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Flying Dog Brewery: An Irreverent Partnership of Science, Art & Literature

By Jessica Masterson

“A physicist, a journalist, and an illustrator walk into a bar…”

It sounds like the start of a one-liner, but the collaboration that originated Flying Dog Brewery’s unique aesthetic was no joke. The creative partnership between physicist and entrepreneur George Stranahan, journalist Hunter S. Thompson, and illustrator Ralph STEADman brought us some of the most imaginative beer cans in the world.

George Stranahan was lifelong friends with Kentucky’s own Hunter S. Thompson. In the late 80s, Stranahan was working to preserve land in Woody Creek, Colorado, and purchased what became Owl Farm. At Stranahan’s invitation, Owl Farm became the property that Thompson rented until he died in 2005.

When Stranahan decided to open Flying Dog Brewery in 1990, Hunter wrote to his pal and collaborator, Ralph STEADman. “Ralph, please. I beg you” Thompson wrote, “Please do a quick beer label or maybe two for George. Your label must include one of my quotes about wisdom and drink. OK.” STEADman obliged sent back an image that said, “Good Beer, No Shit” along with a line from Thompson’s essay “Road Dog.” That quotation, “Good People Drink Good Beer,” became Flying Dog’s tagline, and Flying Dog became the first brewery to incorporate original artwork into their labels as a complement to the “liquid art” inside.

STEADman’s art begins with a “splat!” He takes his fountain pen and flicks ink onto the paper, exploring the flow and placement. As the final picture begins to take shape in his mind, he develops the “splat” by adding color and texture until he has a truly surprising illustration. He once said, “if you know exactly what you want, just go ask somebody to draw it for you, you don’t need me for that.”

Flying Dog CEO Jim Caruso said, “Flying Dog develops the name of a beer that we pass along to Ralph with a request for artwork, and we NEVER cease to be awed by Ralph’s creative genius.” When the artwork arrives at Flying Dog, there is still a lot of work to be done. STEADman’s original artwork splashes to the edges of 24” by 30” art paper. Flying Dog wants STEADman’s creative genius to fully come through and “splat!” as it was meant to, so their talented design team transforms the piece onto a bottle or can without losing the extraordinary detail of the original.

It is incredible to see the ingenuity and collaboration that goes into Flying Dog’s labels. Cheers to the creative partnership that started it all, and don’t forget, “Good People Drink Good Beer.”

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