"IF YOU BAN my ability to express my message, whether it's a political message, whether it's a marketing message," says Flying Dog brewery CEO and co-founder Jim Caruso, "you're effectively taking part of my identity away. This is unacceptable."
If there's anything the beer exec loves almost as much as the suds his company produces, it's the First Amendment--and he's gone to court repeatedly to prove it. In the '90s, Flying Dog took on the Colorado Liquor Commission over its right to put the words no shit on a bottle label. In the '00s, Caruso and Co. did it all over again in Michigan, after that state branded their bestselling Raging Bitch Belgian IPA "detrimental to public health, safety and welfare."
They won both times. As Caruso, a self-described Objectivist and libertarian, points out, there should have been no doubt. The Constitution is clear: Even offensive speech is protected. Especially offensive speech, the brewer might add.
With the proceeds from those cases, Flying Dog in 2016 launched the 1st Amendment Society to fight censorship and defend free expression "beyond the courtroom."
Caruso practices what he preaches. He told The Baltimore Sun that a few years ago, when behemoth Anheuser-Busch approached him about selling the company, he responded with "a really short, two-word answer." (Hint: It wasn't "No, thanks.") The brewery is known for releasing specialty beers in an array of unusual flavors, and for selling it in bottles featuring racy slogans and distinctive artwork by gonzo illustrator Ralph Steadman. He's proud that his employees--who appear to be just as obsessed with challenging authority as their boss is--aren't afraid to drop f-bombs in his presence.
The result is a craft brewery that has become one of the most notorious and well-loved in the country. After moving operations from Denver to Frederick, Maryland, a decade ago, sales skyrocketed. Hundreds of people sometimes turn out to listen to live music and drink at the Flying Dog facility. The success has been so great that the company has already out-grown its current digs. The plan is to relocate again to a larger space on 30-plus acres in the next few years.
In April, Reason TV's Nick Gillespie visited Caruso at the brewery's tasting room. Flanked by original paintings and a taxidermied deer wearing a mustache and antlers shaped like Flying Dog's bat logo, the two discussed the history of homebrewing, the definition of obscenity, and the difference between being pro-free enterprise and pro-big business.
Reason: How did Flying Dog Brewery come to be?
Caruso: George Stranahan, true Renaissance man, Ph.D. in physics, professional photographer, professional writer. He has this real strong entrepreneurial gene. In 1990, George decided that it's time to have an affordable pub in Aspen where they had a burger less than $40 and you can get a nice fresh glass of beer.
So over on 400 Cooper Street he opened the Flying Dog Pub. In 1994, four years later, we created a brewery in Denver, Colorado, that was a joint venture between the Winco Brewing Company, which I was an owner of, and the Flying Dog.
In 1990, there were about 250 breweries total in America. We just crossed the 5,300 mark and about 600 more will open this year.
There were about 4,200 breweries back in the late 1800s, early 1900s, with a lot less population. And then the noble experiment, the Volstead Act, was enacted in 1920. The 18th Amendment made the sale, manufacture, and distribution of alcohol illegal. That went on for 13 years and basically destroyed every brewery, distillery, and winery in America.
How did breweries make it through that?
Many didn't. It wasn't easy. The number of breweries went from 4,200 to effectively zero. Except for sacramental wine and malted milk balls. You could get alcohol through prescription. These days in some states, you'll see pharmacies that are also liquor stores. In fact, my local pharmacy in Denver went from Joy Pharmacy to Joy Liquors because they found out that drugs--as profitable as they are, liquor is even more profitable.
And there's that famous story from when Winston Churchill was coming to America during Prohibition and he had a doctor's note saying that...