June 18, 2012— -- What's the legal drinking age in dog years?
That's what you might be asking yourself if you come across a bottle of Bowser Beer, a new brew crafted for a canine clientele. But you need not worry: this dog-friendly beer is non-alcoholic. Eschewing hops, which are toxic to dogs, Bowser Beer is a non-carbonated mixture of meat-broth and malt barley, with glucosamine added for joint health.
Creator Jenny Brown said she got the idea at a holiday farmer's market in 2007 for which she made spicy pretzels and, at the urging of customers, a peanut-butter alternative for their dogs. Thinking to herself, "What goes better with pretzels than beer?" Brown devised four beer recipes for her three dogs to taste-test. One recipe was the clear winner, and Bowser Beer was born.
"People have an incredible emotional bond with their dogs, so it's just natural for people to want to include them and say, 'My dog can have a beer too,'" Brown said.
Brown was looking for a job when she took Beefy Brown Ale, Bowser Beer's first flavor, to a pet expo in Virginia later that year. But the more she looked into it, she said, the more it started to dawn on her that she had a business opportunity on her hands.
Since then, she has shipped batches of beer nationwide, and dog-oriented businesses in 42 states have begun selling Bowser Beer, which now comes in a chicken-flavored variety, Cock-a-Doodle-Brew. The beer has taken off internationally, too, with a special edition selling in the pet section of London's Harrods department store.
At Diane Ludwig's Barkery Bistro, a dog boutique in Greenville, S.C., Bowser Beer has been on the shelves for the past three years. Ludwig said sales spike on Fridays, when customers stock up for weekend parties.
"Whether it's a football game or people are just having their friends over, they say, 'I gotta get a bottle for my four-legged,'" Ludwig said.
In Vienna, Va., Carol Fleming said customers at her grooming business, Vienna Pet Spaw, often buy Bowser Beer as a gift when a wine bottle feels too conventional.
"Even when they don't buy it, it's always a good conversation piece," Fleming said. "It catches your attention and gives people a good chuckle."
When customers purchase Bowser Beer through Brown's website, they can customize the bottle label with a photo of their dog and a brew name. I Don't Give a Shih-Tzu Brew and I Only Have Eyes for Brew, a batch dedicated to guide dogs for the blind, are two of Brown's favorites, she said.
Brown said she wants to grow her business "carefully," rather than rapidly adding new flavors. But the dog beer market might soon see a new Bowser flavor: seafood-, liver- and bacon-flavored beer are some of the possibilities Brown said she is researching.
Brown moved her company, 3 Busy Dogs, from Arizona to Seattle last month. Since then, she has marketed the beer to the local bar scene, betting on people's desire to bring their pooches to the pub.
"I've gotten a lot more interest here from bars that are adding it to their menus," she said.
Now available in plastic bottles to avoid broken-glass mishaps, Bowser Beer scores better with dogs when served outside of their normal drinking bowls, where they expect to find water, Brown said. Her recommendations: pour the beer over your dog's dry food, freeze it into ice cubes for your dog to lick, or let your dog simply drink straight from the bottle – human-style.