Man’s Best Friends—The Canine’s Role in Craft Beer

By John Holl

Beer for Dogs—Pepper’s Taste Test

Long before his dog park kerfuffle, John Holl, then working for New Jersey Newsroom, tested some beer for dogs with his faithful mutt, Pepper. This video highlights the results.

If dog is man’s best friend, surely beer is a close second. Often the two passions come together, be it through the bond many brewer’s have with their faithful companions, or the enthusiast who enjoys spending an evening at home with a great Russian Imperial Stout in his glass, and Rover at his feet.

Since I’m not a brewer, I fall into the second category. But recently, an outing with my dog put me in an interesting situation, which caused me to take a closer look at the deep role the canine persuasion plays in the world of beer.

This particular story begins last fall at a dog park near my apartment. I was in one area of the park playing fetch with my dog Pepper. In the adjacent dog park, there was a guy in a suit hanging out with his Dalmatian.  We largely ignored each other at first; Pepper was far too interested in chasing her orange ball to care about the guy and his dog.

Eventually, however, the guy walked over to the wrought iron fence separating the two play areas and tried to strike up a conversation. Pepper, displeased with the interruption, was having nothing of it, and barked at the guy.

The-suit-man recoiled a bit as he glared down at my scruffy mutt with the weird tuft of tangled hair on her back and inquired about her pedigree.

“A little shepherd, a little schnauzer and I think there is raccoon in there too,” came my reply. What happened next has become an entertaining tale that I enjoy recalling at parties or over beers.

“My dog is a Dalmatian,” he replied. “My dog’s breed is in Budweiser commercials; your dog would never represent a beer.”

Now, I feel it’s important to point out at this juncture that I had not introduced myself and that there was no chance this guy knew that I regularly write for this website, recently published a book on breweries, or regularly enjoy the efforts of America’s craft brewers.

No, I simply answered a question about my dog’s breed and was met with a bizarre response that included one of the world’s largest brewers.

By now Pepper was really on a tear; busy barking herself crazy. So, I snapped on her leash, gave the guy a puzzled look and tugged my dog from the park.

As I walked through the door to our apartment a few minutes later, I had worked myself into a frenzy.

“Pepper could be in beer ads,” I angrily told my wife, as if she had been with me the whole time and had full knowledge of what I was talking about. “Sure, she’s not traditional looking, but she could endorse a craft beer. She could be on a label or something.”

When I calmed down, and thought of a few good one-liners I should have delivered to the-suit-man, I started thinking about how dogs of all breeds and sizes have long been a part of beer culture.

Brewers and Their Dogs

There are of course the famous Budweiser Dalmatians that sit alongside the driver of the Clydesdale-pulled wagon. Introduced in 1950 as the horse’s “mascot,” these black-spotted dogs are more regal than their party loving cousin Spuds MacKenzie. Still, both have their place in the Budweiser brand.

On the craft side of the coin, man’s best friend is more than just advertising, they are companions during a day’s work. A dog lounging on a beat up office couch or bounding alongside its owner during a tour is not a rare thing to encounter when visiting a craft brewery. More often than not, these dogs have cool beer names like Abbey, Stout or Fuggles.

Quite often, these four legged friends wind up on beer labels for a brew named in their honor. Take for example Ellie’s Brown Ale from Avery Brewing Co., named after brewery owner Adam Avery’s late chocolate lab.

Or there is Olive, a Weimaraner and Brittany Spaniel mix, whose photo is featured on the Old Brown Dog Ale from Smuttynose Brewing Company of New Hampshire. Olive was photographed 13 years later for the label of Really Old Brown Dog Ale, a 10.9% ABV Old Ale.

Occasionally, the whole brewery operation will be named in honor of the dog. Take for example Laughing Dog Brewing of Sandpoint, ID, whose logo and name is in honor of a yellow lab named Ben, whose likeness is on most of the brewery’s offerings.

Rogue Ales of Oregon steps things up a bit, and hosts an annual festival in honor of Brewer, the beloved pet of Rogue Brewmaster, John Maier. The festival, scheduled for May 20-22, 2011, brings dogs and their humans from around the country for fun and beer (non-alcoholic for the pups of course), and proceeds benefit local animal charities.  Some local restaurants even feature a dog-friendly menu.

A Chance for Pepper?

Since alcohol can be especially dangerous for dogs, we do our best to keep Pepper away from beer. But, she has been known to sneak a tongue full of brew from a pint glass on the coffee table from time to time. More recently, she got into a full can of Oskar Blues Brewery’s Gubna when we weren’t home. We found the empty can, two puncture marks in the side, under the couch. Pepper was surprisingly fine and looked at me eagerly the next day when I opened one for myself.

So, while my mutt isn’t the stuff for global brand marketing (she would likely try to eat Clydesdale if she ever saw one), surely she’s good enough for some beer, right?

I’d really like to stick it to the-suit-guy at the dog park and show him that my dog can indeed represent a beer brand. So, America’s craft brewers—anyone interested? would like to remind readers that beer, alcohol, hops and mash are known to be toxic to dogs.

John Holl is the editor of All About Beer magazine and author of The American Craft Beer Cookbook: 155 Recipes from Your Favorite Brewpubs and Breweries.

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