Remembering Rogue’s Jack Joyce

Jack Joyce (left) shows off a bottle of Rogue beer

Last month, the brewing community lost one its most eccentric entrepreneurs and a pioneer in craft brewing: Jack Joyce, the founder of Oregon-based Rogue Ales.

Joyce, who had been living in Hawaii at the time, died suddenly of a heart attack on May 27 at the age of 71.

Prior to starting Rogue, Joyce spent years as an attorney and was an early Nike executive. He has been lauded for having helped to develop the company’s marketing campaign with Michael Jordan (those stories are chronicled in the book Swoosh: The Unauthorized Story of Nike and the Men Who Played There).

In a note sent to Rogue employees and the company’s distributor partners, Jack’s son Brett Joyce shared the news of his father’s passing and recalled the elder Joyce’s efforts to scale Rogue into a nationally distributed craft beer brand:

“From the outset, Jack set Rogue on a path of innovation, creativity, and rebellion,” it read. “Rogue made hoppy, flavorful beers and was told that no one would drink them. Rogue made a wide range of beers and was told no one wanted variety. Rogue sold 22oz bottles of beer and was told no one would pay a premium for a single serve beer. Rogue opened multiple pubs and breweries and was told that it would be wise to follow a more efficient and logical business plan. Rogue took the road less, or perhaps never, travelled. Rogue was the first U.S. craft brewer to send beer to Japan. Rogue won 1,000 awards for product and packaging excellence. Rogue worried about getting better, not bigger. Rogue began distilling. Rogue began farming. Rogue remained dedicated to its small town roots and made sure to give back to its local communities. Rogue started a Nation. This was all vintage Jack.”

Brewbound reached out to a number of brewers who knew Joyce, asking them to share their own memories.

Jack Joyce passed away at age 71

John Bryant, a partner with Spokane, Wash.-based No-Li Brewhouse, recalled first meeting Joyce on an airplane about 20 years ago.

“I was reading the ‘Swoosh’ book at the time and I heard Jack was on the same flight,” he said. “I stood up, placed the book on my seat, walked down the aisle and introduced myself. Ever since, I’ve been learning from Jack, Rogue and Rogue Nation.”

Bryant described Joyce as man of character, amazing gut instincts and praised him as “bigger than life.”

“If there was a Mt. Rushmore of the craft beer industry, Jack would be one of four,” he said. “Jack was a pillar of strength in character and spirit. You knew that no matter what, he had your back. He spoke his truth and was genuine to the core. He was a man’s man. More importantly, he passed these rare and positive character traits onto his son and their legacy we all know as Rogue.”

Kurt Widmer, who co-founded Portland, Ore.-based Widmer Brothers Brewing just four years before Joyce would start Rogue, remembered his time spent with Joyce on the state’s brewers guild.

“There’s no doubt Jack was one of the most creative and innovative thinkers in beer,” he wrote to Brewbound. “When we served on the Board of the Oregon Brewers Guild together, he used to love to claim that his approach was to ‘throw a grenade into the room and see what happened.’ Something usually did; he had a way of making an impact, and his contributions to the craft brewing industry will never be forgotten.”

Adam Lambert pours a specialty Rogue Ales offering while Jack Joyce looks on

Adam Lambert, now the vice president of sales at Dogfish Head, served as Rogue’s national sales manager between 2002 and 2008 and worked closely with Joyce.

“He believed in me before I did,” Lambert said of Joyce. “He was a mentor to me, leader and a best friend.”

Jamie Floyd, the co-founder of Eugene, Ore.-based Ninkasi Brewing also got to know Joyce during the earliest days of his own brewing career.

“Jack was so passionate about being Jack,” he wrote. “It was an incredible inspiration to making a dream a reality and always being true to yourself.”

Floyd shared his fondest “Jack stories” with Brewbound, and recalled times when Joyce would speak to law students at the University of Oregon.

“In the early days he would speak with Jerome Chicvara, a founder of Full Sail; Jim Parker man of all beer trades and Paul Romain, who ran the Oregon Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association,” Floyd wrote. “As a former University of Oregon student, he did not hesitate to set them straight and knew how to say the right thing to get the whole room laughing. He challenged us all in our every conviction and I relished the times I got to see him represent our industry to the future lawyers of Oregon.”

He also remembers getting a call from Joyce after news spread that Floyd would be departing Steelhead Brewing Company to launch Ninkasi.

“He called me immediately at 9 P.M. that night, really concerned,” he wrote. “I told him in part, because of role models like him, I was finally opening my own place.”