The urban legend swirling around the origins of Thirsty Dog Brewing Co.'s 12 Dogs of Christmas Ale has fermented over the last several years. Some have claimed the recipe was stolen from Great Lakes Brewing Co., while others say the breweries actually swapped brewmasters and therefore recipes. But finally, we got the real story from brewmaster Tim Rastetter, who worked at Great Lakes in the early •90s and then created the current 12 Dogs.
In a sense, 12 Dogs is an adaptation on Great Lakes Christmas Ale. In another sense, it's not. Andy Tveekrem and I had tweaked the Burning River recipe. I had done a lot of home brewing and felt relatively confident in my ability to make a recipe. I went up to [Great Lakes co-founder] Dan Conway, and I said, "I really like the Christmas Ale, but I think I can make some changes that would make it even better." And he said, "No, it's selling just fine." The thing is, he was absolutely right. But I still felt that I could do a better job. I liked the spices. But I felt the malt didn't mix with the hops, and the hops didn't mix with the spices. I wanted more European hops as opposed to that citrusy flavor of American hops. Well, I had to quit. When I opened up Liberty Street brewpub [in 1994], I drew up my malt and hop bill, which is completely different, but I did use cinnamon, ginger and honey. I threw in nutmeg, because I liked that little spice hint. That was my Christmas Ale. My intention wasn't to be competitive with Great Lakes, it was just to see what I could do. When I came to Thirsty Dog [in 2007], they asked me to put some of my recipes in their repertoire. I said, "OK, you want the Christmas Ale?" They said, "Sure." It has proven to be a big, big seller. — as told to Jason Brill