Technology can be wonderful.
That's what participants in a beer-tasting event at Raziel's in downtown Vermillion discovered Wednesday night, Oct. 27.
People in Vermillion, while sipping on samples of different beers brewed in Rogue Brewery of Newport, OR, got to see and speak with one of the men involved in the brewing process, Alex Feletar, Rogue Brewery's regional sales manager.
He, in turn, got to see, via a television screen in Portland, the 44 people who turned out at Raziel's to learn more about the Oregon brewery's special products.
Participants in the tasting event were given a six-ounce draw of one of the micro-brewery's popular beers. They were given time to ponder its taste while listening to Feletar describe the various tastes that Rogue Brewery hopes to achieve in its wide variety of products that are nothing like the mainstream beer advertised heavily each Sunday during NFL football games.
The event began with a taste of Rogue's Irish Style Lager. Other of the brewery's creations sampled that night were Rogue's famous Dead Guy Ale, Brutal Bitter IPA, Chatoe Rogue First Growth Single Malt Ale, and Shakespeare Stout.
The evening ended with a taste of Rogue's Chocolate Stout.
"We make about 30 year-round beers," Feletar told the Vermillion gathering at Raziel's from a pub in Portland. "Tonight you're going to be tasting five of them."
The Vermillion participants learned, while their palates were exposed to unique, new tastes, that Rogue Brewery has also entered into the farming business, and home-grows several of the ingredients used to create its variety of ales.
"We have a hop farm and a barley farm," Feletar said. "Our Chatoe single malt features one hop and one barley only, both from our farms here in Oregon."
He said the brewery didn't enter the farming business as a cost-saving measure. "We're not saving any money by growing our own (hops and barley), but what it does is gives us a chance to determine the quality and keep farmers working by giving them a chance to grow hops for us."
The beer tasting event was a first for Margaret Williams of Vermillion, one of the participants in the night's event at Raziel's.
"I wanted to see what happens at one of these, and I like beer, and I wanted to taste some boutique beer," she said.
The night's activities were very similar to what takes part at a wine-tasting event, she said.
"I can pick out notes in the beer, like the malt or the sour mash or the hops," Williams said, using some of what she's learned at while sampling different varieties of wine to also pick apart the unique aspects of each of the samples of beer she was tasting. "I can feel how oily the beer is in my mouth – it's very much like a wine-tasting, except that it's not wine.
"I'm mostly a wine drinker. I don't know anything about beer," Williams said. "So as I'm tasting this, I'm trying to not judge it like a wine, but I'm trying to use the skills I have from wine to judge the beer."
"I'm certainly not a beer connoisseur," said Frank Schieber of Vermillion, another beer-tasting participant. "I particularly like these micro-brew type beers, and ever since I tasted my first Sam Adams, I don't think I've had a mainstream American beer since, because of these small breweries make so much better beer, you're wasting your money, in my opinion, if you buy a Miller or a Budweiser or something like that."
The evening was still young; all of the participants, including Williams and Schieber, had only sampled two varieties of Rogue's beer.
"These first two beers we've had so far are completely unique," Schieber said. "I've never tasted any beers like them before, and I like both of them. And I'm a newbie when it comes to beer. I keep wanting to describe them using the same language I use for wine, but it's very, very different.
"I don't know how to describe the different hops, for example," he said. "I only have one word – hoppy. I'm sure if I was an experienced beer drinker, I'd have about 20 words I could use to describe this. So far, I'm at the level of 'do I like it or not?' And so far, it's good."
The second beer sampled that evening was the Dead Guy Ale.
"With the second one, I could taste the sour mash," Williams said. "This Dead Guy is what I would call real 'hoppy.' Like Frank, I only have one word to describe it."
"I was so happy that so many people came out for the beer-tasting, and stayed afterwards and bought some bottles of Rogue," said Bonnie Rowland, owner of Raziel's. "I had a phenomenal time watching everybody enjoy their beer."
Helping make it possible was Feletar, who approached Rowland and asked if she would be interested in hosting a tasting featuring beers from Rogue Brewery. "I don't know where he got my name from. He sent me an e-mail, and he sent me a package of the different things they offered, and that's how it all got started.
"It just so happened that some of my beer geeks, Dan Letsche and Jacquie Lonning (both former Vermillion residents) also happened to be out there in Portland, were kind enough to set this up on Skype," Rowland said. "I also have to give kudos to Rick Haught – it was kind of his idea to do this, because he knew Dan and Jacquie are all computer geeks and together they could make this work."
She added that there is a growing demand in the Vermillion community for the special tasting beer varieties produced by microbreweries.
"And I have some new and fun seasonal beers coming from Europe," Rowland said.
She hopes to work with other microbreweries and host beer tastings on a fairly regular basis.
"We try to do something like this about every other month," Rowland said. "Our next beer tasting is Wednesday, Dec. 1, and we're going to be sampling beers from New Glarus Brewery in Wisconsin."