Rogue Brewing’s Eugene City Track Town has Closed its doors last Friday on 12/26/2014. Before you begin to listen for 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 cheater pints and mediocre food surely helped it down the hill. The atmosphere combined with Rogue’s cheapskate management tactics finally wore away the veneer of glossy rebellion that enchanted locals, tourists and brewers alike.
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 fermentors 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 fermentor, 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 their 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.