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The Self-Made Man: George Stranahan

You can’t be a Maryland resident without drinking, or at least knowing about, Flying Dog Brewery’s line of beers. They’re made in Frederick, which is way out in western Maryland, but they’re a favorite all over the state, especially in a hard-drinking city like Baltimore.george2

Flying Dog’s founder, George Stranahan, is an entrepreneur and very much his own man. Unlike a lot of the to-the-manner-born yuppies in other industries (ahem, tech sector), George has that wild-eyed pioneer spirit that once drew people to his home state of Colorado. He’s also this week’s Self Made Man.

According to legend, George—a precocious drinker who wanted to open his own brewery since he was 12—got the idea for Flying Dog when he and some friends attempted to climb the K2, one of the highest mountains in the Himalayas; their mission failed when their beer suitcase ran out and their Sherpa guide left, thinking they were all nuts for even trying.

Discouraged, George and company settled in for a drink at a hotel in Pakistan, where he was transfixed by a painting of a flying dog hanging on the wall. That image never left him, and in 1990 he opened the Flying Dog brewpub in Aspen, CO.

Even though the company HQ is still in Colorado, Flying Dog’s brewing operations moved to Frederick in 2008, after they purchased the Frederick Brewing Company, and 70% of their stock is brewed there.

The brewpub became a brewery, the first to open in Aspen in over a century, and the beer’s quality earned George the friendship of Hunter S. Thompson, who lived close to the site. Thompson introduced George to legendary illustrator Ralph Steadman, who ended up doing a lot of the artwork for Flying Dog and increasing its popularity in the process. Part of the fun of Flying Dog is that it doesn’t look like any other beer on the shelf.

This has caused them problems from time to time, though. Vendors have taken issue with Flying Dog’s sometimes-vulgar branding, and some of their beers couldn’t be sold in Arkansas and Michigan, and even in Colorado, because those states’ liquor commissions found their labels and names “obscene.” Many of the individual beers’ names—Raging Bitch, In Heat Wheat, Doggie Style Pale Ale, etc.—are a product of George’s sense of humor, which he refuses to curtail just because some local government blue-hairs are allergic to fun.

George Stranahan knows his audience, which is important to any entrepreneur, and he’s not so overfocused on appealing to everyone that he forgets how to make his brand eye-catching and memorable. He’s also not afraid of risks, to which his partnership with Steadman and aforementioned liquor board squabbles can attest.

George explains the meaning behind Flying Dog in this fun little YouTube video, which is where I’ll leave you for this week.

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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.

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