Laughing Dog’s Rocket Dog RIPA: Of Good Beer and Bad Labels

Let me start this post by saying that Fred Colby the owner of Laughing Dog Brewery is one of the nicest, warmest, most genuine people you will ever meet.  I am fortunate to know him, and even more fortunate to be able to call him a friend.  Also, what you need to know about Fred is he makes GREAT (Yes all CAPS) beer.  We are truly fortunate to have him in our little corner of the world here in Idaho making great beers that we all get to taste.  Fred also loves his dog Ben, the inspiration for the name of the brewery and many of the beer names and labels.

But this particular beer I had Sunday was an amazing expression of the brewers craft.  It literally sent shivers down my spine when I first tasted it, it was that good!  So why does a beer this good have such a ridiculous label?  This Rye IPA is quite possibly the best one available, let alone the best I’ve ever tried.  So what an IronMan Dog like thing has to do with great beer is inexplicable to me.  I hesitated to put this label on my silly little blog, can you imagine what it might be doing to overall sales of the beer!  Like it or not, people judge the beer based on the label.  I’m certain there are people in the world that have passed on these beers over and over again because they can’t get past the label.  I know we’ve had this conversation before with Zac Davis from Shmaltz Brewing and it is a bit of a catch 22 that beer guys find themselves in with labels.  But c’mon,  Rocket Dog?  Ok, I’ll get off my soapbox here and get onto a review of this fantastic beer…

And just so you believe me that this is an actual label I have included a picture of the bottle I had on Sunday.  This beer is simply amazing.  Floral comes to mind immediately upon nosing this beer.  It pours with a golden hue with a white white head that leaves a ton of lacing long after the head has subsided.

The nose is very floral with honeysuckle and roses, it also has a good dose of citrus and lemon, but it is the flavor where this brew shines!  It is light and floral and citrusy and beautiful.  This is a 6.9% ABV brew so it isn’t quite sessionable but it doesn’t knock you over either.  I had this beer and an hour after I drank it I drove to pick up my son from Basketball practice without ill effect.

The really interesting thing here is how craftily this brew incorporates the rye grains.  Rye can be very heavy and impart a very dominant flavor that can overpower the palate.  This can be very good like HeBrew’s Lenny’s RIPA, but it also creates a heavy kind of end of the day type beer that you don’t want to have mid-day.  This beer is nothing like that; it is light, and the rye grains have been so skillfully used that it imparts a sweet touch of flavor without being heavy handed.

This is an excellent beer that just needs a better label!  Regardless, don’t let the label keep you from trying and enjoying this beer.  I would put it up against any of the beers with the big hype and take it over them every time (you know who you are, Pliny).  If you see it, buy it and drink it.  It is a captivating brew that will not disappoint.


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24 Comments on “Laughing Dog’s Rocket Dog RIPA: Of Good Beer and Bad Labels”

  1. March 8, 2011 at 12:32 pm #

    I really enjoy all of their beers but have yet to try this Rye IPA. I hope some day I will get the opportunity!

    • Don
      March 8, 2011 at 12:35 pm #

      Yeah, Patrick, Fred doesn’t make a bad beer. The entire Laughing Dog lineup is great, but this one is special! Seek it out and let me know what you think.

  2. johnking82
    March 8, 2011 at 12:39 pm #

    What if they named it “red rocket”? I can only imagine the label…

    • Don
      March 8, 2011 at 12:40 pm #

      Doesn’t Bear Republic have a Red Rocket IPA? I could swear I’ve seen that before.

      • Matt
        March 8, 2011 at 1:09 pm #

        Yup, Bear Republic Red Rocket is tasty stuff.

        • Don
          March 8, 2011 at 1:11 pm #

          I actually think I had one, I may still have it. I’ll have to check my stock and see.

      • johnking82
        March 8, 2011 at 4:34 pm #

        Yes, but with a Dog, red rocket is even funnier.

  3. 1Time4got
    March 8, 2011 at 12:39 pm #


    As one who enjoys the greatness of great beers, I appreciate your sentiment on the label, which is borderline ridiculous to those of us who already have excellent taste in beer. However, for those poor, uneducated lost souls, who still consider Bud and Coors the gold standard, a label like this is a perfect way to possibly draw them into the world of beer that tastes like something other than animal urine.

    The label and name are eye-catching, so it’s not beyond the realm of possibility for a lost heathen to be searching for his normal piss-poor beer and see this label and decide to purchase a 6-pack just for giggles and grins. To him, it’s something to show his fellow lost buddies, but one taste and he’ll have his eyes opened to how beer should really taste.

    Kudos to Fred for being creative and doing his part to rescue lost souls.

    • Don
      March 8, 2011 at 12:42 pm #

      I guess that is a perspective I hadn’t considered. Here is to Fred saving Lost Souls! :-/

      • Matt
        March 8, 2011 at 1:13 pm #

        I have to disagree with you here. BMC drinkers were raised on commercials touting the heritage of the brewery, mountains and fistfulls of barley. The labels on BMC are classic and traditional. This label is cartoony and amateurish. I think that second word is where the trouble lies. A label can be cartoony, but it better look professional. If the label is amateurish then our feeble minds automatically assume the beer in the bottle is sub-par.

      • Don
        March 8, 2011 at 1:20 pm #

        Yeah…I disagree with me too! What just happened?

  4. March 8, 2011 at 1:59 pm #

    I love the outlandish and oddball labels! My mind set is, if they put that much creativity into the label…could the beer be all that bad? As more and more creative individuals enter into the craft brewing scene, shouldn’t the label reflect that imaginative spirit?

    Besides…Iron Man is still relevant right now 🙂

    • Don
      March 8, 2011 at 2:04 pm #

      I think Matt said it best when he said they should look professional too. There is nothing wrong with being creative, but they shouldn’t look amateurish, and unfortunately I think way too many labels do, and like it or not more people will pass on a great beer with a bad label.

  5. March 8, 2011 at 2:02 pm #

    You know, Don. I haven’t had this on from LD. I’ve seen it, and I know I’ve passed it up on the shelf because of the label. I am a creative in the advertising business. So, I do find myself sensitive to label design. More so than some others, I presume. And I know it affects my purchasing decisions from time to time. It did with this beer. (Although, I’ll now rectify that.)

    Having said that, no amount of good design can fix a poorly crafted beer. You might buy it once to try. But after that, forget it. You might even feel a little tricked and tell others to steer clear of it. That’s bad marketing mojo.

    Fred Colby luckily has a fabulous product behind this quirky label. You could even make a marketing case for that approach: “We don’t know shit about making labels. But we know how to make damn good craft beer.”

    But you do have to wonder how much more (or faster) Rocket Dog would sell with a label design that matched the quality of what’s inside. For instance, every time I see a new Great Divide label, I grab the beer, almost always enjoy it, go back for more and introduce others to it. You couldn’t add or take away anything from a Great Divide label to make it better in my opinion. It just looks like it’s going to be a good, well-crafted beer. And it usually is. As a consumer, I feel validated in my purchasing decision and have good thoughts about the brand.

    If I’m taking beer to a party. I’ll usually go for a beer that’s well crafted and approachable in taste (and looks). Sorry, maybe I’m shallow. But I like converting people, and a label is a craft beer noob’s first impression.

    I took a bottle of Goose Island Sofie to a wine geek’s dinner recently. It has a label that looks like it should be on a wine bottle. It poured like a champagne. And a handful of guests quickly substituted it for the viognier they were planning to have. Mission accomplished. I could be wrong, but I doubt that would have happened with the same level of success if I had showed up with a bottle of beer that pictured a dog suited up in an Iron Man outfit blasting his way through the stratosphere.

    No offense Fred. Love your beers. And I now look forward to trying this one—quirky space dog label and all.

    • Don
      March 8, 2011 at 2:13 pm #

      Fred in some ways has limited his options for label design. It has to have a dog on it, and that isn’t all bad, but this one is really not doing this beer justice. This is a special beer. It needs a special label. I have heard many people say they pass beers over all the time because they didn’t like the look of the label. I happened to know Laughing Dog, and know they have a very quality product, but if I didn’t I might never have tried this beer, and I would have been the loser here.

      • March 8, 2011 at 2:26 pm #

        Agreed. I’ve missed out too, apparently. And yup, people love dogs. You see them in advertising all the time. They work. No reason at all to 86 the dogs from Fred’s labels.

  6. Jeff Whitman
    March 8, 2011 at 2:17 pm #

    Come up north, Don. We’ve got a 6th of Rocket on tap in the club room. – Jeff W.

    • Don
      March 8, 2011 at 2:20 pm #

      I would love to Jeff! Why is Idaho such a Damn Long State? Hard to believe I can drive 500 miles and not get there!

  7. March 8, 2011 at 3:55 pm #

    If that was just an illustration of a dog flying through space with jetpack paws, I’d think it was good/solid artwork. Actually, I still think it’s good/solid artwork. It just doesn’t belong on a beer label.

    If I was the designer, I would’ve gone for a goofy retro-ish 50’s “Duck Dodgers in outer space” type of deal with the dog… and kept the colors to a minimum. Maybe even a sepia tone or something. And that’s only if the company owner was married to “Rocket Dog” in the first place.

    /takes off graphic designer hat

    Anyway, good on you, Don, for stressing the quality of the product over the packaging.

    • Don
      March 8, 2011 at 4:18 pm #

      I would have gone more for a Sputnik kind of feel. You know first dog in space sort of thing.

  8. Fred Colby
    March 8, 2011 at 6:41 pm #

    Guys and Gals I like all the comments!
    Rocket Dog as the name must stay ( I originally wanted Red Rocket LOL)
    I have a deal for all of you that are Graphic designers, come up with a great label design and submit it us, if you impress me and I change the label or if we use it on a new upcoming label I will use you to help design our labels going forward deal? Let’s do this!


  9. luke
    March 9, 2011 at 7:09 pm #

    Well you’ve managed to sell one more. I’m guilty of dismissing this beer because of the label but I now look forward to picking up a bottle.

    • Don
      March 10, 2011 at 10:06 am #

      Good Luke. Let us know what you thought. I love this beer, bad label and all.


  1. Are You A Graphic Artist? Want to design Beer Labels? Have I Got A Deal For You! « Beer & Whiskey Brothers Blog - March 9, 2011

    […] Rye IPA, but the label that was put on it might actually be causing people to pass over his brew (Click here to see the Yesterday’s post for a view of the current label).  Well, Fred took that to heart and last night after reading the post and all the comments, he […]

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