habits, ancient cultures associated them with scavenging, death and the underworld. In Greek mythology, three-headed Cerberus guarded Hades. The dog-faced Egyptian god Anubis guided the dead: Oasis Brewery of Boulder, CO, put him on their label.
Dogs’ breath makes us recoil, yet Old Harbor Brewing Co. (Ipswich, MA) must have hoped customers would buy Dog’s Breath Ale by the six pack. Ditto Dog Spit Stout from O’Ryan’s Tavern & Brewery, Las Cruces, NM. I suppose there could be a parallel between the drool of a large dog and the mouthfeel of a particularly heavy stout, but…no.
The Sex Pistols wanted to shock when they named their LP “Never Mind the Bollocks.” Times change. When the Wychwood Brewery named a wheat-based ale Dog’s Bollocks, it only caused amusement.
Beer writer Roger Protz quizzed the brewery about their choice of name for the golden colored, 5.2 percent ABV beer, and was told it meant “the best of the best.” “I’m still puzzled,” says Protz. “We always used ‘bollocks’ to mean a load of rubbish.”
The name Dogbolter is also a mystery to Protz; “Is it a beer that makes dogs bolt?” David Bruce, founder of the Firkin chain of brewpubs in England, has produced a beer called Dogbolter in every Firkin pub since 1979. Matilda Bay Brewing in Australia brews a dark lager of the same name in tribute.
A nasty habit of male dogs is immortalized in Raspberry Leg Humper Ale from Thirsty Dog Brewing Co. (Canton, OH).
Rogue’s new beer, which features the head brewer’s dog on the label, is named for the nasty habit of humans, not their dogs: Yellow Snow is the exception that proves the rule about never using the word “yellow” in a beer name. Presumably, the name is a warning to avoid yellow snow, and to drink a beer instead. On behalf of the dog, the beer is dedicated “to the common sense in all of us.”
Mad Dogs and Englishmen Go Out in the Noonday Sun:
Fantasy Dogs, Bizarre Dogs
Moon Dog Ale (Great Lakes Brewing Co., Cleveland, OH) conjures up reckless daring with its name—unpredictable and wild.
Abita’s Turbo Dog is a souped-up tribute to two older dogs: Smuttynose’s Old Brown Dog, and Newcastle Brown, popularly referred to as “the dog.” Abita’s version of a brown ale is stronger (6.15 percent ABV) than the other two—a turbo-charged dog.
But for out-there, gonzo imagery, the prize belongs to Flying Dog Brewing Co. of Denver. Their “litter of beers” is an impressive line up, but doesn’t seek to push the taste envelope. That job is reserved for the beer’s names—Doggie Style, On Heat Wheat, Tire Biter, Snake Dog—and the ink-splattered label illustrations provided by British artist Ralph Steadman.
In fact, Flying Dog pushed the taste envelope right into the courts. In 1995, the Steadman label for Road Dog Ale, bearing the words “Good beer, no shit,” got the Scottish ale pulled from Colorado shelves. While Flying Dog and the ACLU brought a lawsuit against Colorado Liquor Enforcement, the label bore the legend “Good beer, no censorship.”
Last month, Flying Dog won their case. Woof.
That Dog Won’t Hunt:
They Only Sound Like Dogs
Once you start looking for the pack of beer dogs, you are in danger of seeing them everywhere—barking up the wrong tree, as it were.
Original Rottweiler Schwartzbier (Privatbrauerei Wilhelm Mayer, Rottweil, Germany) is not named for those scary black guard dogs beloved of Mel Gibson characters. The dog and the beer both originate in the same town in Germany.
Exmore Beast had me rushing for my Sherlock Holmes, but the dread hound of the Baskervilles stalked Dartmoor, not Exmore.
Dogfish Head Brewing Co. in Delaware is named for a promontory and a relative of the shark.
St. Bernard Brau Beer (Engel Brauerei, Schabische Gmund, Germany) honors the saint, not the dog whose name also honors the saint.
Hair of the Dog Brewery in Oregon may have luscious beers called Fred, Ralph, and Golden Rose—all perfectly decent dog names—but the brewery is named for the supposed cure if you have too much Fred, Ralph, or Golden Rose.
Its hot. The rising of the Dog Star in Sirius signals the dog days of late summer. Your dog is curled up at your feet in the late afternoon as you share a moment of companionship and get ready to enjoy a beer. At moments like this, what could be more pleasant than to obey every dog owner’s instructions: Sit. Stay.
Julie Johnson is the editor of All About Beer Magazine, the oldest American publication for people who love beer. Johnson won the 2007 Beer Journalism Award (Trade and Specialty)—later named the Michael Jackson Beer Journalism Award—from the Brewers’ Association. She has had a regular column in the News and Observer, and now in the Independent Weekly, both based in North Carolina.