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“I still see people buying and swilling terrible beer. I sometimes think that my job is like farting against a gale, but I just keep moving forward.” ― Michael Jackson
Article by Meagan Wilson.
Photos by Benjamin Wilson.
Pacific Coast road trip – Day 5. May 8, 2019.
Tony’s Crab Shack, in Bandon, Oregon, is one of my favorite restaurants. It’s a “must-visit” whenever we’re lucky enough to be on the Oregon Coast. Tony’s converted me to the ways of crab sandwiches (if you can believe it, I used to think I didn’t like crab). It’s not visually impressive; just a little white structure with a red roof, right off the Bandon Boardwalk. But oh, man, the food is so good.
This place has been feeding fishermen, tourists and locals for over three decades. Tony Roszkowski moved to Bandon from New Jersey in 1989. There wasn’t much here then. The building that is now Tony’s Crab Shack used to be the port offices. A WWII veteran and retired Coastie named George Miller procured the building and ran a marine electronics and angling equipment shop out of it. Tony had been in satellite TV, and selling marine electronics must have been a natural enough transition.
The story goes that Tony wound up watching the shop on his own for a couple of days, and when George got back, Tony had enough suggestions for improvements that George offered to sell it to him. The business opened in April that year, and by June, Tony had bought it from George.
How did the tackle shop expand into a famous (but still tiny) restaurant? Tony started cooking crabs as a service to customers of the tackle shop. After a couple of years of people trying to buy the cooked crabs, Tony started cooking some to sell. From there, the menu expanded to include a large selection of extremely fresh, local seafood (Tony’s really is a shack right on the Bandon Boardwalk, after all), and the best dungeness crab sandwich…in the world. And crab cakes. Oh, yes. Delicious crab cakes. The restaurant has an actual door and walls now. The last time I was here, the seating area was enclosed by vinyl strips, like you might see at the entrance to a walk-in freezer. The outdoor oyster bar is also new, as of spring 2018, or so. Tony still runs the tackle shop, too. It’s the kind of place that’s reassuring to come back to, and well worth a first, or thirtieth, visit.
We can’t stay super long in Bandon, because we have an appointment at Brewer’s on the Bay, the world headquarters for Rogue Ales, in Newport, Oregon. On a trip full of West Coast beer dream destinations, this is one I’ve been especially looking forward to.
Unlike the Rogue pub in downtown Newport, or the one in Astoria, or (probably) the one in Portland (I haven’t visited that location), Brewer’s on the Bay is a collection of warehouse structures with a large parking lot, situated right on the Port of Newport. From the outside, the most striking feature is the tall red silo emblazoned with the Rogue logo, that serves as the visitor entrance. Right about here is where we meet Jim Cline, who will serve as our host for this visit. Jim worked for Rogue for many years (24 of them, I think he said). Now that he’s retired, he gives tours filled with thirty-plus years of Rogue history. Most readers may know that Rogue, like North Coast, Deschutes, Great Lakes, Brooklyn, and 51 other breweries, is part of the class of ‘88.
Inside, the coastal warehouse character is prominent. Basically everything is constructed from wood, and the interior is similar to an industrial farmhouse style. There’s plenty of merch, both liquid and not, and the pub boasts 40 Rogue beers on tap. Locals and tourists mingle at the bar and tables, keeping to themselves or swapping stories. It feels right, very much Rogue, and for me, like home.
I tend to think of Rogue as an integral part of the Oregon coast experience, but that’s too narrow. What Rogue exemplifies is a true Pacific Northwest character. Friendly, open, hardworking, and willing to help others. While touring the facility with Jim, we hear about Rogue founder Jack Joyce’s promise to always “feed the fishermen” (give back to the community) and several of the forms fulfilling that promise has taken.
One that I am particularly fond of is the friendly relationship between Rogue and the Coast Guard (and the rest of the U.S. military). In 2018, they released a U.S. Coast Guard Anniversary Ale, with a bottle design featuring a 47’ motor lifeboat in honor of the Coast Guard’s 228th anniversary. Fast forward to 2020 for a moment. As a way of supporting first responders during the COVID-19 pandemic, Rogue has been producing hand sanitizer in their distillery, and donating it to local fire and police departments.
The biggest highlight of our visit to Brewer’s on the Bay has to be meeting John Maier, whose 30-year career as the Rogue Ales brewmaster is craft beer legend. While touring the brewery portion of the facility with Jim Cline, we turn a corner to find John Maier busy in his pilot brewery. He’s “experimenting with this hothead yeast” and offers us each a sample. Ben’s later description, “It was a dark amber, slightly darker than a standard altbier, closer to a sticke, with a good malt character, and a hint of what I’ve come to recognize as hothead character. It wasn’t crazy hoppy, but had an assertive maltiness that I’m still trying to recreate in my own recipes.”
This is our first encounter with hothead, a type of kveik (which hails from the Voss region of Norway). Later, we’ll become quite fascinated with kveik yeasts, but that’s a post for another day.
Just a week after our visit, John Maier announces his retirement as the Rogue Brewmaster, which makes us feel even more lucky and grateful to have this chance encounter with him.
Fittingly, our visit to Brewer’s on the Bay culminates in the taproom.
Drinking (May 8, 2019):
- Counter Currant
- Paradise Pucker
- Cold Brew 2.0 I wasn’t quite as fond of this one as the Cold Brew IPA they did a while back, but a blonde ale with cold brewed coffee is still an interesting, and in this case, tasty, idea.
- Rolling Thunder Imperial Stout Neither if us can quite recall which year we tried.
- 6 Hop IPA
- 7 Hop IPA
- 8 Hop IPA
For me, Rogue embodies the independence and community spirit that make craft beer awesome. Their continual interest in innovation and creativity are inspiring and fun. When it’s safe to travel, and perhaps to gather again, Rogue Brewer’s on the Bay is absolutely worth a tour.