Maryland’s largest brewery, concocting one-of-a-kind craft beer
Jim Caruso is the CEO and General Partner of Flying Dog Brewery in Frederick, Maryland. Founded by astrophysicist and rancher George Stranahan in 1990 in Aspen, Colorado, Flying Dog was one of the first brewpubs to open in the Rocky Mountains. Sixteen years later, the company purchased the Frederick Brewing Company, which eventually became Flying Dog’s headquarters after the closure of its Denver facility. Today, Flying Dog is the largest brewery in Maryland and the 37th largest in the US. Emblazoned with names such as Raging Bitch, Bloodline, Snake Dog, and Fever Dream, Flying Dog’s labels feature art created by Ralph Steadman, who connected with the company through a mutual friend of Steadman’s: Hunter S. Thompson.
How did you first hook up with Ralph Steadman? Does he still design your labels to this day?
JIM CARUSO: As I mentioned, Hunter [S. Thompson] had been renting Olive Farm from 1968. Ralph Steadman did original art for Hunter beginning in 1970. Hunter wanted to write a story about the Kentucky Derby. He grew up in Louisville, he was a juvenile delinquent, and he was always a little bit put off by the fact that his rich friends would get off for crimes and he would always find himself in trouble. He knew that the Kentucky Derby, behind the scenes, was truly decadent and depraved. He wanted to write an article exposing these people in their nice blue suits and white shoes who might’ve been puking all over themselves by the end of the day, and he said, “I need a really special artist—somebody with a serious kink in his brain.”
Warren Hinckle, who was the editor of Scanlan’s magazine—this is who Hunter was writing for, went out of business right after that—said “I have just the guy, Ralph Steadman. He’s illustrating for Private Eye right now. He’ll be in America, he’s perfect.” So they met up. The rest is history. Shortly thereafter, [Ralph] illustrated Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas—very, very famous images—all of the Rolling Stone years and that sort of stuff.
We sort of knew Ralph—you know, he would come to Woody Creek to visit Hunter. We asked Hunter if he would ask Ralph if he would do some original art for us. We viewed beer as liquid art in a bottle and we wanted to have original art on the labels. We got the Road Dog label and the Doggie Style Pale Ale label—and they were on transparencies back then, not the digital files—we just cracked up; it was just so funny. And the rest is history.
Ralph these days—I think he’s on his 60th book. He’s illustrated hundreds. He’s won just about every award that’s out there. I think he’s got a new book coming out. We just had a fantastic birthday party for him at his local pub, Chequers. A little interesting story behind Chequers: it’s spelled C-H-E-Q-U-E-R-S, and I mentioned to some people here that I’m having Ralph’s birthday party at Chequers. And so, this happens to me all the time—I wonder what else is out there—months go by and somebody said, “I still don’t understand why you’re having Ralph’s party at Checkers,” as if it’s a Checkers Drive-In. I love Checkers Drive-Ins. It’s just one of those funny miscommunications; it’s actually a pub from the 1700s.
These days Ralph does his own books. I haven’t counted them up, but he’s probably on his 50th label. We’ve just received a new one from him and actually it’s for the beer that we’re doing in conjunction with the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, in conjunction with the Mercy Street series, because they were advisors to it—hugely successful. The first one was called Sawbones. The next one is Dragon Lady. And then we’ll probably have four or five more labels for Ralph this year. He rarely does exhibitions. We did one three years ago that we helped sponsor, near the London School of Economics. This year, the Society of Illustrators in New York City will have 150 of his original works. From there it looks like it’s going to Art Basel.
He’s brilliant. He’s a true artist, in the sense that if you go to Ralph and say, “Ralph I would like this, you know: just like this,” he would say, “It seems like you know just what you want—why don’t you have somebody draw it for you?” Ralph likes to be as surprised by the end result as we are, and we’re like little kids at Christmas when we get it. We open up the file and it just delights and shocks us and it’s interesting. Ralph is such a good person. His art is so crazy. But I asked him one time: “Ralph, what are your dreams like?” He said, “I don’t really dream.” Everything’s just out on paper for the day. But he hates bullies, he hates injustice, he hates the atrocities of war. Jann Wenner, the founder of Rolling Stone—as you may know if you’ve seen the movie For No Good Reason, a 50-year retrospective on his life that took 15 years to make—as bold and courageous as Hunter was emotionally and mentally, Jann said Ralph is way out there past Hunter in terms of what he’s willing to commit to on paper and the points he makes with his art and his symbolism.
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