The affable everyman of beer labels is a longtime Rogue.
“It was just sort of a fluke.”
Chris Studach certainly didn’t have an ambitious plan for the Hazelnut Brown Nectar he began home-brewing as an experiment in the early ’90s.
So how did a smiling, beer-raising Chris end up on millions of bottles of the legendary brown ale? Through chance, collaboration and well-deserved recognition of an exceptional product — all the things that make craft beer great.
Chris explained Hazelnut Brown Nectar’s origin over a pint with Rogue Brewmaster John Maier one Saturday at Rogue Hall.
“A friend of mine gave me some natural extract of hazelnut and, rather than use it for what it was meant to be used for, I decided, ‘you know, I think I can make beer out of this.’”
The result was delicious. So delicious, in fact, that it caught the attention of the American Homebrewers Association, which was preparing to host its 1993 convention in Portland, Ore. Oregon produces 99% of the country’s hazelnuts, so they wanted to serve Chris’s hazelnut beer with the convention dinner’s dessert course. There was just one small catch: Instead of a normal five-gallon homebrew batch, they needed 80 gallons.
He couldn’t get all the beer brewed on or hand-bottled in 1,000 bottles on his own, so he naturally tapped his friends in the homebrew community, including Rogue Brewmaster John Maier.
“I remember when we brewed that one day and I slept on a couch with all these carboys around me,” John said. “The next morning, it was like music to my ears… bloop-bloop, bloop-bloop… it was really cool to wake up to that.”
Producing the beer was daunting, but serving it to people Chris describes as “the pickiest beer drinkers on the face of the Earth” was even scarier.
“It turned out great. The reaction was shocking because I got a standing ovation from about 500 homebrewers. It blew my mind.”
After the conference, a bottle of Chris’s brew made its way to Rogue founder Jack Joyce. That’s when things really kicked into high gear.
“I think Jack saw the people react to that beer in a different way and said ‘I think this is a real winner,’” John said. “I may have encouraged him, but he was the one that pulled the trigger on the whole project.”
John and Chris collaborated to brew the beer on the 15-barrel system in Rogue’s old brewery, now the Bayfront pub location. After some minor adjustments to the malts (“they came off a little too roasty at first,” according to John), the pair made 450 gallons of Hazelnut Brown Nectar. And Chris thought that was it. “I did not know it was going to be done more than once.”
“He didn’t know, I didn’t know — only Jack knew!” John laughed.
Chris also didn’t know that he would grace the beer’s label for 25 years. John surprised him with a bottle bearing his image at the Oregon Brewer’s Festival in 1995, and the shock of the moment was captured in a photo they both still keep on display.
People always point out the label’s resemblance to other balding, bearded beer-drinkers, but it’s Chris regularly recognized around the country as “the guy on the bottle.” Once, at an impressive San Francisco beer bar, a manager quietly interrupted his lunch to ask him to sign the tap handle they had just unscrewed from behind the bar — all without any introduction or confirmation of his identity.
It’s no wonder, since Hazelnut Brown Nectar is one of Rogue’s best-selling beers. John estimates that Rogue brews 400 barrels of Hazelnut Brown Nectar every week and its available in 35 countries.
“It’s just one of those beers that has stood the test of time,” John said, “Just the initial first few batches we changed slightly to get it dialed in and we haven’t messed with that beer in 20 years.”
Watch John & Chris face off in Hazelnut Brown Nectar trivia battle:
See John & Chris tell the story of Hazelnut Brown Nectar: