According to brewmaster and chief operating officer Matt Brophy, Flying Dog asked each member of its production team to submit an idea for a limited-edition beer. The first, Imperial Hefeweizen, debuted Jan. 5 at Max’s Taphouse in Baltimore. Brophy describes it as pale in color, measuring 7.3 percent alcohol by volume, with “a nice bit of spice” from a mixed fermentation with German and Belgian wheat beer yeasts.
The Brewhouse Rarities will be available only in what Brophy calls “our backyard,” encompassing Maryland, Washington and Virginia. Most will be draft-only, but Brophy’s pet project, an abbey dubbel due out in April, will also be sold in 750-mililiter bottles.
Looking ahead to summer, Flying Dog plans to release two German-style sour ales fermented with a lactobacillus. One is a gose, a traditional Leipziger tipple flavored with coriander and salt. (Brewer Kevin Blodger of the Rockville Gordon Biersch drew a lot of praise for his version last summer. He intends to repeat the recipe, so maybe you’ll be able to sample two takes on this uncommon style with a minimum of travel.)
Flying Dog also intends to do its own interpretation of a Berliner weisse, a tart, pale, low-alcohol wheat beer. Half of the batch will be brewed according to standard procedures, says Brophy, and half will undergo a secondary fermentation with sweet cherries “to balance out the sourness.”
(The Berliner weisse style is probably being produced by more breweries in the Mid-Atlantic than in its native Germany. Jason Oliver of the Devils Backbone Brewing Co. in Roseland, Va., has one on tap at his brewpub right now. German drinkers often dose this style with a shot of raspberry syrup or an extract of the herb woodruff. Devils Backbone is offering the woodruff, plus a blood-orange syrup, and has a few more exotic mixers in the works, including lemongrass, peach cayenne and habanero lime.)
Other anticipated beers in Flying Dog’s Brewhouse Rarities series include a black lager with cherries, a red ale, a nut brown, a weizenbock, a gruit (an ale flavored with a blend of herbs instead of hops) and a Belgian-style strong ale.
Incidentally, Flying Dog had to withdraw from four outlying territories in 2011 (New Mexico, Kansas, Louisiana and Mississippi) to meet burgeoning demand on its home turf. About a half-dozen other regional craft breweries reported the same problem over the past year. Among these was the Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Milton, Del., which likewise pulled out of four states and also cut exports to Canada and the United Kingdom.
Brewery president Sam Calagione admits that some of his distributors and retailers would be happier if he spent more time pumping out his India pale ales and spent less time on exotic and experimental brews. That’s not going to happen, though. Calagione estimated that 60 Minute IPA, his top seller, decreased from 55 percent of sales to 48 percent between 2010 and 2011. “We’re the only brewery who celebrated to see our main brand drop,” he laughs.
Dogfish Head’s latest release Tweason’ale, a gluten-free beer brewed with sorghum, strawberries and buckwheat honey, should be appearing soon in four-packs of 12-ounce bottles.