Flying Dog is Ready to Release its Civil War-Inspired Beer: Saw Bones

Saw Bones, a collaboration between Flying Dog and the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, is ready to ease your pain. Photograph courtesy of Flying Dog

Bottles and battles come together with the May 27 release of Saw Bones, a first-time collaboration between two Frederick-based entities: Flying Dog Brewery and the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

It’s a unique pairing, admits David Price, executive director of the museum, whose mission is to research and preserve the legacy of Civil War-era medicine. Price, a consultant on the PBS series Mercy Street about a Civil War hospital in Alexandria, says the beer is part of a wider outreach campaign to make history more exciting–not to mention palatable.

“We are able to get outside the four walls of our museum and reach an audience who probably never heard of us or Civil War medicine,” he says.

The ginger “table beer” is grounded in history, and despite the ominous name–and label, designed by illustrator Ralph Steadman–is meant to be an easy-drinking summer release. Table beers, a traditional brew from Belgium with a light body and low-alcohol count, were popular during the Civil War period. So was ginger, which was used to fight gangrene, dysentery, and other ailments that killed far more soldiers than bullets, Price says.

Saw Bones isn’t the first collaborative beer for the museum. In 2012, the team worked with Brewer’s Alley in Frederick to produce a classic English bitter, Antietam Ale, followed by the Proclamation Porter, a malty brew celebrating Abraham Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation in 1863. Now their ambitions are bigger. Price said one of the reasons he approached Flying Dog was their infrastructure, and ability to produce enough volume to deliver Sawbones to markets in nearly every U.S. state. His staff gave the brewery historical recipes and ideas for ingredients, and then let Flying Dog take the lead. 

“We asked them to be inspired by a Civil War beer, not replicate one,” Price says. Wartime brews weren’t produced in happy conditions, he notes.  “They had to make them out of whatever materials they found, and with whatever recipes they could come up with,” Price says. “You probably wouldn’t want to drink what they actually made.”

The 2016 vintage beer will be unveiled in a series of area events, including a June 10 celebration at the Flying Dog tasting room in Frederick, about three miles from the museum. Price is hoping to get a cannon inside the brewpub, but will settle for a musket loading-and-shooting demonstration, and a live “amputation” using a lucky volunteer from the audience. 

Ironically, the name for the beer might be one of the least historically accurate things about it, according to Price.  “Despite what the moniker may suggest, the surgeons of the Civil War were not butchers,” he says. Instead, Price advocates, those doctors and other medical personnel set the foundation for America’s modern healthcare system. Cheers to them.