1) It isn’t actually Flying Dog’s first Old Bay-flavored beer.
And how did that happen? The brewery holds an annual brainstorming session at Gambrill State Park, in which any employee can pitch any sort of beer, with a plan for what sort of ingredients to include, how to market the brew, and so on. A Gose is a traditionally funky and salty style of beer, and it seemed like it might work with Old Bay.
“The selection committee thought it was a great idea,” brewmaster Matt Brophy told me. “We were pleased with it. And that’s when the conversation really started.”
2) Old Bay’s manufacturers got involved.
The Gose was just a limited release, but the company’s chief marketing officer thought there was more potential out there with Old Bay, especially because Flying Dog likes to promote Maryland companies and causes. So several Flying Dog employees traveled down to McCormick, where Brophy personally met with the spice company’s “flavoring expert.”
“He kind of scribbled down on the back of a napkin the basic recipe for Old Bay,” Brophy recalled. “We brought it back, picked apart Old Bay a little bit, just to understand it more. And that helped us in the recipe development process.”
3) It took six months to develop.
The question became, what sort of beer would work for a wider Old Bay program, with a more accessible flavor? Flying Dog’s beer folks started with a different question: what sort of beer would you want while eating crabs outdoors in beautiful Maryland weather? It had to be something refreshing. Not something malt-forward or caramel-dominated. It had to be crisp, and yet it had to stand up to the strong Old Bay flavor.
“To be able to dial that in, we went through many pilot brews where we did a lot of experimentation,” he told me.
Without getting too far into the weeds of yeast strains and dry hops, the brewery wound up with something Brophy “wouldn’t quite categorize in any particular way,” but he said you could refer to it as a Saison as a reference point.
“How would a hop flavor work with or against the Old Bay spice, with its aroma and its flavor?” he asked, describing their challenge. “There’s a lot of combinations where those characteristics could clash. You want to find harmony. It takes a little while to find this balance you can strike, where these characteristics actually enhance each other to make a very pleasant drinking experience. … The beer is really refreshing. It’s unfiltered. It’s light, and has that third-quenching element. The aromatics have a little bit of that Old Bay spice, and a little in the flavor. Just enough to let you know it’s there, that sensory component that makes you want to have another sip.”
4) You won’t miss the Old Bay flavor.
How much Old Bay is involved? Brophy declined to get into the specifics of the recipe, for proprietary reasons. But …
“It’s not insignificant,” he said. “You can taste it in the beer. If you make the beer and you call it Old Bay beer and people have to use their imagination to figure out where’s the Old Bay, that seems kind of gimmicky to me. If we say there’s Old Bay in it, there’s Old Bay in it, and you’re gonna taste it.”
If you follow the craft beer world, you know that there’s some tension about experimental beers. Is the pursuit making the best beer, or is the pursuit finding the gimmickiest gimmick? Brophy, of course, is aware of that tension, but he said Dead Rise wasn’t created just to be a goof.
“I’m a pretty traditional brewer,” he said. “To do something just for the sake of saying you used a 2000-year old recipe or some totally oddball ingredient, you’re being extreme just for the sake of being extreme. But in this case, we could kind of picture in our minds this light refreshing beer. We put a lot of time into it, a lot of time into it. … The aromatics of the Old Bay are apparent, it’s apparent in the flavor, but the beer and the Old Bay complement each other and harmonize so well together that it’s a very pleasant experience. It’s the kind of beer where you’ll have more than one. It’s not the kind of thing where you’ll say ‘Wow, it really tastes strong, I think I’ll have something else next.’ ”
5) Dead Rise won’t be hard to find.
While the Old Bay Gose was available only in Maryland, Virginia and D.C., the Dead Rise “will be on shelves Memorial Day through Labor Day in Maryland, DC, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and North Carolina,” according to the brewery. The alcohol is 5.6 percent, it’ll be available in bottles and draft, and if all goes well this could become an annual release.
Brophy says you can drink it with things like spicy meatballs and gumbo, but the intent, obviously, is to bring it to all your crab feasts.
“Think about people sitting outside eating crabs, beautiful weather, that kind of thing,” he said. “We’re extremely pleased with it.”
The brewery is having a release party on May 2.