Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A Passage to Rogue (Part 5): A Visit to the Grail, with Refreshments.

At some point during the long Rogue Public House session on Wednesday, Graham and I decided to stow our gear upstairs before proceeding with the random Rogue sampling.

Not unexpectedly, it was a splendid room – a suite, in fact – with separate bedrooms, a kitchenette, washer and dryer and bottles of Rogue stocked in the fridge in lieu of the usual continental breakfast.

There was a veranda overlooking the joyfully productive fishery plant situated between our room and Yaquina Bay … and bottles of Rogue stocked in the fridge.

I’d known from the beginning that a certain measure of hospitality would be coming my way owing to the many years of doing business with Rogue, but what we learned from arriving unannounced a day early was that certifiably, all men and women in Rogue Nation really are created equal.

No one at the bar knew who I was or why we were visiting, beyond our expressed desire to sample Rogues from the source and the fact that we’d be taking a brewery tour the following day.

When we returned to the bar for dinner on Wednesday night, the new faces of the night staff greeted us warmly, and another shift of bar denizens made friendly conversation.

When Jim Cline, Rogue’s General Manager, belatedly learned that we’d come into town a day early, he was chagrined at having no opportunity to set us up, but he needn’t have worried. As a pub owner, I can only hope that visitors in a similar case would receive as nice a treatment as we did throughout the afternoon and evening on Wednesday. It simply was magical.

The regular clientele’s loyalty to Rogue as a brewer is exceeded by the pride they feel toward Rogue as a neighbor. It is a remarkable phenomenon, even a partnership, and it goes further than the mere recognition of excellence with respect to the brewery’s unquestionably fine beers.

The joy carried over into Thursday. Graham and I had a free morning and early afternoon to explore the historic waterfront prior to our scheduled tour, and we put the time to good use.

A casual promenade took us into the labyrinth of commercial boat docks for a perusal of the many faceted craft -- an alien world to me, but Graham’s been around enough seafarers to provide rudimentary commentary, so I came away from the walk feeling like something had been learned.

Appropriately, a light lunch – halibut tacos, garlic-laden cream soup with Dungeness crab – was taken at the Local Ocean restaurant and fish market, domain of Bruce, the former Rogue Public House chef who we’d met the previous day, where the cases of freshly harvested fish noted the time and date, specific boat and method of catching. Uninformed choice definitely is not an option.

In early afternoon, we drove across the beautiful arched Yaquina Bay Bridge, parked by the brewery, and commenced an inspection of the pleasure craft docked in the adjacent marina. When it was time, the brewery’s own rustic bar beckoned, Jim Cline was summoned, and after pleasantries were exchanged and introductions made – and a couple of pints drained and reinforcements provided for the visit – our glimpse into the working life of the brewery began.

From one to the next, brewery tours anywhere in the world are much alike. The size of the equipment may radically differ, and technological bells and whistles vary, but the fundamental process is the same. The larger the brewery, the more likely it is that the highlight of the tour for the general public will be the massive, whirling excess of the bottling line, or, as with a true giant like Anheuser-Busch, a glimpse into horse stables or other ephemera unrelated to beer.

Just as the majority of the beer drinking public doesn’t particularly care about the beer it drinks (as much of it as possible following the tour, at least if permitted to do so), little time is expended in consideration of the intangibles, and yet these more esoteric considerations are at the very heart of properly understanding and appreciating the differences between brewing companies.

Ask not always how, but why, a brewery performs the way it does. Is the product an extension of the people working at a brewery, or is it the result of a marketing study? Where’s the passion? What’s the mission?

One very prominent reason for my many years of Rogue appreciation is the brewery’s attention to details of philosophy and purpose. It is a company, and the object is to make money, and yet Rogue has always aimed for a higher plane of existence and clearly elucidates the principles that underscore the brewery’s mission:

IV. We hold that beer is not an abstraction but a concrete reality, which occurred in the past, occurs in this living present and will occur in the future.

XIV. Small scale brewing means the salvation of beer.

16 f. Small breweries have not forgotten that brewing is about the beer and not just selling it to people who can’t appreciate it. Their efforts must never be forgotten and must ever be honored!

Regard this manifesto as fluffy web site filler at your peril. During our two days in Newport, we didn’t meet a single Rogue employee who we could not imagine speaking words like these, and doing so from their hearts. Oregon is filled with people who came to the state from other places and did so because they have a bit of the rogue in ‘em. It’s only natural that people come to Rogue for the same reason.

Graham put it more succinctly: “There’s a sense of mischief here.”

It hardly needs to be added that Jim proved to be the consummate host, and although it wasn’t in the cards to meet the brewmaster, John Maier – another legendary figure in American microbrewing, who was elsewhere during our walkabout – it was enough to have trod the hallowed slippery concrete floors, donned safety glasses, and smelled the essences of beery wonderment as they made their own passage from field to glass.

Another session at the Public House ensued, with Jim joining us for a round before returning home to recuperate from 10 days on the road, and another epic, regionally-styled meal was consumed. The conversation was stimulating, and the Rogue ales (and the occasional lager) went down rich, smooth and flavorful.

Worth a 3,000-mile drive? You bet.

By bicycle … well, I’ll have to think that one over.


Here’s a somewhat complete list of Rogues consumed during the two nights spent at the Public House and the brief time at brewery’s tap room. To read more about the styles, visit Rogue’s comprehensive web site listing.

Brutal Bitter
Uber Pilsner
Smoke Ale
Chipotle Ale
Mogul Madness Ale
St. Rogue Red
XS Imperial Stout
Honey Cream Ale
American Amber Ale
Love & Hoppiness
Santa’s Private Reserve
Mocha Porter
XS Old Crustacean
Younger’s YSB Special Bitter
Frosty Frog (Issaquah brewhouse)


Previous parts in the series:

A Passage to Rogue (Part 1): Through the Desert and into the Trees.

A Passage to Rogue (Part 2): Russian River and North Coast Gems.

A Passage to Rogue (Part 3): Floating up, in, over and out to Newport.

A Passage to Rogue (Part 4): Citizens of Rogue Nation.


smoosh said...

Okay, Rog - how did the beers compare to how they taste here?

The New Albanian said...

Pretty close, smoosh -- pretty close.

But fresh in the way that only those beers coming from behind the wall or across the bay can taste.

Very heavenly, actually.

smoosh said...

*** swoon ***