The 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.


 Published: August 2004