Rogue has its critics. Some of the sniping is well-earned (overly pricey beer and food at the pubs, sometimes pretentious hype), but some of it is just a culture clash. Rogue has a national presence, and it dotes less on locals than any other major brewery. But I come today not to nitpick Newport's finest, but to praise it. Two objects draw my honeyed prose:
1. Chatoe Single Malt. Okay, that "chatoe" business is bad--it falls into the "sometimes pretentious hype" category. I'm not sure if they're mocking wine (chatoe, dirtoir) and if so, why, but it's a distracting affectation. The beer, however, is a wonder of restraint. For all its bluster, Rogue has managed to get less attention and credit for its hop and barley fields than it should. Bringing the crops into the line of production makes Rogue not only uber-green, but restores them to an ancient lineage of farmhouse breweries. (I wish they'd highlight the farmhouse aspect rather than using a misplaced wine appellation reference.) The Single Malt is meant to highlight the ingredients, and Rogue boldly does so by offering a 12º P session ale of modest hopping (35 BU). No over-compensation here; Rogue's confident enough in the quality of their ingredients that they display them nakedly.
A wise choice. By style, I guess you could call it a best bitter--Rogue's "Revolution" hops don't even incline you to think they're particularly American. They have a grassy, slightly lemony quality. Together with the gentle, bready malt, the beer becomes crisp and almost astringent. The softness of the malt and spicy/grassy quality remind me a bit of a kolsch. My guess is that this beer will taste best the closer it is to the conditioning tank. It's delicacy must be both fragile and evanescent. I had a pint at the Astoria pub that seemed sparklingly fresh. A very accomplished beer, and a surprising one.
2. The Rogue Astoria Pub. For a town with a population of just 10,000, Astoria has an embarrassment of brewpub riches. Astoria Brewing has one of the best views in Oregon, and Fort George has quickly distinguished itself as one of the better Oregon brewpubs. Rogue's pub, which doesn't have an attached brewery, may well play third fiddle for visitors. A pity. Located in the historic Bumblebee Cannery building, it is literally out in the middle of the river. I've been there in nasty weather, when it's warm and cozy, and sunny weather, when it's bright and airy. Either way, the vast expanse of the Columbia is just outside the window. Inside, the pub has that comfortable, worn feel of an antique pub--even though it's only been open since 2007.
As with all Rogue pubs, it's expensive, but you receive in compensation the opportunity to try some of their rarer, specialty beers. It doesn't feel like a Rogue pub so much as an Astoria pub--a neat trick for a new place. And, as evidence of other good behavior they don't often get credit for, they leave two taps open for Fort George and have a substantial "Fort George Beer Served Here" poster behind the bar. If you're in town more than a night or two, try to work it in.
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