Review: Rouge Santa’s Private Reserve

Rogue Santa's Private Reserve

Rogues Santa's Private Reserve - 6.4% ABV 65IBU

I’m absolute sucker for holiday/winter specialty beers. I think part of it is that they have a feeling the ephemerality. Part of it is definitely that they often play to my love of puns. The biggest reason is that their flavor profiles are generally right up my alley. When I think of a winter warmer or holiday beer, I imagine malty, leaning toward sweet, maybe some interesting spice notes, and definitely a warmth from the alcohol. What about that doesn’t sound great?

Rogue, living up to its name, rarely plays by the rules. This beer is not exception. It doesn’t really fit my stereotype of winter seasonals. In describing it, Rogue says:

Rogue’s annual holiday offering, Santa’s Private Reserve, is a variation of the classic Saint Rogue Red, but with double the hops–including Chinook, and Centennial, and a mystery hop called Rudolph by head brewer John “more hops” Maier!

When I think of ways to make something more of a holiday beer, I rarely think, “Double the hops!” But, just because it’s not falling into my conceptions of what a holiday beer should be doesn’t mean it can’t be a great beer. I tried to approach this tasting as just a beer, not a holiday beer, but I fear my opinion may be colored by what I was hoping for.

Tasting Notes

Appearance: Amber with hints of ruby red when held up to the light. It’s topped with a 2-finger thick, off-white head  that deliberately came down to about half an inch.

Aroma: Caramel and aromatic malts combine for a solid sweetness with some green, earthy hop bitterness.

Taste: A nice, creamy sweetness is quickly backed up by an assertive, balancing hop bitterness. You’re left with a lingering, but not coating bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Light and bubbly without feeling watery.

Overall: I could go for a bit more malt character and maybe a more piney hop bitterness in a winter seasonal. It’s a good, but not remarkable beer.

Review: Rogue Morimoto Flight

Rogue Morimoto Flight

From left to right: Black Obi Soba, Hazelnut Brown, Imperial Pilsner, and Soba Ale.

While I love living in Ann Arbor, traveling to Actual Cities (note the capital-A, capital-C) affords a lot of opportunities to try new things, even if that city is in Pennsylvania, one of the least beer-friendly states in the union.

On my recent trip to Philadelphia (previously: tour of Dogfish Head Brewery), I stopped into Morimoto Restaurant. Foodies may recognize the name Masaharu Morimoto as an Iron Chef. The main reason for this lunch trip was to have a high-end ramen noodle dish – which apparently exists – but when the menu also had a quartet of Morimoto-branded ales brewed by Rogue, I couldn’t pass up trying them all in a flight.

Black Obi Soba Ale

This beer (and the base Soba Ale) are both brewed with soba, a buckwheat-based malt that is common in Asian cuisine, but this one added some specialty malts to give more body and flavor. This beer reminded me of a black ale, as the mouthfeel and appearance were incongruous. It was overly dry tasting to me, and I was not a huge fan.

Hazelnut Brown Ale

This had a more sweet, nutty flavor of hazelnut than a lot of standard hazelnut browns, which was the most notable facet of it. It was the thickest feeling and tasting of the three beers, and probably the best overall on its own merits.

Imperial Pilsner

The waitress described this as “like our IPA,” about which I was skeptical, because in no world does an Imperial Pilsner seem like it should be described as such. I was right, she was wrong. This beer had a very light body, and a sweet flavor. As you can (kind of) see in the picture, it’s got a little opacity, but it’s straight pilsner in flavor.

It’s got the sweet hints you’d expect out of the classic czech pilsners, with maybe a more extreme sweetness, which the “imperial” portion would lead you to expect. While I’m an established lager/pilsner-hater at times, I actually thought this was one of the better beers in the flight, and it went particularly well with the salty food dish.

Soba Ale

As mentioned above, this was brewed with malted soba. It was a standard ale with a few distinct flavors from the soba, but nothing special. It had a fairly dry flavor itself.


I’m a fan of Rogue beers, but these… well, they just didn’t do it for me. They are brewed for a specific use (branding with the Morimoto name), and they’re mediocre enough that I wouldn’t bother to try another Morimoto-branded beer unless it came specifically recommended to me – despite being crafted by a respected brewer.

Rogue 21st Anniversary

Rogue Ales is celebrating their 21st anniversary this summer with the release of Rogue 21. The beer was available in a limited number of 750ml bottles and 21 kegs were released to 21 of Rogue’s oldest bar patrons. As it happens, Ashley’s is one of those lucky 21, and we took in this event back in the late days of summer. Without further ado, the beers:

Rogue 21st Anniversary Ale

Quite a sweet, malty flavor – It tastes like it’s a scotch or old ale. There’s a very low hop presence, and almost none at all in the aroma.

There’s alcohol taste on the tongue, but it’s not overwhelming. As sweet as the finished beer is, they certainly could have fermented it down a little more to remove sweetness and make it a little stronger.

The description says it’s brewed with molasses (which helps bring the scotch-ish flavor) and brewer’s licorice, though I don’t think there’s any anise flavor or aroma.

Rogue J.J. Hazelnut

The John John beers are aged in Whiskey barrels, and the Hazelnut is a brown ale brewed (of course) with hazelnut flavor.

There’s no strong aroma of anything before you sip. No real hops or sweetness on the nose. The flavor is overwhelmingly oak whiskey barrel-aged, to the point of covering up any other flavor. There’s a bit of dry acridity to it that you expect from a whiskey-aged beer.

My hypothesis is that this beer was aged too long, and took on too much flavor from the barrel, covering up the original flavors of the hazelnut brown. Practically the only flavors come from the barrel.

If you let the beer percolate in your mouth a bit prior to swallowing, there’s a bit of malty sweetness, though it’s impossible to determine the underlying flavors. If this beer was served at a bit warmer temperature, maybe these flavors would be more apparent.

Rogue J.J. Dead Guy

The Dead Guy Ale is one of Rogue’s flagship beers, and the John John version of it is, as you’d expect, a whiskey barrel-aged version of the classic maibock. This isn’t as over-aged as the hazelnut was, and the oak is an understated flavor. There’s a little “bite” from it at the beginning, but it wears off the more you drink (it’s up to the reader to decide if that’s due to temperature, drunkenness, or something else).

This beer is quite sweet both on the nose and in flavor. There’s a very subtle sour or fruity taste you’d associate with a Belgian – but it’s barely there. For a typically well-hopped style in Maibocks, there’s almost no hop presence.

Stone 14th Anniversary Ale

mmmmm... Ashley's

mmmmm... Ashley's

This was obviously the odd beer out, as the other offerings all came from Rogue, and this is a Stone brew. The boys in Escondido created an “Emperial IPA,” or a double imperial IPA to celebrate 14 years.

The aroma isn’t too hoppy, especially for what you’d expect out of the style, but what hops are discernible are of a sweeter variety.

In the flavor, however, it’s all hops (in multiple senses). The overwhelming taste is hop bitterness and flavor, though with a variety of hops, instead of the exclusively sweet ones that were in the aroma. The malt flavors are sweet, but also a bit spicy, leaving us to speculate there’s rye in the mash.

Beer Review: Rogue OREgasmic Ale

Chatoe Rogue OREgasmic Ale

Chatoe Rogue OREgasmic Ale

This is the first Grow Your Own (GYO) beer I’ve seen from Rogue. Every ingredient comes from their farm in Oregon. In fact, they proudly list their ingredients on their site:

Brewed using 100% OREGON Ingredients. Micro Barley Farm first growth Dare™ & Risk™ Malts; Willamette, Sterling, and First Growth Micro Hopyard Revolution Hops, Pacman Yeast and Free Range Coastal Water.

I can appreciate the fully integrated approach. It reminds me of the now Colorado based Leopold Brother’s Brewery and Distillery. They were a completely carbon neutral, certified green distillery, brewery and greenhouse. So, going back to my granola munching, Ann Arbor roots, lets give this a try.

Rogue describes it as:

Orange-amber in color, malty aroma, spicy fruity hop flavor with solid malt background and lingering finish.

It poured reddish, orange with a thick, creamy head that was about 2 fingers thick. It slowly laced away but a bit is still on top a few minutes after I poured. The aroma is almost all the malt profile with a bit of the spicy hops. The mouthfeel is amazingly smooth and creamy. The taste is nice, liquidy hops with a bit of with spice afterward. Some of the malt sweetness, character comes through, but it’s mainly the hops.

I’m curious to see where this vertically integrated experiment will go. It follows the movement of a lot of chefs getting more into the origins of their foods. Once there are multiple breweries doing this same integration, we can compare and contrast the different origins and their subtle variations.