Flying Dog bash marks life of godfather of ‘gonzo’

Darin Malfi, left, and Chris Scarbough, of the "Scarred & Dangerous Thrill Show," performed Saturday at Gonzofest

When the going gets weird, the weird throw a party.

On Saturday, about 900 fans of craft beer, live music, hip food cart fare and the brilliant and cutting work of the late Hunter S. Thompson joined together at Flying Dog Brewery for Gonzofest 2012, a brewery representative said.

The Frederick brewery threw several Gonzofests in the past but held off for a few years after thousands showed up to a wild 2009 event, said Ben Savage, vice president of brand development for Flying Dog.

The smaller affair Saturday, overseen by a heavy police presence, allowed brewery staff to focus on the party itself, he said.

Assembling popular bands from the Baltimore area, for instance, was a priority, Savage said.

Amy Hahn drove from Baltimore in part to see J Roddy Walston and the Business, which she described as an energetic rock band with influences in rock ‘n’ roll from the 1950s.

A fan of amber beers, Hahn sipped a red ale as she perused some of the Hunter Thompson gear for sale, including posters designed by Ralph Steadman, the British gonzo artist famous for his work illustrating both Thompson’s work and Flying Dog’s labels.

Flying Dog’s founder, George Stranahan, was an early fan of Thompson’s work and sold him Owl Farm near Aspen, Colo., according to Thompson’s widow, Anita.

Anita Thompson was on hand at Gonzofest to toast her late husband, who would have turned 75 on July 18.

She founded The Gonzo Foundation, a nonprofit based at Owl Farm dedicated to promoting literature and journalism. She is also the author of “The Gonzo Way” and “Ancient Gonzo Wisdom: the Selected Interviews of Hunter S. Thompson.”

She said nothing makes her happier than to celebrate her late husband’s life among so many of his fans and admirers.

“His work lives on,” Thompson said.

Jim Caruso, CEO of Flying Dog, said the brewery helps the Gonzo Foundation with an occasional fundraiser and has been steeped in the Gonzo spirit since its founding. This often means treating beer as an art form where the creators trust their vision and face down their fears, Caruso said.

Savage said Flying Dog ranks 26th in the nation for its annual output as a craft brewery and churned out more than 2.2 million gallons of beer last year.

At any given time, Flying Dog produces about 25 different styles of beer, from lagers to stouts, he said.

Gonzofest featured a few limited release offering, including a single-hop Imperial India Pale Ale as well as the red ale, Savage said.

“The spirit of craft beer is all about reinventing yourself,” he said. “People who like craft beer like to try new things.”

Chris Ambrose can safely be counted as a craft beer enthusiast.

At Gonzofest, he sought out the limited-release beers. He’s a member of Flying Dog’s Junto Society, whose members meet monthly to network and try out small-batch releases.

And though he hasn’t yet delved into much of Thompson’s groundbreaking journalism, Ambrose said he has driven from Frederick to Indiana and even taken a plane to California to sample rare and unusual beers pushing the envelope of the beverage’s long-held traditions.

“I like the people,” he said of his brew-inspired experiences. “I’ve met a ton of very cool people.”

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