Chances are if you know who Hunter S. Thompson is then you know about Ralph Steadman. Steadman is the oddball British cartoonist responsible for the creepy caricatures associated with Thompson’s work, particularly the seminal musings on Gonzo journalism in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” Aside from his work with Thompson over the years, Steadman has also provided the artwork for the Flying Dog Brewing Company, whose labels and packages are just as unique as the brews they contain.
Flying Dog founder George Stranahan lived a mere stone’s throw away from Thompson’s fortified compound in Colorado and the two bonded over their mutual love of politics, explosives and ales. In fact, Thompson introduced Stranahan to Steadman and thus sparked a partnership that has succeeded well beyond Thompson’s death in 2005. Steadman’s unique graphics are displayed on all Flying Dog products, an exhibit that gives this brewing company a definite edge over the more plainly labeled beers.
Admittedly, this brewing company first caught my eye on the sole basis of the artwork; as a lifelong fan of both Thompson and Steadman, I was intrigued by the “Fear and Loathing” style graphics and their distinguishing presentation among the monotony of the typical blue or white beer labels. While the names of the brews were all provocative, with such treasures as Gonzo Imperial Porter and Doggie Style Pale Ale, I helped myself to a six-pack of Old Scratch Amber Lager with a cartoon of two deranged insects smiling wickedly on the label. Even if I ended up hating the beer, I knew I would at least dig the artwork. Yet the first sip heralded a pleasant surprise: a strong lager with a definite bite and a taste as original as its package.
Under normal circumstances I am not a fan of lagers; I prefer the heftier taste of a good IPA or a porter, but Old Scratch has renewed my faith in lager beer. The thick off-white head that appears while pouring this mildly carbonated brew into a glass quickly settles to a thin lacing atop the dark copper color. There are definite zings of bold hops even in the first sip, but the aftertaste is sweet and reminiscent of caramel, a flavorful combination not typical of lagers. While grassy herbal notes are strong in the aroma, they do not overpower the subtle fruitiness that makes this beer enticing. Hints of spices and roasted nuts complement a smooth taste that finishes with a yeasty edge that is not unlike most microbrew ales. Old Scratch has, overall, a refreshingly vivid flavor combination, especially for a lager.
While Old Scratch may not be for everyone, it is definitely worth a try for those who prefer less intimidating beers. Fans of lager-style beer will appreciate the flavorful reprieve from the humdrum taste of Budweiser and Corona and even fans of craft beers and IPAs can appreciate the subtleties of hop infusion and malt composition. For those drinkers looking for something a little more daring, Flying Dog has a delicious array of seasonal brews that hit the liquor store shelves periodically such as The Fear Imperial Pumpkin Ale and Kujo Imperial Coffee Stout, both of which are as appetizing as their titles. Flying Dog’s signature brew is a Belgian-style IPA called Raging Bitch that is available year-round for a reasonable price. In fact, all Flying Dog products are reasonably priced, available in six-packs for under or around $10. For those of us drinking on a college student’s budget, this is wonderful news.
This beer will certainly taste good anywhere, but I highly recommend sipping it while watching Johnny Depp in his prolific role as Thompson in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” or even the lesser known “Where the Buffalo Roam,” starring Bill Murray. Something about watching the antics of the Gonzo himself somehow enhances the flavor of a beer that was partly his doing. So here’s to you, Hunter S. Thompson; I hope they serve Old Scratch wherever you are now.
Emily Brightman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.