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Rogue’s Eugene Public House and Track Town Brewery has CLOSED

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Photo Credit – The Daily Emerald

Rogue’s Eugene Public House and Track Town Brewery has Closed closed its doors last Friday on 12/26/2014. Before you begin to listen for the wailing and gnashing of teeth, this is not unexpected news. In fact, many people have been wondering when it would happen, as the place was rarely busy; $5.75 nonic pints and mediocre food surely helped it make its way down the hill. The atmosphere combined with Rogue’s cheapskate management tactics to finally wear away the glossy veneer of rebellion that enchanted locals, tourists, and brewers alike.

rogue track town

Now that the sour grape vines have been pruned, we can take note. The brewpub has a history of fostering new and wandering brewers since its inception as West Brothers Eugene City Brewery in 1996, several doors north of the original Eugene City Brewery that operated in the 1800s. The Wests bought the rights for the Eugene City Brewery name back from a retired Idaho lawyer. The brewery was used to supply the West Brothers’ restaurants around Eugene.

Tim Barr, now a brewery consultant and brewer at Ground Breaker in Portland, was the first to brew there. Hopworks Urban Brewery founder Christian Ettinger was the second brewer at the helm. Steve van Rossem spent time in the basement brewery until, after a hip surgery, he went to work for Block 15, where he perfected many hoppy beer recipes; he is now head brewer at Plank Town in Springfield. Chip Hardy, owner of The Bier Stein Bottleshop & Pub, cut his teeth with van Rossem, moved to the Eugene Steelhead brewery, then returned to West Bros in 2003 as head brewer and won a gold medal at GABF for his Espresso Stout. When Rogue took over, Hardy left after being offered a fraction of his former pay– The Bier Stein opened six months later. Todd Friedman, a lead brewer at Hop Valley and longtime Eugene beer denizen, succeeded Hardy there. There are several others who fill in the gaps during the West Brothers period

After Rogue took ownership of the brewpub in ’04 (they kept the Eugene City Brewery moniker until around ’09, then changed it to the Public House, brewing the Track Town Ales line of beer), Trevor Howard brewed there, and went on to start Hop Valley. Scott Sieber took over from Howard, is now head brewer at Falling Sky. Nate Sampson took over the brew dungeon in 2009; he followed a lead to San Diego to help start Hess Brewing, and made it back north this year to brew at Hard Knocks, Cottage Grove’s only brewery. After a brief vacancy, Christina Canto brewed for about a year before Oakshire picked her up–she has since left for a brewing position in Illinois. Sam Scoggin came to work there from Walking Man, and was poached by Elk Horn here in Eugene. Current/now former brewer Steve Distasio came west from Illinois–he is now on the lookout, no doubt.

Those last two paragraphs read like a chapter of Chronicles–the brewery begat multitudes of great brewers. For that reason alone, it deserves to be resurrected. The building and brewhouse would need a lot of work, as keeping the current facade and interior would be a reactionary move.

The brewhouse itself is an amalgam of poetic limitations and history. Steve van Rossem installed the current mash tun and kettle; the former had been a tank with a bolt-on manway, which made emptying the spent grain especially hard. The kettle used to be a cutoff Grundy tank. There used to be six Grundies upstairs that fed beer to what is now the Starlight Lounge. The mash tun is an unheated cauldron that relies on on-demand water, so it’s single infusions only. The kettle is direct fired. The unjacketed Grundy fermenters are in a room accessed via sliding glass door, chilled only by an A/C unit; don’t have the door closed when you’re going to open up a fermenter, as you will likely die due to lack of oxygen. The spent grains are loaded into Brute trash cans and hauled up a long flight of stairs by hand truck and fully ripped glutes.

Chip Hardy told tales of the inefficiency of unloading five pallets of grain at a time, and I can attest to the fact that Rogue refused to let the brewers have an assistant; during my first year in Eugene I volunteered with Nate Sampson a few days, helping with the brew and keg fills, helping him haul 300 lb. Brutes of spent grain up the stairs (look away, OSHA, look away!). He asked for an assistant, was denied. I moved on, as did Nate eventually. The same thing happened with Christina Canto and Dan Russo, who now brews at Oakshire after winning the Glen Falconer Scholarship last year; he became her de facto assistant brewer, and would occasionally show up at the homebrew shop for a bag of grain or some yeast to step up (Rogue’s required dollar-per-keg number was quite low–I know of some brewers who spent their own dime to make the beer they wanted to make, the beer they knew would be good).

But those limitations were the building blocks of clever brewers; problem solving, recipe tweaking, workarounds, jury rigs, and the dark recesses of technical manuals are what make many brewers tick. And so we award Rogue an “assist” in the creation of the brewing culture that now encompasses the Eugene-Springfield area.

The wheels of time tick once again at the Eugene City Brewery.

Aaron Brussat is a beer steward at The Bier Stein and writes for Northwest Brewing News and plays music and homebrews and tends a garden and used up all his commas in this post.

8 Comments

  1. ThinkDrink

    December 29, 2014 at 9:18 pm

    For sure I love me some Rogue beers. But table service was horrible at the Rogue Public House in Eugene. And the prices were not competitive. It amazes me that Rogue corporate risked blemishing their brand with how badly the Public House was operated.

    Hoping some investment arrives to re-engineer/design the place. Definitely some history at that location.

  2. Mishna W.

    December 29, 2014 at 9:50 pm

    Rogue treated their employees so badly I’m amazed this place stayed open as long as it did. Overpriced beer, ordinary food, horrific management constantly firing people for no reason, high staff turnover holy moly of course the locals aren’t going to support your ramshackle business. Suck it Brett Joyce.

  3. Shane

    December 30, 2014 at 5:39 pm

    Great article, Aaron.

  4. charlie

    December 30, 2014 at 7:06 pm

    Dan Pedersen, now at Crux, got his start at West’s in the early ’90s IIRC.

  5. Janie Tucker

    December 31, 2014 at 9:51 pm

    Janie T
    Terrific article Aaron! AAron is also the Cascade Brewer’s newsletter editor. And his music rocks!

  6. Gary Knox

    December 31, 2014 at 11:01 pm

    That was a great article Aaron. Thanks.

  7. Todd

    January 3, 2015 at 9:19 am

    Rogue has been doing this for well over 25 years now.I was one of their original brewers at the original (first) brewery in Ashland. The work conditions were a nightmare and the pay was dismal. I lasted 3 years in that dungeon. It’s too bad Brett feels the need to follow in his fathers footsteps. The only thing that has saved Rogue over the last 27 years is John Maier’s kind, understanding and forgiving ways. Suck it Brett!

  8. Anthony St. Clair

    January 5, 2015 at 11:35 pm

    Great piece, Aaron! So right—one place in a current iteration is gone, but like brewing itself, the brewing industry and its people are on ongoing process. Lots of change and growth. I’m definitely curious about who is going to fill that old space now, and what they’ll be up to…

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