Oh happy day. A vertical of Rogue’s Old Crustacean Barleywine has just arrived at the end of my work day. Featuring three years of one of Rogue’s most well-known brews: 1999 in 7oz bottles, 2003 in 12 oz and 2007 in 750ml. Three bottles of each. These are going straight to the cellar until I can arrange a worthy tasting panel — Or I get ambitious on a Saturday.
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.