Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

Garde Dog

Flying Dog Brewery
Denver, CO

Style: Bière de Garde
ABV: 5.5%

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Drinkable, but flawed)

Image is everything …

If we learned anything from the old Canon ads featuring Andre Agassi, circa early 1990s (complete with blonde mullet and neon tennis racket), this is a creed we should all abide by. When it comes to craft beer, few brewers out there can compare to Denver’s Flying Dog in this regard. Flying Dog is a brewery I’ve come to enjoy and respect, despite the fact that they have some duds in their standard and seasonal lineups. While brewing quality beer is far and away the most important aspect of being a craft brewer, creating a unique image certainly doesn’t hurt.

Flying Dog has an advantage when it comes to creating a unique, edgy image: a close association with the late Hunter S. Thompson and his long-time associate, Ralph Steadman. Unfortunately, the whacked-out genius that was Hunter S. Thompson took his own life in 2005, but his memory is indelible thanks to his perfection of “gonzo” journalism that led to brilliant works that were published in numerous forums, most famously in Rolling Stone and Playboy magazines and the novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Ralph Steadman is a British artist who developed a close relationship with Thompson and did a great job of illustrating his fucked up thoughts.

According to Flying Dog’s website, the association with Thompson and Steadman began when brewery co-founder George Stranahan was a neighbor of the late journalist. Thompson’s ideas clearly resonated with Flying Dog’s founders, and to this day every bottle of Flying Dog contains a quote from Thompson that any lover of craft beer can appreciate: “Good people drink good beer.” What is even more noticeable is the signature artwork of Steadman that adorns every bottle and box of Flying Dog, with each style having its own personal touch. The creations are fun, edgy, provocative, and, in Nigel’s opinion, account for the finest beer labels you’ll find anywhere. From the logo to the various canines that grace the labels, you’ll certainly know a Flying Dog brew when you see one. As a bonus, they help quell underage drinking since many of the labels are likely to frighten small children.

Not to be overlooked, Stranahan and co-founder Richard McIntyre also played key roles in creating the Flying Dog image. Stranahan is himself a creative individual with an edge, so his association with Thompson was by no means a stretch. Apparently the Flying Dog name came about after the co-founders were on a camping trip in Colorado and supposedly saw a strange creature that looked like a “flying dog” (how many brews had been consumed at that point is anyone’s guess). The resulting brewery has maintained a unique personality that transcends many of their numerous competitors in terms of image and, as a bonus, brews some pretty fine ales. Flying Dog has maintained that image as they continue to expand … they’re now one of the largest craft brewers in the nation and recently opened a new facility in Maryland in order to meet demand.

As I alluded to in the intro, not all things about Flying Dog are as appealing to Nigel as the image. While I’ve sampled and really enjoyed the offerings in the Canis Major series (Gonzo Imperial Porter, Double Dog Double Pale Ale, and Horn Dog Barley Wine) and enjoyed the 2007 Wild Dog release of Collaborator Doppelbock, the few seasonals and standard releases that I’ve sampled haven’t really impressed me much. Garde Dog is the latest spring seasonal, and it’s a disappointment. Biére de gardes are a unique and somewhat rare style, so it’s always exciting to find an American craft brewer willing to take on this traditional northern French ale. Unfortunately, Garde Dog is a biére de garde in name only.

Garde Dog pours into a red wine glass (wine or tulip glasses are the best choices for Frog beers) with a white head of about an inch or so that quickly dissipates, leaving a nominal trace at the top of the glass. The color is light golden brown without any hint of sedimentation, making this a bit lighter than you would expect for the style. The aroma is decent, with a noticeable tart fruit and malty graininess coming through prominently, making it both sweet and earthy. Neutral fruit aromas of green apple and pear join a hint of honey, which combines nicely with a light malt aroma that is sugary and grassy. A tinge of yeast is also present in the aroma, but there’s no trace of hops (biére de gardes usually have a tinge of Noble hops) or alcohol, as Garde Dog is inexplicably weak for the style (a mild 5.5 percent ABV).

The taste is fine, but it’s far too mild and lacking in character when compared to other biére de gardes. Garde Dog would be a nice, light, refreshing three mugger if I was rating it overall, but as a biére de garde, it’s below average. The overall flavor profile, like the aroma, is both fruity and earthy. Initial flavors of sweet, pale malt are quickly joined by some mild fruitiness; again, I’m sensing neutral fruits like grape, pear, and apple. A noticeable grainy flavor permeates throughout, likely aided by a zip of European hops that wasn’t present in the aroma. While the hop profile remains minimal, it’s strong enough to give it a slight bite, which salvages Garde Dog from falling even lower on the mug meter. Once again, no alcohol is present in the flavor as this is far, far too timid for the style. Light in body, color, and flavor, Garde Dog does go down smooth with a minimal aftertaste and could be considered a session beer, as long as you can get over the fact that it isn’t much of a biére de garde.

While Garde Dog falls right in line with the image of Flying Dog, overall it’s a disappointment; the artistry of the exterior can’t overcome its tepidness as a beer. I’m looking forward to trying the latest Canis Major release, Kerberos, a Belgian-style tripel, hoping it leaves a greater impression upon me than Garde Dog did. Though Garde Dog is a solid three mugger if you’re looking for a tasty, light, refreshing brew without considering style, it’s a disappointment as far as biére de gardes go.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on May 21, 2008.
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