It would be easy to assume Frederick's Flying Dog Brewery has always been a Maryland business.
From collaborations with Otterbein's Bakery and Old Bay to a partnership with the nonprofit Oyster Recovery Partnership benefiting the Chesapeake Bay, Flying Dog has made forming tangible connections with Maryland touchstones an integral part of its story.
But Flying Dog began in Colorado, first as a brewpub and then a brewery. When the company outgrew its Denver digs, it relocated its entire production in 2006 to a 50,000-square-foot space in Frederick.
Seated in a corner of the Flying Dog tasting room last week, Chief Executive Jim Caruso said the company today feels like a wholly Maryland product because of the way the brand has been embraced here.
"Maryland consumers consumed more [Flying Dog] beer two years ago than we sold in 48 states and 23 countries five years ago," Caruso said. "I would say Flying Dog as you know and see it today is very much a Maryland experience."
As the company celebrates its 25th year, Flying Dog has become the largest producer of craft beer in Maryland by a wide margin, Caruso said, while firmly planting its flag in Frederick. Caruso said the company always had an "East Coast orientation," but there weren't many options for a new facility before the craft-beer boom. After some research, they discovered the Frederick location and won it with an aggressive bid, he said.
Since closing the deal in April 2006, Flying Dog has seen significant growth, especially in recent years, while raising its visibility locally (it's hard to find a Baltimore bar without it) and internationally (Amsterdam is a big fan, Caruso said). Six years ago, Flying Dog employed 24 people; now it has 128, and production is up about 25 percent from last year.
"We'll ship about 1.6 million to 1.7 million cases of beer this year" and will release 43 types of beers, he said.
That's a lot of choices, which falls in line with Flying Dog's approach of not having a flagship beer, but four types are clearly leading sales, Caruso said.
Raging Bitch, the punchy Belgian-style India pale ale (IPA), is the No. 1 seller, responsible for one-third of the company's sales, he said. It commemorated the company's 20th anniversary in 2010, but it became the best seller in its first month and has remained there since. The up-and-comers include the blood-orange ale Bloodline, the agave-nectar beer Numero Uno and the imperial IPA the Truth.
"Those four beers will probably account for 65, 70 percent of our sales this year," said Caruso, whose personal favorite has long been the Snake Dog IPA.
In recent years, as Flying Dog has grown, the company has eyed expansion. One plan — a farm brewery in Lucketts, Va., called Farmworks Brewery — became public in 2014, but Flying Dog announced in May it had scrapped the plans because of logistical problems, such as not having the capability to produce the amount of local hops Flying Dog envisioned.
A new plan has taken shape. In September, Frederick officials approved the sale of just under 32 acres of farmland near Frederick Municipal Airport for $2.55 million. The new brewery will be five times the size of the current location, Caruso said, with the ability to produce up to 8 million cases of beer annually.
It will also include a clamshell amphitheater for concerts, upgraded technology, a larger tasting room and a farmhouse for experimenting with wild yeasts for new recipes.
"We will actually firmly commit to buying the land in about a month," Caruso said. "It's about 14 months of permitting. ... That puts us breaking ground sometime mid-2017 and opening up 2018."
While the significant reason to move to a larger facility is to produce more product, a factor was the tasting room, which has become a popular hangout. On this visit, it was full of customers, chatting and sipping beers, while others bought merchandise and played cornhole on the front lawn. Nationally known bands are scheduled to perform here this summer, including Violent Femmes (June 25) and Galactic (July 30).
Such events draw hundreds of people, Caruso said, but the new facility will be four times larger.
"Breweries are now a part of industrial tourism," he said. "People want to come here, hang out and drink beer."
The welcoming vibe has attracted a lot of people, including representatives from beer behemoth Anheuser-Busch months ago. They were there to gauge Flying Dog's interest in selling, Caruso said, and it didn't take long for the CEO to end the conversation. Through a spokeswoman, Anheuser-Busch declined to comment.
"We gave them a really short, two-word answer," Caruso said with a smirk. (When pressed, he told me I could guess the response. "You said, 'No, thank you,' I assume," I said to Caruso's laughter. "Clearer than that," he said.) "We didn't spend 25 years building up the brewery to cash out."
Beyond the new facility, Flying Dog's goal, Caruso said, is to continue to find meaningful collaborations with local businesses. He wants Flying Dog ingrained in the Frederick community to the point the two are synonymous. And when it comes to the product, the aim is always the same.
"There's other stuff that's difficult and challenging in life. I get it. We reduce friction," Caruso said. "We're supposed to be the best part of your day."