Rogue Nation of Ales
By Jim Clarke
Rogue Ales chose Brewer, a Black Labrador pup, as their spokescreature.
They publish a newsletter that includes, among more obviously
relevant materials, snippets about their fellow human beings’
odd behavior - the kinds of things that would drive you to drink
- under the heading “Why Drink at Lunch.” Their product
line has included beers named Spiny Lumpsucker, Dead Guy Ale,
Yellow Snow, and, simply, Chris. They have a manifesto, embellished
with Bolshevik-style trappings and irreverent word-play. They
make beer, and they’re having fun.
In 1988 Jack Joyce, Rob Strasser, and Bob Woodell decided to ditch
the corporate world for something in the food and beverage industry
and opened Rogue’s first brewpub in Ashland, Oregon. The
next year they were ready to open a second location in Newport,
Oregon, and John C. Maier, their current brewmaster, joined on.
Although a flood destroyed the original location in 1997, Rogue
has continued to expand, with several brewpubs across the Northwest
and a long line of exciting bottled beers as well.
A wide range of quality beers is the foundation of the company.
Rogue delights in turning out seasonal ales and single-batch beers
to accompany their already expansive line. The Spiny Lumpsucker
mentioned above is part of a series, alongside Wolf Eel Ale, Shark
Tooth Ale, and some others - all of which benefit the Oregon Coast
Aquarium. Whale Ale was also part of the line, and part of the
proceeds from this beer went to aid in Keiko’s (aka Free
Willy’s) rehabilitation at the Aquarium; the current release
in the series is called Sea Otter Amber.
Together with chef Masaharu Morimoto, Rogue has created three
beers in their Signature Series: a Hazelnut Ale, an Imperial Pilsner,
and a Soba ale, the latter brewed with roasted buckwheat. The
chef himself appears on the label, just as other friends and employees
of the brewery appear on other brews. The Chris is a good example,
featuring the brewmaster himself, and the Chocolate Stout bears
a picture of Sebbie Buhler, a company rep. On the label of Mo
Ale – now packaged as Half-a-Weizen – Mo Niemi, a
Newport restauranteur, toasts the lucky purchaser.
Rising to the occasion, Rogue created Yellow Snow, a pale ale,
to celebrate the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah, while Dead Guy
Ale was originally brewed for the restaurant Casa U Betcha in
Portland to commemorate the Mayan Day of the Dead. They have also
made some one-offs for various beer conventions, like Brew 5,000
– John Maier’s 5,000th batch of Beer at Rogue –
which was brewed early for the 2001 Oregon Brewers’ Festival,
and so was first served at the 2001 American Homebrewers Association
in Los Angeles. Charlie 1981 was made for the 2001 National Craft
Brewers Conference, and is named after Charlie Papazian, president
of the Association of Brewers. And all of these beers are in addition
to their regular lineup, which includes beers like Old Crustacean,
Brutal Bitter, Imperial India Pale Ale, and Mocha Porter.
All of their beers are made from entirely natural ingredients
and use a special, proprietary yeast called Pacman. Rogue jealously
guards the details on their yeast, but claims one of Pacman’s
features is that it devours a great deal of sugar during fermentation,
but tends to leave behind complex sugars, which adds to the richness
of their beers. Instead of preservatives and pasteurization Rogue
relies on hops, an oxygen-absorbing cap, and brown glass (which
protects against light) to provide stability to their beers. With
the exception of imported specialty grains for certain brews,
all of their malts and hops are grown in the Pacific Northwest.
The Rogue Ales Public House in Newport, Oregon, is the oldest
of the brewpubs still operating. It also contained the brewery
itself until “Howard,” the brewsystem, was moved across
the bay to the current brewery (Howard has since been replaced
by a larger system named “Kobe”). Set in Newport’s
waterfront district, the Public House now contains the pub, a
casino, a poolroom nicknamed “Crustacean Stacean,”
and The House of Rogues Bed and Beer. The latter is a set of apartments
for visitors and tourists.
Across the bay overlooking Yaquina Bay Marina is the brewery,
which includes the Brewer’s on the Bay brewpub. There is
also a Public House in Portland, Oregon, and in 2000 Rogue bought
the Issaquah Brewery in Seattle, which now serves Rogue’s
beers while continuing to make and serve the Issaquah’s
brews on site. Just last year they added a Public House in San
Francisco as well.
Rogue has devoted a large chunk of its website to what it calls
Rogue Nation, a declaration of values regarding life, business,
and beer. It exemplifies their sense of play while also making
some astute observations about the American beer industry and
its history. The President of the Rogue Nation is Brewer, a Labrador
Retriever; he was elected in 1993. Their Declaration of Independence
celebrates the nature of Rogues everywhere: working against the
grain, ignoring accepted wisdom, going one’s own way. In
the context of brewing, this means handcrafted beers, a refusal
to grow too large, and a devotion to reinventing the beer industry.
With its wide range of products, Rogue clearly recognizes that
people have a wide range of tastes when it comes to beer. Nevertheless,
they accuse large-scale breweries of drastically lowering the
quality and complexity of beer in their attempts to gain a greater
market share. In short, the breweries were remaking their beer
to capture a new audience that didn’t like beer in the first
place. Rogue feels that small-scale breweries, brewing for consumers
who like beer, can produce quality products without impinging
on the market-share of the big producers as their consumers are
looking for a different sort of product in the first place. It’s
a very grassroots approach: brew locally, buy locally.
This even extends to promoting homebrewing; in addition to being
involved with various brewer alliances and conferences they have
made some of their recipes available for homebrewing enthusiasts.
Homebrewing was, after all, John Maier’s entryway into making
beer (in fact, the whole craft-brewing movement was born when
the Federal government changed laws to permit homebrewing at the
end of the '70s). The grassroots philosophy extends into community
involvement outside the brewing world as well, sponsoring local
events and charities across the Northwest. Rogue lives up to its
name in its attitude and marketing while remaining serious about
the quality of their beers and quality of life.