After my quick drive West from Portland to the coast, and a return pilgrimage to Pelican Brewery in Pacific City (chronicled here), turning back East through the Tilamook State Forest seemed, well, too soon. So with two chilly growlers under my arm and a gleam in my eye, we headed south on 101, into the heart of Rogue Nation for the small coastal fishing town of Newport.
After Hillary was finished waving at sea lions, we left the tiny town of Depot Bay and coasted into Newport a couple hours before dusk and descend toward the warf, the weather oscillating between a 45° downpour and a fine, floating mist. This is Oregon in the Spring. Along the inner shore, on the Yaquina Bay, a series of markets and small shops nestle in next to fisheries and restaurants. Toward the end of SW Bay Boulevard, Rogue rises rather modestly under the view of the Coastal Highway Bridge.
This end of the street is covered in murals dedicated to the stories of the sea, and the men who take to it every day to make their living, much the way Herman Melville might have imagined the Spouter Inn in New Bedford, Massachusetts, but…cheerier, with a touch of Sea World.
Past the understated exterior of the Public House, the holiest of holies in the Rogue Nation is anything but subtle. Every inch is covered in pale, worn wood, bumper stickers promoting beery politics, even the walls of the “family area” were covered in some of the craft beer world’s greatest graphic artwork.
This being St. Patrick’s Day weekend, I was greeted with a glass of the Kell’s Irish Lager to wet my whistle as the bar started to slowly fill in with the after-work crowd on a Thursday. No longer carrying its namesake, the Rogue Irish Style Lager is a straight-forward Euro-style pilsner bearing little of Rogue’s famous ambition — but alongside some of the freshest fish and chips you’ll ever get from the Pacific, it plays its role well.
Once sated, it was time to dive into the deep end of Rogue’s more representational beers, starting with a goblet of Old Crustacean barleywine. Like any good barleywine, this brew had a really complex aroma full of dark fruits, but also a little pepper. It’s billed as a sipping beer, which isn’t surprising, but you’ll have trouble being patient. The effervescence enlivens the sweetness and hint of smoke, and inspires a gluttonous mood.
Off to the side, a small group of guys gathered like an impromptu Elks Lodge around the largest block of cheese I’ve ever seen (at least the largest I’ve ever seen show up impromptu at a pub). Assuming this was local cheese (we’re in Tilamook country out here) I was eager to get a taste. “Tilamook?!” they responded with surprise, “No way. This is a 12-year cheddar from Wisconsin. Guy over there gets crazy on the internet sometimes.”
Surrounded by what could legitimately be described as a private cheese festival, I boldly ordered the Side Dish Sweet Potato Ale — a guest tap from Buckman Village Brewery out of Portland. Buckman is a neighborhood brewery lead by Danny Connors that serves its beers, often experimental and “botanical,” at The Green Dragon brewpub nearby. Side Dish is exactly as advertised — a food plate in liquid form — made with sweet potatoes and marshmallow root but falling on the drier side of sweet. Now this is what I’d call a sipping beer.
Looking to free my palate up a bit and get some insight into the home-grown nature of Rogue Nation, I sat down at Kyle’s spot (I don’t know him) and made Chatoe Rogue Dirtoir Black Lager my final answer. The Chatoe series features ingredients from Rogues own front yard, so to speak. Using their own hops and barley, mixed with traditional sourced ingredients, Dirtoir gives up a subtle roasted chocolate flavor and crisp hops melded together in a viscous lager mouthfeel almost like a french-pressed coffee with plenty of oils.
After some sobering pool, It was time to pull anchor and head back inland. But before doing so, I gathered some extra treasure for home, including The St. Rogue Dry Hopped Red Ale, Voodoo Doughnut Bacon Maple Ale (polarizing flavors I’ve heard) as well as a couple of pale ales from Rogue’s Eugene City brewery, which I’ll highlight later.
For now, it was back into the forests and hills toward Salem, and then north into Portland for a full weekend of breweries. Soon I’ll be sharing some stories from Amnesia, Hair of the Dog and Deschutes — all part of an epic tour of one of America’s best beer states.
Beer geeks talk. And beer geeks share. Every once in awhile, you realize that you and a few close friends end up with a serious score all at the same time — and a home tasting is almost mandatory.
This month, my friend Kunal got ahold of a couple bottles of Founder’s Kentucky Bourbon Stout. No, he didn’t sleep in a tent overnight in Grand Rapids to get it — he’s a patient hunter. He just kept checking the traps at his local six-packs in River North, Chicago until one of them was full.
And Doug, the master of the beer cellar I visit from time to time, and who pulled together the lion’s share of the Abyss 5-year vertical we put on last December, got ahold of a Goose Island King Henry he was dying to open.
Speaking of Abyss — I contributed a 2011 from my recent visit to Deschutes Brewpub in Portland, OR. And to break it up, we sourced a Three Floyds Zombie Dust (now in wide circulation) and a Hair of the Dog Blue Dot also from my Portland hunt.
Kentucky Breakfast Stout — A strong stout with vanilla and coffee flavors that mellow out beautifully as it warms, making it perfect for a small pour. Solid bourbon notes come through, but don’t make it boozy. Flavors are clear and bright — this beer has an incredible constitution.
Abyss — This stout is always amazing. When it’s relatively ”fresh” the cocoa nib, fruit and vanilla come through. This beer is aged in both oak and bourbon barrels, then mixed before bottling. The result is a particularly nuanced barrel profile with bourbon and charred oak flavors. The older it gets, the boozier it gets and the dark fruit flavors become more pronounced. For now, it’s more honest, less mysterious.
King Henry — The newest of these big beers, King Henry is a barleywine aged in barrels previously used to age Bourbon County Rare Stout (23-year-old Pappy Van Winkel barrels). Some great raisin, vanilla and almost coconut flavors in this one, but with that signature barleywine brightness and some light brown sugar. It was more subtle and surprising than any barleywine I’ve had to date.
Blue Dot — Hair of the Dog’s Imperial IPA. An incredible hop profile — all big and bitter, but mellow with organic pilsner and rye malts that provide a great balance. This does a great job of stripping your palate and opening you up to every note that passes. Beautiful lemon meringue color.
Zombie Dust — Go get some. The Chicago area is covered with this new Pale Ale from Three Floyds right now. Dark gold color, sharp bitterness and a sweet, refreshing finish. Dare I say sessionable?
I shouldn’t haven been surprised to find Michigan beer geeks in Portland, OR. But these aren’t your average beer hunters — Aren Rabe is a professional. He was “on assignment” for Kent Beverage out of Grand Rapids, MI where he’s a team lead with accounts like Brewery Vivant, Bells and most recently Greenbush Brewing out of Sawyer. When I walked in to Hair of the Dog Brewery in Portland, Aren’s Spartan hat and stack of Bell’s stickers gave him away. And after a bottle of vintage Adam — a thick, rich old world ale — it became clear that beer was a family affair for Aren and Jamie. In fact, they plan to make it a central part of their upcoming wedding plans. So for the first time ever, this post features a couple. And the couple that hunts together, stays together. Just wait until they combine their beer resources! (more fun than combining furniture and insurance)
What’s your favorite beer and style?
Aren: Well, seeing as how Founders Reds Rye is and will always be my “desert island beer,” I would have to say my “favorite” beer style is Rye Pale Ale. The spicy rye and the hops have my mouth watering right now.
Jamie: Imperial India Pale Ale, Bell’s Hopslam.
What’s in your fridge right now?
A: Just went to the fridge, no Reds Rye. But I do have some Brewery Vivant Kludde, Greenbush Red Bud, Upright Brewing Gose, and a New Holland Charkoota Rye. I’ll have to hit up the kegerator for some of my homebrew Wheat IPA.
J: Founders Double Trouble and Aren’s Imperial Stout (lovingly called Bear Fight Stout) in our kegerator.
What’s the first beer that clued you in?
A: Prior to turning 21, I worked as a server at our local Old Chicago. On the day of my 21st birthday the bartender slid me a sample of Huma-Lupa-Licious and said “you’re not going to like this.” Maybe it was my “against the grain” mentality or the fact that I never really liked the swill I was drinking to fit in at MSU’s house parties, but I loved whatever liquid magic was in that glass. That one beer changed the course of my life. I went from pursuing a career in psychology to being a professional in the wonderful world of craft beer.
J: I didn’t drink beer before because I thought my options were pretty much Budweiser and Miller, which I didn’t like. When I tasted Founders Reds Rye, I realized that beer could have different styles and flavors.
What’s your most memorable beer moment?
A: I will keep this short and sweet. When on the 3rd date with Jaime, now my fiancé, I ordered a Founders Backwoods Bastard. She took a sip of it and said “That’s really good, I will have one of those next!” Call me sappy, but it was love at first sip!
J: I think I have two. The first is my first sip of Red’s Rye on one of our first dates. I remember very clearly where we were and what I said when Aren convinced me to take thatdrink… “It tastes like grapefruit!” I don’t think Aren got his beer back that night.
My second most memorable beer moment is the first time I had a beer Aren had brewed himself. I had gone directly to Aren’s house after work on a Saturday afternoon during tax season, very tired and stressed. Although it was out of character for me to have a beer in the middle of the day, Aren had just finished carbonating his pale ale and so I thought I would try some. I poured myself a pint, sat down on the couch with my feet up, and found myself amazed that I was actually able to relax, thanks to this wonderful beverage. On top of that, I was pretty proud that my boyfriend made this stuff!
Bartender or brewer?
A: Why choose? I have always felt that good bartender knows the brewing process, and a good brewer knows how to sell a beer.
J: Bartenders can share a love of good beer with so many people. They have the ability to guide people into the world of craft beer, opening their eyes and their taste buds to things they might never try on their own. A certain former bartender I know still helps guide me every day, and it’s really handy that he lives with me.
What was your greatest beer hunt?
A: It was 2010 and I had just received a tip from a beer sales rep that an account in Nowheresville, MI had two bottles of 2008 Founders Blushing Monk in the cold box. I immediately turned my car around and drove 45 minutes out of my way. I clearly remember speeding trying to beat some unknown enthusiast to the punch; it did hit me later that these bottles had been on a shelf in a cooler for two years and my fears were much unfounded.
J: When Founders released Blushing Monk again in 2011, I went into two or three — or five beer stores on a Tuesday afternoon when I should have been at work. This being a very rare release, I may have used my feminine wiles and batted my eyelashes a few times to get a couple extra bottles. At the end of my first beer hunt, I was very happy with the 7 bottles I had gathered.
What’s a beer on your wish list?
A: I would love to get my hands on a Thomas Hardy Ale that is older than I am.
J: Rock n’ Roll Jamie, a very special barelywine brewed for me by one of the greatest brewers Aren and I know. The beer will make its debut at our wedding. Thanks Matt (we know this is only possible with the support of your amazing wife Irene)!
What other beers will you have at your wedding?
J: Bell’s Oberon, Founders Reds Rye, and a couple homebrews. We also plan to tap a firkin of beer together to serve as a symbol of our unity and love for each other, and in honor of the libation that brought us together. Jamie holds the hammer, Aren holds the tap. Did we mention we’re having a beer themed wedding?