Beer for dogs seems like one of those ideas that sounds brilliant if you’re alone with your dog and a can of Miller Lite, because who would make a better—and more nonjudgmental—drinking buddy than man’s best friend? (And, maybe some of you actually have poured some beer into the dog’s bowl, just to see what would happen.) It’s also one of those ideas that quickly fades in the cold, harsh light of sobriety because even cheap beer is more expensive than tap water, and there’s no sense in wasting it on a creature that will, in a pinch, nibble on kitty litter between meals.
But the people behind Bowser Beer clearly love their dogs more than you love yours because they’ve actually gone to the trouble to brew canine beer. My dog, Abby, and I first learned about it one day when we were strolling past our local bar, Rogers Park Social, and saw a sign on the sandwich board out front that said something like, “In celebration of the end of the dog flu, we are now serving Bowser Beer!”
My first thought was that the end of dog flu season was more worthy of champagne than mere beer. I read the sign to Abby. She was more interested in sniffing a nearby tree. Still, I was curious.
At first I had grand visions of Abby and me spending long summer afternoons at the bar together, peacefully drinking side by side while I read a book and she charmed everyone into scratching her ears, but then reality intruded and I remembered that I drink far more slowly than she does and that she gets bored easily. Thus, when we strolled into the bar the other day to ask if they still sold Bowser and the bartender handed me a 12-ounce bottle of the chicken-flavored Cock-a-Doodle Brew, I didn’t bother to ask for a bowl so Abby could drink it in-house.
Bowser Brew also comes in Beefy Brown Ale, but the bartender claimed that the dogs seemed to prefer chicken. “I haven’t actually tried it myself, though,” he said. “I love this bar, but not that much.”
Abby, meanwhile, was busy trying to steal a bit of the pepperoni that had been laid out on the Bloody Mary bar, just a tantalizing inch or two higher than she could reach.
Back at home, we inspected the bottle. Bowser Beer is nonalcoholic. It contains no yeast, so there’s no chance at all of accidental fermentation. It also doesn’t contain hops, because hops are toxic to dogs. It does, however, have malt. When I poured it into Abby’s bowl—the entire bottle, per instruction, because she is a largish dog—it smelled kind of beery, but it didn’t fizz or foam. Mostly, it looked like chicken stock. I decided to leave the tasting to Abby. (If the bartender didn’t have the heart for it, why should I?)
Abby, it must be said, does not have the most discerning of palates. She must be carrying some genetic memory of an unfortunate ancestor who failed to eat a pile of food in front of her in 30 seconds flat and perished as a direct result. Still, there are a few foods she refuses to eat. Beer, it turns out, is not among them. She attacked the bowl with gusto, only looking up when she sensed that I was standing there watching her. She came up for air twice. Then she licked the bowl.
She couldn’t report to me on the subtleties of the flavor. I’m guessing it wasn’t hoppy or yeasty, and, given the bits of chicken stock left at the bottom of the bowl, not particularly bright. It was probably meaty, rather than fruity, and not very complex. (Is there a term for a beer that tastes like chicken?) There was nothing to indicate what the texture or mouthfeel might have been, but whatever it was, she appeared to find it more satisfying than plain old tap water. At $5 a bottle, it will probably be only a special occasion sort of thing, but we are very good at coming up with reasons to celebrate Abby’s existence. (What’s not to celebrate, really?)
Bowser Beer is available at a few pet stores in the Chicago area, including Dogaholics in Lakeview and Paw Naturals just west of Greektown, and on its website. You can also order six packs with custom labels featuring your dog’s picture. We will not be doing that, by the way. (Yes, I did just buy beer for my dog, but for the contents, not the label. Also, Abby never recognizes her own picture.) But if you would like to put Abby’s picture on a bottle, we would not deny you.