Saturday, July 12, 2008

Brewery Tour: Rogue Brewery

After the great time I had touring the Deschutes Brewery, I was eager to visit another one. We planned to head to the Oregon coast just south of Newport to spend a couple nights with some friends and so I looked up the Rogue Brewery and found it was right on the way.

Rogue offers 1 tour a day at 3pm, and there were 40 people on the tour. They offer no free samples of beer, although their Brewers on the Bay Pub is just above the brewery and offers a sample tray for $6.00. I had never tasted a Rogue beer before. I have been tempted many times, but never purchased one because their beer is so expensive! It costs at least 20% more than similar styles from San Diego County, and even in their hole-in-the-wall gift shop the 22oz bottles cost $5-6, and the 6-packs cost $10-12!!

I arrived early, but not early enough to order any beer so after waiting around for a while the tour kicked off on time, with me still wondering what the beer tastes like. The tour guide was a bar-tender, who has worked for Rogue for over 11 years in a few of their facilities and knew a lot about the company and the brewing process. The facilities are quite a bit rougher; no false floor around the brew vessels, rough concrete floor with hoses running about, some spent grains on the ground, fermentation vessels with spray-on insulation instead of jacketed. It was not at all unsanitary, but seemed more haphazard than I would expect a brewery to be.

Rogue uses a filter that uses crushed seashells as media to filter their beer prior to bottling, and their bottling line was a lot more compact than Deschutes' was.

Rogue has also just completed an expansion, I did not find out the size of their new brewery, but I would estimate it is around 50% the size of the Deschutes equipment. They brew a lot more types of beer at Rogue (up to 50 types a year), but they have 2 smaller breweries in Eugine and Issaquah, WA that can do the smaller batches. At one point about a year ago they were 7 months behind on deliveries so they had to expand. After expansion, they brewed 24 hours a day for 6 months just to catch up.

At the end of the tour the guide told us they were having a warehouse sale at the other end of the property so I picked up a case of 12 x 22oz bottles of Dead Man's Ale, which is pretty good, for $27, a good price. Their post popular beer is the Dead Man's Ale, after returning home I found out that their Shakespeare Stout is also well regarded so I will have to cough up the dough and give it a try.

Overall it was a good tour and a great contrast to the Deschutes tour. I was hoping to come away a true believer, but I think that their marketing message is too confusing. There is no theme that I can pick up on in their beers, their label art, the apparel they offer, or anything else. It is kind of pirate/hippie/burnout/rebel, but not strongly any one of those. I'm sure they think that it is all about the beer (and it is, their beer is very well regarded), but there is a lot of really great beer out there. I think it is important to help the consumer understand who you are and if they take the trouble to go to your facility and attend the tour and still don't have a clear picture of what you stand for, I think you really missed out on a great opportunity.


Kirk Coburn said...

Interesting observations. I went to the Rogue Brewery tour on Memorial Day 2008. I shared a similar experience as you. I walked away disappointed. No beer samples? After paying $9.00+ for 6 packs of Dead Guy Ale? (Last night I saw one for $12.99 for a 6 pack at my local Fred Meyer). I doubt I will buy from Rogue again. Their marketing is confusing (as you said... Rebel/hippy/edgy/freedom? WTF?). Also, I asked the tour guide (same bartender you are referring to, been there forever, big guy with long hair), why their beer is so much more expensive than other similar types of microbrews. In a nutshell, "Because of the ingredients... and we are a for-profit entity." Awesome. Stick it to the man... the man that works hard to buy your overpriced beer.

Kirk Coburn said...

Oh-- by the way. If you ever get a chance, go to the Widmer Bros. in Portland. My wife and I just showed up one Saturday to see if we could get in (reservations required per website). They let us in, they were so friendly. I caught a buzz from all the samples, and the tour guide was without a doubt the most passionate beer enthusiast I have ever met. It was a wonderful tour, very entertaining. I tried EVERY beer they had, and when we left, everyone in the tour got a free Widmer Bros glass pint and bottle opener. Then we went and ate delicious lunch inside, where you can get a whole liter of beer in a huge mug too! For around $5.00. THAT was a great experience. Yesterday when I was at Albertsons and I saw a 6 pack of Rogue Dead Guy Ale for $12.99 next to ALL of the Widmer Bros microbrews for $5.99 per 6 pack... I smiled and you know what I did. Spent my evening sipping on their delicious Drop Top Amber Ale. DAMN is it good. Good people good beer man!