When Wolf Tree Brewery debuted on the October OLCC report of taxable barrels, with 0.4 barrels it entered as least productive brewery. Hardly one of the state’s big dogs. But perhaps everyone should watch their backs since owner/brewer/distributor Joe Hitselberger, a forester with the Oregon Department of Forestry, told me that, “a wolf tree is a term used to describe the biggest tree in the forest.”
(Joe’s wife Melissa sometimes gets chased by their cow)
If you’d like to see, or rather taste, Wolf Tree at the source, don’t bother. Set in Seal Rock south of Newport, but not the easily-accessed coastal part, Joe’s sub-single barrel brewhouse is on his rural, working cattle ranch. “It was very difficult getting the brewery permitted on agricultural land,” he said. “One of the stipulations was that we will not have a tasting room onsite and that the brewery be closed to the public.I guess the county doesn’t want people driving out to a remote area, drinking beer and trying to find their way home.”
Around Seal Rock, a wolf tree is generally a Sitka Spruce. Hitselberger strives to grow or forage many of the ingredients on his ranch that includes 500 acres of coastal forest. Beyond the ranch-grown Cascade and Newport hops as the first two varieties, Joe gathers spruce tips for the flagship Spruce Tip Ale. They come out in the spring but he aims to make that beer year round by freezing the tips much the way hops are preserved after the harvest.
The other year-round beer is Wolf Tree IPA, that’s really more of an India brown ale. On the actually pale spectrum of IPAs, the first in the brewery’s Farm Dog series – beers named after dogs on the ranch — is Camille’s Golden IPA (for an old golden retriever). Both clock in over 6 percent ABV and reach 100 IBUs. Though while every dog has his day, Joe’s not sure every ranch dog gets her own beer. There’s presently Cali, Cowboy, Max, and Tucker. “It’s fun to think about,” he added. “Cali will probably be the next one to get a beer because she’s mine.”
As for trying to make everything homegrown, there’ve been some test batches of barley, “but I’m not sure our climate is well suited for that.” One thing it’s most certainly suited for is blackberries and huckleberries. “We have tried a few test batches using berries from the ranch but nothing is in production yet.”
Clearly, with 1.7 barrels under their belt—the November report showed Wolf Tree tripled its production in November and topped only Greiss Family Brewery in Grants Pass, which is indirectly my fault—they’re on the prowl. In fact, there are a small handful of accounts around Lincoln County that Hitselberger delivers five-gallon kegs to, meaning a fourth of each batch. “We are selling beer as fast as we can make it.” Well, yeah. “We’d like to reach 100 barrels a year,” he enthused. He then added that his goal is to produce 100 barrels, and that’s his “long term goal.”
But for now, he’s focused on seeing the forest for the trees, and the ranch. “Using ingredients we harvest from the ranch is essential for our beer, and I think brewing with natural spring water makes the beer taste better,” Joe said. “We also feed the cows the spent grain, and I think they appreciate it.