Story & photos by Patrick Alexander
Oregon Coast TODAY
Foresters have a name for the largest tree in the forest, the tree that shades out all others in the competition for sunlight. They call it the Wolf Tree.
And when former forester Joe Hitselberger jumped into the intensely competitive world of craft brewing, that’s the name he chose for his brewery, which taps into the landscape and heritage of the Oregon Coast to create a unique range of award-winning beers.
Served up in a cozy tap room in Newport’s South Beach, all Wolf Tree Brewery beers begin life at Hitselberger’s family ranch, located a few miles south in Seal Rock.
That’s where Hitselberger perfected his home brewing techniques before moving into full produc-tion. As well as housing the brewery’s seven-barrel brewing system, the ranch provides many of the ingredients, from fresh hops, berries and spruce tips to perhaps the most crucial - unfiltered spring water.
“Water is 95 percent of your product,” he said. “It’s not city water, it’s not treated water, it’s natu-ral water straight from the ground.”
Spent grain from the brewing process gets fed to the cows, and the ranch setting allows for the cre-ation of farmhouse-style beers, which ferment spontaneously thanks to the yeast in the air.
“You pump the hot wort outside and let it sit overnight and it kind of inoculates with wild yeast,” Hitselberger said. “Then you put it into barrels the next morning and it ferments in the barrel.”
In addition to the happy surprises that wild fermentation creates, Wolf Tree beers often contain oth-er maverick elements in the form of foraged berries or spruce tips.
“You never know what you are going to get when you introduce those wild ingredients,” he said. “Different flavors show up each time.”
Wolf Tree Brewery distributes those flavorful beers throughout the state, but perhaps the best place to taste them is in the brewery’s intimate tap room at South Beach.
Guests can sample from the regular stable of beers along with an ever-changing rotation of season-al brews. Anyone still thirsty after the samples can fill up a growler to take home or stock up on a range of bottles bearing handsome illustrations by Oregon Coast Community College art instructor Julia Goose.
“Right now, during winter, we are brewing a lot of dark beers,” Hitselberger said. “Into spring, we will be releasing some of our spontaneously fermented beers. One of them, Beaver Kriek, is a Lambic-style beer brewed with cherries. It’s barrel-aged and should be available in March.”
The brewery’s newest beer on offer is Ship Biscuits, an imperial stout boasting a roasted, malty flavor with some residual chocolate sweetness. Also barrel-aged, this seasonal beauty weighs in at a hefty 8.2 percent.
In addition to eye-catching seasonal offerings, year-round bestsellers include Hitselberger’s crisp and malty Spruce Tip Ale and Camille’s Golden IPA, which combines Citra, Centennial and Mo-saic hops for a citrus, hoppy bite.
The IPA is one of Wolf Tree’s fund-raising brews, with a portion of the proceeds from every bot-tle sold going towards the Heartland Humane Society of Corvallis.
Meanwhile, the Tumornator Triple IPA packs as much clout as the man who inspired it, Joe’s fa-ther, Dr. William E. Hitselberger - a pioneering neurosurgeon who developed innovative ap-proaches to skull-base tumors. This powerful 12.5 percent brew helps raise funds for local social welfare charities with every pint sold.
And, alongside this range of robust, full-bodied and sometimes downright strong ales, guests will find a Pacific Northwest favorite - cans of Ranier Beer, clocking in at a very drinkable 4.6 per-cent.
“My wife is a fan,” Hitselberger said. “We figured we would have a lighter, domestic beer availa-ble for people that are just not used to craft beer.”
As well as catering to all tastes at the tap room, Hitselberger spends a lot of time on the road, pro-moting Wolf Tree beers at 30 to 40 brewfests each year - bringing a taste of the Oregon Coast wherever he goes.
“I think we make a really unique product that really ties in well with the coast,” he said. “We want to make beers that kind of encompass the coastal forest.”
The Wolf Tree Brewery Taproom is located at 4590 SE Harborton Street, South Beach, Newport, and is open from 4 to 10 pm Monday through Friday, 2 to 10 pm on Saturdays and 2 to 8 pm on Sundays. Call them at 541-563-6181.