Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Brewers Toast Hunter Thompson

By William Brand
Tuesday, May 24th, 2005 at 10:35 pm in Uncategorized.

Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson’s death at 67 by his own hand on Feb. 20, 2005, has inspired two of America’s more adventuresome breweries to make beers in his honor. Lagunitas Brewing, of Petaluma, CA. has just released Gonzo, a high-powered,ale that looks like it may have the legs for a couple of years aging.

Meanwhile, Flying Dog Brewery in Denver is just now bottling an Imperial Porter, in his memory.

Flying Dog, of course, has a close connection with Thompson. The stories change along with the years that it happened from time to time. But there are a couple of things that are certain. Hunter and Flying Dog co-founder George Stranahan and artist-illustrator Ralph Steadman (well, maybe he was there), were drinking beer at the Woody Creek Tavern in Woody Creek, a hamlet near Aspen, where they lived.

Either they got the idea for a Flying Dog or the idea for Road Dog Porter at that time. Here’s is the version e-mailed to us today:

“Gonzo energy has been racing around the Flying Dog brewery like a three-legged dog on acid for over a decade now. Brewery founder and fellow renegade, George Stranahan, was Hunter’s friend and neighbor in Aspen, Colorado. The duo met up with gonzo artist Ralph Steadman in 1991 at the Woody Creek Tavern in what the brewery infamously refers to as, ‘the meeting of minds’.

“No one knows exactly what transpired that night but the result was Road Dog Porter and the first, authentic, gonzo beer label illustrated by Ralph Steadman and Hunter’s quote, ‘Good People Drink Good Beer’.”

Gonzo Imperial Porter was brewed with black, chocolate and crystal malts, hopped with Millennium and Cascades. “We tried to make everything about this beer Gonzo, which explains why we’ve already had one run in with the authorities,” brewery president Eric Warner said in a statement.

“The Tax and Trade Bureau took issue with a quote from Hunter that we put on the label, which says, ‘I hate to advocate, drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity but they’ve always worked for me’. Seems innocuous to me but the TTB didn’t see it that way”.

The brewery’s press release adds: “Gonzo Imperial Porter has been brewed with black, chocolate and crystal malts and hopped with Millennium and Cascades. Like Hunter this beer is intense and complex and at (9.5% ABV) it’ll bite back if you don’t give it the proper respect. Would Hunter have approved? Well we’ll never know for sure, however, a swarm of bats was seen hovering over the brewery the other day, so the folks at Flying Dog are taking that as a thumbs up.

Tony Magee, founder of Lagunitas Brewing here in the Bay Area, can’t claim such a close connection. But, he says, “it’s good to have heroes.” And Hunter Thompson was one to Tony and to a lot of us. Most of us never made it to Las Vegas in 1972 to the Republican National Convention and covered it, reportedly, stoned on super acid. But we could read along and we did.

Here’s Tony’s own homage below the Gonzo label:

About the beer: It’s nearly as big as Hunter Thompson was. It’s 8.5 percent ABV with a huge, malty taste. There may be hops, it’s probably massively hoppy. But it’s so malty, it may take a year of aging before the beer finds its hop-malt balance. So, buy one for the shelf, one to drink and one to save and savor later.

Dropping back to the dog…, I place Flying Dog’s best efforts in the same category as Lagunitas and a handful of other fine American Breweries.
I’ve always loved Flying Dog’s beer. Their 10th anniversary (in Denver) special: Wild Dog Double Pale Alewild , released during the GABF in 2004 was easily one of the best America beers I’ve had the good fortune to sample in many a year. If only, I had had the sense to buy two bottles and keep one for aging. Drat. Here are my tasting notes from October, 2004:

This is extreme pale ale, in honor of Flying Dog’s 10th anniversary ale. It’s enough to drive conservative Brits wild. This is hallucinogenic stuff — Cascade hops pour out of the glass and circle the brain. It’s hugely hoppy at 85 International Bitterness Units (Bud has 11 IBU), but at 9.5 percent alcohol by volume, there’s enough malt to balance the hops. Well, almost.

Haven’t tried Imperial Porter yet, but, needless to say, I have great expectations. This comes from Flying Dog:

If your state is not on our (beer distribution) list call your senator and demand justice, or just give Artic Liquors a call in Colorado and they’ll ship you out as many four-packs as you can handle. The cost of two four-packs including shipping is around $28. To order please call Arctic Liquors at 1-877 817-9463.

The collectors edition bottles (750ml) signed by Ralph Steadman will be available from our tasting room on Fri, June 17 (Fathers Day) at 12 noon.
These will be priced at $30 per bottle and sold on a first come, first served basis. An unsigned version of the 750ml bottles will also be available from the tasting room for $15 per bottle.

The brewery adds that Porter sale proceeds will help fund the Gonzo Memorial Fist on Hunter’s Owl Farm Estate in Woody Creek, Colorado. “The huge stone column is reputed to reach a height of 150 feet and will be crowned with a giant red fist.”

Unveiling will be at a memorial in August with several hundred (thousand) of Hunter’s close friends, including Johnny Depp and Jack Nicholson. Sonny Barger’s not invited. If you don’t get that, check out “The Hells Angels,” the book about the Oakland, CA Hell’s Angels, published in 1966, and one of his best.

Proceeds from the sale of both the four-packs and the 750′s will go towards
building the Gonzo Memorial Fist in Aspen.

Don’t forget the T-shirt, design by Steadman, portion of the proceeds goes to the fist.

Front of the Flying Dog Hunter Thompson T-shirt. Laugh, if you can.

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