Thursday, May 04, 2006
A Passage to Rogue (Part 4): Citizens of Rogue Nation.
Newport is the now the home of Rogue Ales, the legendary craft brewing company, and a pilgrimage point for those who embrace the tasty ideology of Rogue Nation – but it wasn’t always so.
The brewery actually began its working life in 1988 in Ashland, Oregon, an inland town close by the namesake Rogue River and the Pacific Crest hiking trail. A second location was established in Newport the following year, with a brewing system setting up in what are now seating and gaming areas in the Public House below “Rogue’s House of Bed and Beer” (not bed & breakfast) in a building located on the city’s historic Yaquina Bay front.
With an eye toward expansion, Rogue purchased a cavernous building across the bay from the Public House in 1991, one originally used as a boat storage and repair facility. The brewing system was upgraded to 15-barrel capacity and moved from one side of the bay to the other.
Then came a setback in the form of a catastrophic flood that destroyed the original Ashland brewpub in 1997, shifting emphasis to the two company sites in Newport. In 1998, Rogue scavenged a 50-barrel brew house from a defunct fellow player, and has since added sparkling new double-sized fermenting vessels to it, marking the first time the brewery has opted for “new” rather than “gently used” equipment.
In like fashion, the Rogue Nation has progressed in recent years from a beer drinker’s manifesto-driven state of mind to a burgeoning reality-based collection of unpretentious and high quality brewing and pub outposts in Astoria, Eugene and Portland (Oregon), Issaquah (Washington) and San Francisco (California).
Corporate offices and a second pub/restaurant, Brewers by the Bay, have been built inside the production brewery’s building on the south side of Yaquina Bay, the exterior of which is being overhauled in 2006. A distillery with equipment manufactured by Louisville’s Vendome Copper & Brass Works is being installed across the parking area as Rogue diversifies into rum (currently produced at Rogue’s Portland pub location) and soon gin (to be flavored with spruce and West Coast botanicals) and vodka (“Marion” blackberries, anyone?)
Where to begin?
How about at the source?
Membership in Rogue Nation has its privileges, as Graham and I learned within an hour of taking our seats at the Rogue Public House bar on Wednesday, April 12. Early afternoon hours always seem best for visiting fine pubs, as the lunch crowds have abated and the regulars started to trickle through the portals for quiet libations and conversation.
So it was as we sat and ordered a first round from the two-dozen house brews on tap (and a few more well chosen guest selections). Almost immediately we were engrossed in discussion with a handful of patrons, all of whom are locals with a strong loyalty toward Rogue and a welcoming attitude toward strangers seeking the grail.
One of them was Bruce, a former Public House chef, who was introduced to us as the go-to seafood guru in Newport, with an establishment called Local Ocean just down the street from our grateful barstools.
We promised Bruce that we’d come see him on Thursday, and another beer lover seated nearby asked if we were card-carrying members of Rogue Nation, and as we were not, he told us with a laugh not to worry – Ed would be there soon enough, and he’d take care of everything.
The first pint had melted away, and a second was being poured. We may have driven almost three thousand miles to savor the fruits of Rogues, but as we learned, our story wasn’t at all unusual. It seems that a few years back, three young men on bicycles pulled up to the Public House, dismounted, and began their tour of the taps. Asked by attentive regulars where they had come from, the three responded in unison, “Maryland.”
In fact, they’d cycled from America’s East Coast to Newport, a months-long trek undertaken for no other stated reason than to visit Rogue.
Apprised of the situation by the pub’s amazed customers, Rogue’s management swung immediately into gear and transferred the long-haul Rogue beer cyclists into the guest rooms upstairs for a free stay with beer and food on the brewery’s tab. Sated after a couple of nights, the aficionados rented a van for the drive to Portland, where they bought airline tickets home – their missions (and legends) truly accomplished.
The transformation of Rich O’s Public House from a tiny one-room barbecue place into a serious beer bar began in 1992, and within two years, Rogue was distributing in Indiana through Bloomington’s Best Beers wholesaler.
Even in those early days of rising Hoosier beer consciousness, our hardy band of zealots fully recognized Rogue as both a pioneer of the American craft beer renaissance and the exemplar of an attitude toward beer that we keenly felt but were just learning to articulate.
In the twelve or so years since, I’ve been happily showcasing the brewery’s draft beers, especially the ones not often seen in Indiana. How this came about is something I can’t really recall at this stage.
In practice, it has meant speaking every two months or so to various people at Rogue – most often the brewery’s outgoing, quasi-Falstaffian general manager, Jim Cline – and building orders for a mix-and-match pallet of kegs, often including some selections form the core of draft Rogue beers, but more commonly inquiring as to what might be new, different or experimental within the huge portfolio of styles offered during that time.
And so it has gone throughout that time, with my guess being that Rich O’s has served upwards to fifty different Rogues. Better yet, within the past year Rogue’s vision has expanded to a well-received program called John’s Locker Stock, in which a limited number of pubs nationwide receive monthly allotments of small batch, revival and one-off Rogue beers.
It’s a great idea, and in some respects parallels what we’ve been doing all along. Discerning pubs now have the chance to vend some of the more obscure but always excellent beers brewed at Rogue by John Maier, whose reputation among fellow brewers and aficionados alike makes him among the best known and highly respected craftsmen in the business.
Somewhere in the vicinity of our third pint, Ed arrived at the bar. As the overseer of Rogue Nation, it is Ed’s pleasure to identify and initiate new members, and accordingly, a camera appeared, our mugs were captured, and shortly glossy membership cards appeared.
We celebrated – how else? – with another beer.