The community of craft beer and dogs is thriving. These days it’s not crazy to see dogs strutting through taprooms or lounging at your favorite bar. Pets are a welcome addition to life around a brewery. In a few cases, dogs mean more than just a picture on Instagram or a friendly face at the bar; they help shape the story of a brewery.
Departed Soles Brewing Co. in Jersey City, NJ revolves around Bogan, a friendly Australian Shepard. The brewery is known for two things: producing quality gluten-free beer and for ushering canines into its taproom. Brian Kulbacki, the founder and head brewer, named Departed Soles in honor of his friend Chris Ward, who had celiac disease and had passed away in an accident before the brewery opened. When opening Departed Soles, Brian fought to make the brewery dog-friendly so he could keep Bogan around.
“Bogan came to me at a tough time in my life,” Brian shares. “My mission with DSBC was to start this brewery and create a vibrant, fun atmosphere in memory of my best friend, Chris Ward. Bogan joined me after Chris’ passing as a means for me to cope with the loss. I would never have brought him into my life if he couldn’t accompany me to work. He’s my partner in crime.”
In Brian’s mind, there would be no Departed Soles without Bogan at the brewery. But that doesn’t mean all brewery owners should make their taprooms dog-friendly. It was an expensive and lengthy process to open Departed Soles as a dog-friendly space. “I don’t think having a dog is a crucial element to a successful tasting room, but for us it is. He brings smiles to peoples’ faces, or kisses, provides some comic relief on stressful days, or a chance to go get some fresh air when equipment isn’t working, and he serves as an unofficial mascot.”
Or, the official mascot. Bogan has a beer named after him, a barleywine brewed with hot honey. Regulars come to expect to be greeted by Bogan. “People get mad when I’m here without him,” Brian shares. “They bring him gifts, like toys and collars, and treats. We actually had to start charging for dog treats in the brewery because he was getting a bit husky from folks getting aggressive feeding him. He’s really just a great, calming presence.”
But having Bogan in the taproom becomes problematic at times. “We’ve had a woman try to buy Bogan off of me,” Brian said. “When she was rejected, and subsequently asked to leave the tasting room for the rest of her behavior, her husband tried to lure Bogan outside of the brewery with treats in order to steal him. We have a negative review online because he barked at someone. We had a couple leave because they were scared of dogs. I’m sure there’s more of those stories. We do get the occasional person that is allergic, or scared of dogs, and we have rules in place to try and handle that, but we are also unabashedly equal opportunity. We want dog lovers and owners to enjoy our space just as much as those that hate them or can’t be around them.”
It’s a tightrope walk making sure that folks feel comfortable, but at this point, most customers know that Bogan is a normal, if not essential, part of Departed Soles. Having worked in the taproom, it was an odd day if I didn’t see him lying down next to the bar or calmly greeting people who came in.
Lamplighter Brewing might not be fully dog-friendly, but if you scroll through the brewery’s Instagram feed, you’ll find several photos of the CEO: Barley Smalls, a fluffy Samoyed. According to Cayla Marvil, co-founder of the Cambridge, MA brewery, “Beyond Barley’s many talents (chasing squirrels, ripping the fluff out of toys, begging for treats, etc.), he’s an incredibly valuable member of the brewery squad; he cleans up any remaining snacks that have fallen on the floor, he provides endless snuggles and cute entertainment, and he’s a welcome distraction during a long, hard day at work.”
I was impressed to find that this pup had risen to the ranks of CEO. “He always has a smile on his face, and we think it’s important to have someone who’s happy and upbeat in charge,” Cayla explains. “He has a clear vision for the company, and works incredibly hard (for treats).”
Like Bogan, Barley has a beer brewed in his honor: a Vienna-style lager simply named Barley Smalls. “It was a no-brainer to put him on a can,” Cayla admits. “We wanted to choose a charitable organization to donate to around the holidays–our staff decided on the Animal Rescue League of Boston–and so we went about creating a can that had something to do with animals. The rest is obvious.” For Cayla and the rest of the team, Barley is family so it makes sense that he would become an integral part of Lamplighter’s story.
In the tiny beach town of Neptune City, NJ you’ll find Little Dog Brewery, named for Quincy, a small Basenji dog. “There’s no denying Quincy was the Little Dog,” Gretchen Schmidhausler, owner and head brewer, explains, “but the name is also a nod to the size and vision of the brewery. As a breed, the Basenji – and Quincy was a perfect example – is by nature intelligent, independent, tenacious, funny and yes, very very challenging. Those qualities definitely describe my business, and what a small brewery needs to succeed.”
Unlike Bogan or Barley, you wouldn’t find Quincy around the brewery. “Although all of our employees are dog-friendly, our very small brewery is not,” Gretchen says, “and dogs are not allowed in our tiny tasting room.”
Unfortunately, Quincy passed away in 2016 but he is still a big part of Little Dog Brewing. Framed paintings and photos of the pup adorn the walls of the taproom. All of the t-shirts, glasses, and beer labels prominently feature Quincy. “People love The Little Dog,” Gretchen shares. “We’ve become a destination for dog lovers, many of them Basenji owners. I can’t tell you how many people take photos in front of the Quincy mural on the side of the building.”
For Gretchen, it was an obvious choice to work her beloved Basenji into the story of the brewery. As evidenced by the millions of puppy and beer pics on Instagram, people love seeing adorable dogs. Gretchen shares, “I’ve lived with multiple dogs my entire life, and to me, they make a house a home.” Or a brewery.
Qunicy, or Q, is the definitive Little Dog but Gretchen hopes to bring another Basenji into the brewery’s family. “Though Quincy left us prematurely, he’s still a big part of the Little Dog story – and the brewery,” she explains. “He’s everywhere! My husband and I currently have two English Setters; I’d love to add another Basenji to the pack this year… It’s unlikely a new “little dog” will play as big a roll in the marketing. Quincy was one of a kind!”
If you are lucky enough to visit Suarez Family Brewery in Hudson, NY, you’ll most likely meet the whole family. That is, husband and wife team, Dan and Taylor Suarez, their baby, and their dog Vanah–or Chicken. “We adopted her in June 2014 with the given name Vanah,” Taylor explains to me. “Although we technically kept that name we started calling her any variation of Chicken, including Chick, Chickie, Chick-fil-A, Chicken Piccata, Chick Chickerson. Dan loves making up nicknames. But most often Dan introduces her in the tasting room as Chicken, mostly because he loves the reaction that little kids have when you tell them the dog’s name is Chicken.”
Suarez had been dog-friendly for a while but announced last spring that dogs would no longer be allowed. “We sadly had to switch up the policy, largely because on busy weekends there could be up to two dozen dogs in the space – which was too much to handle,” Taylor says. “After two weekends in a row where folks asked us if there was a dog convention in town (because there were so many dogs there) we realized it just became a little too much.” They hope to open a patio or outdoor space during the warmer months for dogs, but right now Chicken is the only pup holding down the fort.
You won’t find a Chicken Czech Pilsner on tap but if you look closely, as Taylor explained to me, there are “subtle nods to her.” “This past summer we had a beer called Smiling Season. It’s a beer that we’ll only repeat in the summer, which is smiling season to us. When we first laid eyes on [Chicken] she came up to Dan and put her paw on his leg and she looked to be smiling wide. After a few months we realized that her ‘smile’ just meant she was hot, so we henceforth dubbed summer ‘smiling season’.”
“Our tasting room feels like an extension of our living room, complete with our babe and dog, Taylor shares. “She is the unofficial greeter. It’s not uncommon for her to wander from table to table and sidle up next to willing customers who show affection.”
Aside from the exceptional beer and food found at Suarez, the sense of community draws craft beer lovers from all around to the brewery. In a lot of ways, Chicken’s (as well as Bogan’s, Barley’s, and Quincy’s) presence in the taproom welcomes customers into the family. “Most folks seem to dig getting the opportunity to connect with someone rooted at the brewery, and many people are very generous with their affection toward her.”