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Flying Dog Capitalizes on the Summer of Old Bay with Dead Rise

At one point, half of the brewery's production was devoted to the specialty brew.

Dead Rise
Dead Rise

There are many key indicators that summer is officially over. Here's one — just stand in a beer aisle and spot the variety of pumpkin beers that line the shelf.

But there's also something missing now that it's fall — summer's wildly popular Dead Rise Summer Ale, an Old Bay-flavored, wheat beer from Flying Dog. The beer was so popular Flying Dog had trouble keeping it in supply, says brewmaster Matt Brophy. At one point, more than half of Flying Dog's production volume at their Frederick-based brewery was dedicated to producing the beer.

Now, with the end of summer, it's officially out-of-stock, Brophy says. The last shipments of the beer went out on Labor Day. But, for those with deep Old Bay love (or Marylanders) fear not. Brophy says the beer should be back by next summer, and this time the brewery is planning ahead. Here's Brophy on just how much beer the brewery produced this year, and what's in store for next summer.

So, it's pretty much impossible to find Dead Rise on the shelf right now, right?

I would say so. Yes.

Was there a big demand this summer?

Definitely. Our beers have different cycle times, so each one varies by fermentation period. This beer took just over two weeks in the fermentation tanks, which is relatively quick. And, we were turning beer pretty fast - at one point we reached an annualized rate of 65,000 barrels. This definitely had an impact on our fermentation space. We have over 39 fermentation vessels, and at the peak of summer over half of them were being used for the Old Bay beer.

Where did you see the most action across the region?

A very small portion of beer went to Virginia, then the rest of it was in Maryland and D.C. We had strong demand throughout the Mid-Atlantic, but our supply could only meet the demands of the local market. There was off-premise buying, which got the beer to other areas, but we distributed mainly to local restaurants, bars and retail stores. We could do a 10 case drop at a retailer, and within hours it would be gone, and they would be asking for more. We loaded the trucks and shipped it as fast as we could. It was pretty intense.

Any surprises from this beer that you didn't foresee?

Our main takeaway was — be careful what you wish for. People were very excited about the product. Originally, we predicted that we would run about 2,000 barrels through our system, and it ended up being well over three times that volume. We thought it would have been a very good situation to just hit 2,000 barrels, instead we ended up putting out more than 6,000 barrels of beer.

I feel like this was the summer of Old Bay. You saw it as a food trend of sorts. When you guys had this idea, was it to take advantage of this? Is Old Bay having its moment?

That's a great question. So we have a program that we started a few years back back called Brewhouse Rarity. It's a program that let's anyone in the Flying Dog organization pitch a beer. It's varied over the course of the years, but usually we get about 40 pitches a year, and the contest whittles it down to about eight or ten bottled beers. So a couple years ago, we had a contest with a brewer who pitched an old-traditional German beer, called Gose. It's a little tart, has a salt element and a coriander element to it too. When he looked at the salt — and of course these old brewing traditions incorporate local ingredients - he considered a local ingredient, which was of course Old Bay. It had spicy saltiness and added a regional element to the beer. Everyone really liked it, and the feedback was really positive.

That got the wheels turning in our mind. And, we thought it would be cool to do a beer partnership with Old Bay. We approached McCormick a couple years ago and started kicking ideas around. We visited their facility and met with the flavor experts and scientists, and we also spent some time down on the Chesapeake working with the True Blue program, run by the Department of Natural Resources. We thought it would be great to do a collaborative partnership with the product but also work to protect the Chesapeake. So, we had the governor out here a few weeks ago, and we presented a check for just over $10,000 to the True Blue Program.

Explain what the True Blue Program does.

It's a program that was started under the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and it extends out to restaurants. They commit to the True Blue Program, and they use only Maryland-sourced crabmeat for their crabcakes or dishes, or whatever it might be. A lot of crabmeat consumed in Maryland is Asian, or from different parts of the world, so when you go into the supermarket, and you see the prepackaged crabmeat from the deli, chances are it's not from Maryland. The True Blue Program is excellent in that it supports Maryland producers. It's good because this partnership helps us support the local aquaculture. People don't always think about where their food comes from and this helps bring attention to that. Not in a super-righteous way, but sort of in a like-minded way. You know our watermen have worked these waters for generations, and what they do is valuable and part of our culture. To be able to support that is great.

Was there ever a moment this summer where you guys thought you couldn't keep up?

It was a demanding summer when you look at the volume and production levels. But, fortunately we have a very calm, cool and collected team here. We got together and looked at our home market. We wanted to make sure that we could keep it supplied. We're a regional brewery, and we support this region first. We do extend to New England, the Carolinas, even California, but really, the main focus was on getting Dead Rise to Maryland, Northern Virginia and D.C. At the same time in doing that, we kept our other products available to that market as well.

So will we see Dead Rise next summer?

Yeah, I think so. We would like to do it again, and we intend to do it.

And, would you do anything differently?

I think when it comes down to it, probably just making more of it. When you know you have very high demand for a product, you can manage your inventories in different ways. We have beers in the tanks that go into packages, kegs, bottles, and we have the warehouse space to plan accordingly. We might load up a little earlier this time and have more beer overall that goes out to the customers.