Wolf Tree Brewery- Seal Rock, Oregon
Wolf Tree Brewery is a four-plus hour drive southwest of Portland off the beaten path out in the boonies. Beer is brewed in a barn where hay was stored only a couple years before. It’s in the sticks and it’s rural.
Vats, kettles, fermenters, and kegs are literally one hundred feet away from a pasture where cows are fed spent grain from the brewery. “I think they appreciate that,” Joe chuckles.
Kegs are filled directly from fermenters, cooled down, then forced carbonated with CO2. Beers are unfiltered, not clear, which means some yeast stays in the kegs. It’s not your typical brewery.
Wolf Tree Brewery is all about providing a quality product. Joe appreciates a well crafted beer and is critical to the point of being obsessive. He samples every batch every time making sure it’s up to snuff. (I want his job!) “It’s damn good beer. I know it is. It stacks up to anything I’ve tried. Other brewers have confirmed that,” he confides.
Wolf Tree Brewery pumps unfiltered, untreated spring water from its ranch straight to the brewery for every drop of beer. The brewery is 100 yards from where the water is coming out of the ground. It’s the freshest spring water you can get. No fluoride or chemicals are ever introduced. Good, clean water makes a fine brew and the end result here is delicious.
Joe knows a thing or two about trees. He’s a forester, as well as a brewer.
“We’re called Wolf Tree Brewery,” Joe says, “because a ‘wolf tree’ is the biggest damn tree in the forest.”
Although Wolf Tree Brewery started dead last in monthly/annual production of total barrelage output in the state of Oregon they’re moving on up and finally getting a piece of the pie. “Now we’re in the bottom ten,” Joe laughs. In the future he plans to expand by growing and harvesting most ingredients on sight. “It makes us unique if we’re sourcing from the ranch,” he adds. “I’m also toying with the idea of barrel aging the beer when the brewery is set up to support that.”
Joe brews, sells, delivers, and cleans/installs his taps at the local bars. Clients shake hands with the one running the whole operation – as opposed to the delivery guy, or distributor, or somebody who really has no idea.
“It’s nice when customers talk to me about what they want. If they have a problem I can get it fixed right away. If they want a different kind of beer I can make it,” he says. Joe’s wife, Melissa, helps cook spruce tips, drums up business, secures accounts, and promotes the brewery.
To the core Wolf Tree Brewery embodies the essence of an honest mom & pop homespun nano-brewery. According to Joe, “Brewing beer is like being a janitor. “The biggest part of the job is cleaning. It’s hard work, but it’s fun. I get to drink beer on the job so I can’t complain.”
Surprisingly, there aren’t a lot of microbreweries on the Oregon coast and distribution is limited.
Bars around Seal Rock open at 7am. When Joe delivers his beer around 8am locals are already bellying up to wet their whistles – and they aren’t knocking back pints of microbrews. They’re chugging Tall Boys for a buck fifty. It’s a peculiar clientele, to say the least, but that’s the reality in this neck of the woods. All the same, local dive bars blow thru a shit-ton of Wolf Tree Brewery’s kegs. “It’s odd when I can sell beer to a joint that doesn’t necessarily have craft beers and they’re happier than hell with it,” Joe says.
Not every place in town is like that, however. There are a couple hoity-toity taprooms specializing in craft beer. There also can be a ‘butthole factor’ directed at the outlay for Joe’s product. For example, a ½ barrel keg (15.5 gallons) from established domestic and imported craft breweries costs roughly $150 to $200, whereas a ⅙ barrel keg (5 gallons) from Wolf Tree Brewery is $85. Obscure European imports on tap may retail at $8/pint, as opposed to $5/pint for Wolf Tree Brewery’s beer. On paper Joe’s beer doesn’t necessarily pencil out favorably in regards to running a profitable business. Be that as it may, these taverns are making a profit due to the high retail mark up on beer, certainly more than Joe, and they’re blowing through his kegs. “Those are just some of the hurdles,” Joe sighs. “Maybe things will change when I get a little bigger or have a little more pull in the market.”
SPRUCE TIP ALE…
Spruce Tip Ale is Wolf Tree Brewery’s flagship beer. It’s a lightly hopped malty American Brown Ale packed to the hilt with spruce tips. So… what are spruce tips? The tips, or new growth, of Spruce trees at the end of the branch becoming a limb, essentially. Small tips are tender and concentrated and loaded with vitamin C yielding a sweet citrusy taste. When Spring arrives Joe’s harvesting spruce tips with family and friends off the juvenile Sitka Spruce trees 3 to 10 years old that grow abundantly on the ranch.
Ten to fifteen people picking tips and chugging beer half the day can yield approximately 150 pounds. Afterwards he packs and freezes wet spruce tips and brews it year round. He’s found using fresh or frozen tips hasn’t affected the flavor. However, batches do taste different depending on the type of spruce tips used, for example, Sitka Spruce, Engelmann Spruce, Blue Spruce, Brewer Spruce, etc. “In my opinion,” Joe claims, “the best one is Sitka Spruce. And that’s what I use.” There are more spruce tips in this beer than any other around. One pound per five gallon keg. It’s the real deal. Although it has a low 20 IBU, spruce tips provide just the right amount of astringency to balance the malts evenly. Some call it ‘time travel beer’ despite it’s moderate 6.5% ABV. “4 pints it’s black out drunk!” Joe laughs. It’s possible that spruce tips may be an additional fermentable that isn’t completely accounted for. 6/6 Bottle Caps. Doesn’t get any better!
CAMILLE’S GOLDEN IPA…
Camille’s Golden IPA is one of the main staple beers of Wolf Tree Brewery. Similar grains as the Spruce Tip Ale are used, but the Pilsen Malt gives it a gold color. A ton of top-tier Falconer’s Flight hops are incorporated, which are a pellet blend containing the Pacific Northwest’s most intriguing aroma hop varieties. Then Joe, “dry hops the shit out of it with Citra Hops giving it a damn good nose.” There’s a shock value of being over 100 IBU’s, (107 actually!) however, it doesn’t blow you away. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how delicious this is. Hops dominate most of the flavor, but it’s not a punch you in the face bitterness. It’s very drinkable and smooth and finishes nice. Tapped at the brewery, or select local watering holes it rivals any IPA out there. You’re not going to find many like it. I can honestly say it’s one of my favorites. 6/6 Bottle Caps. Well done!