How the Maryland brewery leans into edgy marketing to build the brand.

Bottles of “Raging Bitch” line the shelves of most beer and liquor stores throughout the state of Maryland and beyond. Flying Dog Brewery opens up about its marketing methods, controversial brand image, and fight for its First Amendment rights.

Their goal? To get people to laugh, have a good time, and see craft beer as a true agricultural product. Doesn’t sound too hard, right? You’d be surprised.

provokebetter’s Whitney Hahn spoke with Ben Savage, CMO, and Erin Weston, Senior Director of Communications at Flying Dog, which is based in Frederick and is Maryland’s largest craft brewery. They are nationally ranked and known for their “edgy and irreverent” brand image and beers.

Controversial branding challenges

If Flying Dog knows anything inside and out, it’s who they are talking to (and how to make beer, of course). For them, nothing is more important than knowing their audience, given that they’re selling beer with bold and daring names and label designs. Ben and Erin emphasize that they’re not trying to reach and sell to everyone.

“Look, we make beer. And it’s an adult beverage, and we market, obviously, to adults of drinking age. We feel like that allows for a certain wide guard rails in what we can say and what we can do and who we can relate to… Our marketing and design is not designed to appeal to everyone.” –Ben

Even though Ben and Erin believe they have the right to brand Flying Dog any way they want to and consumers should be able to make purchasing decisions freely, some state governments disagree and have stepped in, trying to ban their beers for sale in stores.

Flying Dog was entangled in a six-year legal battle with the state of Michigan over their beer distribution. The state claimed the name “Raging Bitch” is “‘detrimental to the health, safety, and welfare of the general public,’” as Erin quotes, and Flying Dog fought back on the terms that the beer ban violated their First Amendment rights to free speech and expression. And it wasn’t about the money.

“It was never about recouping sales that we lost, or anything like that. We would’ve sued them for a dollar if we could.” –Erin

On the bright(er) side, this legal dispute ultimately became the foundation for an important aspect of Flying Dog’s brand identity, mission, and marketing through the creation of their “First Amendment Society.” The formation of this society was designed to show that the brewery truly cares about the fundamental right to free expression that everyone should have, to raise awareness and rally their fans around the “good guy” Flying Dog brand.

Beer-centric agriculture

Raising awareness for the First Amendment isn’t the only change Flying Dog is enacting on the world. Recently, Flying Dog has partnered with the University of Maryland to grow hops in Maryland to brew beer as part of the beer-centric agriculture movement to market beer as a true agricultural product.

Erin and Ben point out that the wine industry successfully markets wine as a product of the earth, but somehow that concept got lost in the beer industry. Flying Dog is trying to change that. They see brewers as “artisans” and want Flying Dog brewers to be masters of the art, crafting their beloved beers with high-quality, local hops.

Their partnership with the university makes sense for the brewery because it not only brings increased awareness to local craft beer, but it also shows that Flying Dog is the real deal. Aligning themselves with a university shows that they are taking a practical, research-based approach to growing hops and brewing beer, they’re not just flying by the seat of their pants. Flying Dog brewers are leaders in the industry because of the partnership. And that looks good.

However, Erin and Ben point out that Flying Dog’s goal is not to monopolize the craft beer industry, but rather educate the public and other breweries to raise awareness for craft beer as a whole. They operate with the mindset that “a rising tide lifts all boats,” and think that craft breweries should share knowledge and unite against mega-breweries (McClintock Distilling also has this mindset about the craft distilling industry).

“Any exposure to craft is good exposure.”

Flying Dog brand: edgy, irreverent, good guys

About the guests: Ben Savage is the Chief Marketing Officer at Flying Dog Brewery. He’s been at Flying Dog for eight years and is the Jedi Ninja Master of Ghosting. Erin Weston is the Senior Director of Communications and has been with Flying Dog for nine years. She has also been in a Lifetime movie.