Forrest Rogness studied photography at the University of Iowa for five years, where he learned the intricacies of framing the subjects in his pictures. Fortunately for the Austin beer community, Rogness transferred that knowledge to another craft. He says, "[It] was a natural progression into homebrewing—making beers and focusing on composition and balance."
Rogness and his wife Diane recently founded Rogness Brewing Company in Pflugerville, Texas, a small suburb located fourteen miles northeast of Austin. But this is not their first foray into the brewing industry. "In 1990, I started making beer—lots and lots of beer," he notes. And in 1999, Rogness bought Austin Homebrew Supply. "While I learned to run Austin Homebrew, I also learned that many of my beers were being received really well by customers." After more than a decade of running one of Texas' most successful homebrew stores, Rogness made the leap. "In 2004, I hatched a plan to launch a microbrewery in the future," he recalls.
Rogness didn't want to start just any brewery. "Generally speaking, a brewery wants to make a beer that is well received and has a large demand," he says. "This seems like a mixed blessing to me because making the same beer constantly is not the path we'd like to go down." Instead, Diane states that "in addition to our regular rotation of kegs, we plan on having very limited runs of really unique beers every three to six months."
After acquiring its building last May and jumping through inspection and permitting hoops, Rogness Brewing debuted its first two beers on March 26, 2012, at Black Star Co-op Pub & Brewery, the world's first cooperatively-owned brewpub and one of Austin's beer hotspots. Rogness and the rest of his brew crew poured Ost, a bold and roasty 5.7% ABV porter brewed with seven different types of malts and three varieties of hops, and Bella, a 5.3% ABV Belgian golden ale with a dry, tart finish. To their delight, Rogness and the rest of his team emptied almost six kegs that night.
Brewer David Ebel was particularly excited after the response from the local beer community. "It was something that everyone on the team had been working really hard on or a long time. Going from making something to serving it to your friends and family was wonderful." He notes, "I think it was one of the most crowded releases [Black Star] has had," and Rogness Brewing still has a tap handle at the famous pub.
Unlike Rogness, Ebel came to the brewery from an entirely different line of work. He knew Forrest from Austin Homebrew Supply where he bought most of the ingredients for his own homebrewed beers. "I worked for a civil engineering firm and heard one day that Forrest was starting a brewery." Ebel was ready to move on from his job and asked to volunteer at Rogness' new brewery. Rogness ultimately asked Ebel, "Why don't you come brew with us?" And after chatting with Rogness over a beer, Ebel gave his two weeks' notice the next Monday morning at his old job.
In addition to Ebel, Rogness and Diane, five other people, having a combined brewing experience of over sixty-five years, help bring some of Austin's newest brews to the Lone Star State. Ebel says, "One of Forrest's philosophies is that we have no head brewers. All of us are on equal footing, and we each fall into our own roles." After his brewing duties, Ebel also handles labeling and sales. Another member of the brewing team, Dan Wheeler, heads up operations. And Rogness and Diane's seven-year-old daughter Anna even helps with the new family business. She had a starring role explaining how beer is made in Rogness Brewing's Kickstater campaign video that raised over $12,000 to get the brewery off of the ground in November of last year.
Since its debut, the brewery has released two more beers. Rook, a scotch ale brewed with peat-smoked malt, and Yogi, an chai amber ale crafted with Saigon cinnamon, clove, ginger, cardamom and black pepper, both became available in April and can be found on draft around the Austin area.
Rogness Brewing's newest beer, a Biere de Garde named "Beardy Guard," should be available just in time to refresh beer lovers in the hot Texan sun. And two months after its opening, Rogness Brewing has already started to feel growing pains. Though Rogness bought his 30-barrel system first, the brewery has been using a 7-barrel pilot system "to get some beer out to market" while the larger system was being shipped and constructed. The new 30-barrel system will "hopefully be ready by mid-summer," reports Ebel.
Once constructed, the new system will be for Rogness Brewing's main line of beers, while its original pilot system will be reserved for its future seasonal and one-off releases. Ebel says, "That's the beauty of a little 7-barrel system. The brewers plan to rotate on the pilot, which gives us the freedom to do the hand-crafted, small batches we want to do." One of the first small batches will be an old ale, says Rogness. "We're going to brew that up and age it while we're waiting for label approval."
And speaking of labels, Rogness Brewing also has plans of packaging in 16-ounce cans and 22-ounce bottles. Its first bottled offering will be an imperial IPA, which will be available in kegs this month and bottles soon. The bottles will also "offer food pairings suggestions," says Rogness. "We're not chefs by any means, but we'll use local chefs to help us."
That's not all for Rogness. He has more big plans for the brewery, and recently signed the lease for the building next door to the brewery, where he hopes to build a cider-making facility. But for now, he's content with the progress of his beer operation. "We're not trying to be a niche brewery. We just want to make a wide variety of beers for different people."
About the author: Win Bassett is Executive Director of the North Carolina Brewers Guild, leads Social Media and Beer Education for All About Beer Magazine, and co-founded ncbrewing.org. When he's not enjoying a pint, he's probably running. Follow him on Twitter at @winbassett.