Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Rogue Brewery

Rogue Brewery

A while back I picked up a Voodoo Donuts Maple Bacon Beer that was cranked out by the brewery in Portland Rogue beer. I mean, let's face it, it was fucking terrible. Probably one of the worst beers I have ever tasted. But I guess I shouldn't have been surprised. It was after all, Rogue brewery. While I did go up to their tasting room when I was in Portland, I can't say that any of their beer really thrills me. Well, maybe I do get the Morimoto Sobe Ale simply out of respect for the iron chef.

Still, the theme across their brewing line is pretty much the exact definition of gimmicky. They crank out beers that are just slightly off the beaten path, but unlike places like Dogfish Head, they aren't anything special or even attempted to be done in the manner of being GOOD.

Recently I came across a reddit thread where a former employee of Rogue described his employment there. I felt like I had to share this because it is worth noting how a company runs their business and why doing so creates beers in the manner that we do experience;
There's been a lot of talk about Rogue Ales and its business practices over the past year or two. I worked in their corporate office for a short time and so I'd like to give a brief description of my experience there.
A little over two years ago, I was laid off and in need of work. My previous job was okay, but I didn't love it and wanted to do something that I'd find personally fulfilling. I've always loved beer and the idea of the craft brewing industry, so I sent out a few e-mails to local breweries to see if they could use someone like me. About a week later, I got a call at 9:30 PM from an old man named Jack Joyce. He introduced himself as the founder and owner of Rogue Ales (a brewery which, at the time, I naively loved) and said he needed about 30 minutes to chat. I was a little starstruck so of course I took his call.
I won't go into every detail of the call, but the gist of it was this: "we don't hire recent college graduates because they haven't demonstrated any real work ethic yet." He proceeded to tell me how lazy I am and how I'd never make it at his company, but that he'd be willing to give me a shot. He said that his employees get Christmas and Thanksgiving off work, but that was it - in his own words, "Americans don't work hard enough anyway." This was a little concerning, but considering I was getting a call to work in an industry I really admired from something of an industry leader, and the fact that I was broke, I accepted his offer then and there.
I began working a few days later. I walked into the office and expected to find Jack, as I would be working with him directly as an "office ninja" (what they call new hires). Turns out, he was in Hawaii and I would be training with other people. My mentor (while Jack was gone) was someone Jack referred to as an "East Coast Jew". Basically, I was given a stack of binders and told to read through them, several times, as this would be my training.
So I read them, over and over again. One entire binder was dedicated to the things that you shouldn't say around Jack - words like "new normal", "game changer", "paradigm", etc.. If you did say them around him, you'd be punished. Seriously.
So after I had read all the training manuals about 4 times each, my job was to use a clipping service to find any and all mentions of Rogue in print or e-media. Rogue doesn't have a dedicated PR department, nor do they do any real marketing - they allow the brand to speak for itself. That sounds noble and all, but the reality is, they're more dedicated to selling their brand than they are making good beer. When it comes right down to it, John Maier has full control over the brewing process, but the Joyce's (Jack and his son Brett [not short for Brettanomyces]) decide which beers will go to market; in short, they decide what is worth selling. Anyway, my job focused on finding those mentions in the media and relaying that to others so they could leverage those mentions.
So what was so bad about Rogue? The way they treat their employees is absolute garbage. I can't remember all the shit I put up with that came directly from Jack (over the phone and through e-mails, mind you) but it was awful. I was commuting 45 miles to work and showed up 3 minutes late one day due to a wreck (I was normally 15-20 minutes early). Rather than confront me personally, Brett Joyce (whose desk is set up in the middle of the office so he can personally oversee everyone) sent an e-mail to another employee stating "[Insert her name], can you ask mattsesar why he was late today?". This would have been embarrassing enough, but he CC'd THE ENTIRE COMPANY. Everyone with a Rogue e-mail address. So her e-mail to me also CC'd everyone. I had to reply with my reason. Well, turns out that for Brett, 3 minutes was just too much and my reason (which he called an excuse) warranted a public apology and an explanation of the steps I'd take to prevent it from happening in the future. So I had to apologize to the entire company for being 3 minutes late. After that, my incident was placed in one of the binders I had to read so that new hires, from then through now and into the future, would all read about how mattsesar was 3 minutes late to work one day.
That's just one small example. Public humiliation was commonplace; the less time you'd spent there, the more you were subjected to it. Hazing is one thing, but this was outright harassment.
Another example was when I took the company van to deliver mail to the downtown pub. I was supposed to shadow one of the higher-ups, a woman who sorts Jack's e-mails for him. She's been there for decades so she's basically a queen. I showed up, started to take notes, and she asked me why I didn't have my clipboard with me. I was confused, told her I didn't know anything about a clipboard. She LOST HER SHIT and told me I was worthless, that I'd never survive there, because I didn't know about the clipboard. I explained that I was never told about the clipboard and never saw anything about it in any of the 10 or so binders I had to read. Her response: "That's the problem with you - you just assumed you didn't need to ask about it."
A few days later, I had an emergency with a family member (she had to be taken to the emergency room via ambulance and I was the closest one to her.) I got the phone call, told someone that I had an emergency and had to leave, and left at ~2:00 PM. I ended up getting there before the ambulance, but that's not important. Anyway, the next day I got another e-mail from Brett Joyce and a call from his father asking what the hell happened and demanded to know why I left work early. I told them it was a medical emergency, but that didn't satisfy them. I was told to write another letter of apology to the rest of the company - at which point I said "fuck you" to Brett and walked out.
I called Jack Joyce and told him exactly what I thought of his operation - that they make decent beer, but as a business, they're probably one of the worst I've ever seen. They can make money and grow a business, but they don't know how to operate a team. I told him thanks for the opportunity, but I wasn't willing to subject myself to daily harassment and abuse for a paycheck. This was the only time that Jack had anything remotely like respect for me. I think he isn't used to people standing up to him, so when someone did, it took him by surprise.
Anyway, I haven't bought a single bottle of Rogue since then. There are plenty of other breweries to choose from that offer better beer for better prices. I try to tell as many people as I can about Rogue because I find them so distasteful. If the Joyce's were to leave and John Maier were to take over, I think it'd be a different story, but as it stands now, those two ruin the company for me.
I'm open to questions, though I'm finishing my CS degree so I may be slow in responding. Ask, and I will reply as quickly as I can.
I guess it should come to a surprise to no one since they are known for their really poor employee treatment. But perhaps this will come to mind the next time you're at the beer section of your market and thinking of what bottle to purchase for a night of drinking.

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