I first met Forrest and Diane Rogness at last year’s Great American Beer Festival. I was “exploring” the less-beaten paths of the festival when a place name caught my eye: Pflugerville. I had lived on a street called Pflügerstrasse while living in the Neukölln district of Berlin, so I was immediately intrigued. (Narrowing down tasting options at the GABF sometimes comes down to these kinds of serendipitous coincidences.) The couple were pouring their Rogtoberfest, a style of which I’m particularly fond, so I had even more reason to stop by the booth. The rest of their full-flavoured beers made a significant impression amid the sea of beer that was flowing that weekend, and I made a note to pay their brewery a visit if in Austin some day. That day came sooner than expected. All the better.
Pflugerville got its start in the mid-1800s when a German immigrant, Henry Pflüger, settled in the area with his family. An erstwhile wealthy farmer in his native land, Pflüger lost his holdings in the wake of the turmoil surrounding the First Schleswig War. After fleeing the conflict and journeying across an ocean and into the heart of a continent, Pflüger and his family put their skills to work raising corn, wheat, rye, sweet potatoes, sugar cane, and cattle. Texas seemed a safe bet for the Pflügers to start anew. Relatives had arrived in the area before him as part of a wave of immigration that saw ethnic Germans comprise more than five percent of the population of Texas by 1850. The descendents of Pflüger and other Germans attracted to the area built up a small but thriving community that witnessed the establishment of a Lutheran church in 1875 and the arrival of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas railroad in 1904. But the Great Depression dealt the town a blow from which it almost didn’t recover. By 1949, a mere 250 souls inhabited Pflugerville.
Fast forward to the new millennium. Sited about fifteen miles northeast of Austin, the community benefitted handsomely from that city’s astounding growth in recent years. Pflugerville now boasts pfun for the whole pfamily. (No, I didn’t make that up – the town even has a newspaper called the Pflugerville Pflag.) And, since March 2012, Pflugerville has its own brewery – Rogness Brewing Company – located right on the seam separating light industry from pastoral fields.
The Rognesses are no strangers to brewing. The couple took up homebrewing in 1990 while working together at a camera shop in Iowa City. Upon landing in Austin later in the decade, the Rognesses purchased (and still own) Austin Homebrew Supply, for which they have developed over a thousand recipes as part of their beer kits. That experimental homebrewing ethos makes for some refreshing surprises that buoy quite an array of perennials, seasonals, and limited edition beers spanning both beloved and underrepresented styles.
Take, for example, the Yogi. Diane Rogness can’t go very long without a cup of chai. And daily samples of beer come with the territory of owning a brewery and homebrew shop. Why not combine some of the typical spices of chai with an amber beer, she thought? The result is a potpourri of peppery cinnamon, clove, and ginger intermingling with Belgian yeast aromatics and rich caramel.
A touch of southern France graces the Rogness saison, Joie d’été, a beer that also pays tribute to the long summers of Texas. True to their desire to brew unique beers that don’t sacrifice that all-important element of balance, the Rognesses have managed a deft saison with mild aromas of lemon zest and just the slightest hint of lavender. (I think I might just toss a dash of lavender in the next witbier or saison I brew.)
If the saison evokes warm breezes rippling through Provençal lavender fields, the Raspberry Tenebrous Stout is a beer to drink in praise of shadows. Raspberries add a ray of brightness to classic dry stout notes of roast barley and dark chocolate crisply accented with espresso bitterness.
A porter, pale ale, IPA, Scotch ale, and even a bière de garde round out the beers regularly available at the tasting room and in 22 oz. bottles available locally and in other Texas metropolitan areas. Though I didn’t sample it myself, the Rogness Shandy was also popular among the tasting crew that accompanied me to the brewery. Coming soon (pending label approval) is the second in their limited edition series, Sophina. A sour mash promises to deliver a tart zing counteracted by caramelized pineapple added after fermentation.
In the time since it opened its doors, Rogness Brewing Company has become a community hub for the surrounding exurbs of Austin. Recent changes to the laws regulating the sale and distribution of alcohol in Texas has translated into a tasting room where you can buy beers for drinking during their weekly events nights, or for enjoying the early evening with friends in the beer garden. (No growler fills to go in Texas yet. Still, that’s much better than the situation in neighbouring Oklahoma. Slowly do those legislative wheels grind.)
Trivia nights are popular, as are the monthly firkin nights and the recently-inaugurated “Yappy Hour” for well-behaved four-legged friends. Thanks to the generosity of a local independent cinema that passes along films to Rogness, Saturday evenings feature independent and documentary film screenings right in the brewhouse. Recent screenings include Cinema 6 and Beer Hunter: The Movie, a documentary about the pioneering beer writer, Michael Jackson. Films are free. The Rognesses frequently donate the partial proceeds from a given event night’s beer sales to charities, a few of which have included Pflugerville Pets Alive and the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. So you can drink rest-assured that you’re imbibing for a good cause.
Rogness recently upgraded from a seven-barrel system to a thirty-barrel system to meet growing demand for their beers. Barrel-aging is also on the horizon, with the couple currently considering a quarterly funk release. And as if Forrest and Diane Rogness don’t already have enough to do with an increasingly popular brewery and a thriving homebrew shop, the two have already begun work on their cidery in the warehouse next door. Named after a mythical shape-shifting seal from Iceland, look for a dry and off-dry cider from Selkie Cidery to hit the market at some point in 2014.
- The Rognesses sell soap that a local craftsperson has made based on inspiration from their Yogi, Ost, and Joie d’été beers.
- The artwork that adorns the tasting room walls? Those pieces issue from the hand of their daughter, who, at eight years of age, already knows that the main ingredients of beer are grain, hops, water, and yeast.
- For the historical background influencing Pflüger’s decision to emigrate to the United States, you can consult the German Historical Institute’s German History in Documents and Images website. The section entitled “From Vormärz to Prussian Dominance, 1815-1866” gives a brief contextual snapshot of Central Europe at the time.
- On the history of Pflugerville’s development, see this section of the official Pflugerville website.
- The Texas Historical Association’s website has an informative article on the development of the “German Belt” that ran from the humid Coastal Plain near Houston to the Hill Country outside of Austin.