Portland's First Annual Fruit Beer Fest: Best Fest of the Season?

Portland Fruit Beer Festival

Portland Fruit Beer Fest (PFBF): What better way to celebrate the arrival of warm weather than with a festival featuring more than 30 beers brewed with fruit?

Okay, okay, so maybe some of you reading this are thinking to yourself “Ick! Fruit in beer…beer isn’t supposed to have fruit in it.” Ease up, Turbo, this isn’t your typical assortment of circa 1995 Berryweizens and Bud Light Limes. This wonderful new festival is of a new school of thinking, literally.

Ezra Johnson-Greenough (top center) leads a tasting preview of the Portland Fruit Beer Festival at Burnside BreweryYou see, one of the events main organizers, Ezra Johnson-Greenough, who also runs the New School Beer Blog, is known for always looking for the next scoop on new breweries and events as well as trends in the brewing world. According to Ezra, “Fruit beers are the red-headed stepchild of craft beer, often overlooked by beer lovers because of preconceptions that they are sweet, boring, or artificially flavored.” So how is the first annual Portland Fruit Beer Fest going to be more than a Reinheitsgebot loyalist’s nightmare? He said “The first annual Portland Fruit Beer Festival aims to change all that and open minds to the strange and exotic possibilities that fruit beers can offer.” And judging by the list of beers that the PFBF has to offer, you either have to be a crotchety old SOB set in his ways or full-on closed-minded not to appreciate the awesomeness of this event.

More than 15 breweries, mostly regional, will showcase never before tasted one-off brews at PFBF. Also, two rotating taps featured inside the “rare tent” will showcase even more exclusive offerings to the appeasement of the uber geeks. These will run the gamut of styles and for the most part are not just brewery mainstays with fruit added. They are carefully planned and cautiously executed liquid works of art. Wild ales, barrel-aged brews, sessions and low-alcohol beers, hoppy brutes – you’ll find all of this at this year’s event.

Last week at an exclusive media tasting preview, Ezra and a group of featured brewers took us through an all-star line-up featuring an assortment of sureshots from this year’s PFBF. Take heed, the following are some of the best brews pouring at the festival and will likely never be heard from again.

Upright Brewing's Barrel-Aged Pure WitUpright Pinot Barrel-aged Pure Wit with Sweet Orange Peel and Fresh Tangelo Peel: Say that three times fast. This summery brew from Upright is another exemplification of brewmaster Alex Ganum’s imaginative spirit when it comes to not just beer but food as well. A single cask of Pinot Noir housed this tangy and light hazy yellow wheaten ale for less than a month and a half giving this 4.5% ABV one-off a subtle and approachable nature that leans on the mellower end of the fruity spectrum.

Upright Gin Barrel-aged Strawberry Four: This is our top pick of the beers we previewed at Burnside’s media event. Employing about 70 pounds of strawberry puree (that’s more than one pound per gallon), this wheat-based farmhouse ale metamorphosed into its own creature by imparting the spicy botanicals of the Ransom Old Tom Gin barrels as well as the tannins from the oak itself. “Four has got a nice hoppy edge” said Ganum. “This beer is really bone dry with no residual sugar. We never worked with strawberries before; the botanical thing from the gin barrels works to stimulate the taste buds.” And he’s right. There’s a unique interplay that pulls in all of the elements of this beer resulting in a one-of-a-kind front-to-back complexity.

Upright's Alex Ganum address the media regarding two of his fruit beers to be present at the Portland Fruit Beer Fest at Burnside Brewing

Block 15 founder Nick Arzner discusses his Psidium Rustic Farmhouse Guava AleBlock 15 Psidium: Nick Arzner is a mad scientist behind many of the zanier and more daring recipes executed by the Corvallis brewpub Block 15. The Psidium (pronounced /sid e UM/) is described as a rustic farmhouse ale brewed with guava fruit. “For every fest we go off the deep end,” said Arzner. “We thought about what we would do and said ‘what the hell, lets do a guava beer.'” After learning the hard way that guava fruit doesn’t ripen in a dark cool cellar, Arzner and company started over, building a beer around the fruit itself. “Guava on its own is bitter on the outside and on the inside has a really citrusy, tropically character to it.” Settling on pure guava puree, the base beer uses Belgian Pilsner malt, French Pale, a little rye, a little wheat, and a touch of oats. The addition of grassy Saaz hops for bittering as well as bright and dank Citras for back-end aromatics meshes adequately with the character of the fruit and the yeast, however, Arzner, still looking for a little more oomph blended in from a barrel of matured golden ale from Block 15’s cellaring program. This added portion constitutes 25% of the finished product. “This brought in tannins and barrel character” said Arzner, who admits this beer was a rather expensive one to concoct,half-joking “Portland Fruit Beer Fest got a hell of a deal on this keg.”

Beetje Zure Krenten: Though soon to graduate to a 7-barrel brewhouse later this summer, Beetje Brewing stands as the lone nanobrewer at this year’s PFBF. Currently with the ability of producing one barrel at a time from his partitioned garage brewery, brewer Michael Wright takes great pause when moving forth with each new recipe. Inspired by the intricate breweries of Belgium (home to his wife Katja), Beetje – Dutch for  “Little One”- like Upright Brewing, is keen on marrying Belgian and Northwest styles to adhere to a forum of rare beauty. Zure Krenten, or literally “Sour Grapes,” is a blend of fresh farmhouse-style ale, and a pale ale aged in a Pinot Noir barrel for three months with 12 pounds of white champagne currents and dosed with a Lambic yeast blend. A rather unassuming spine of Pilsner, Two-row and crystal malts as well as some wheat give way to the intricate play of Brett and tart fruit.

Beetje Brewing's Michael Wright pours a sample of his Zure Krenten

Taster of Fort George Badda Boom StoutFort George Badda Boom: Exhibiting the darker side of fruit beers (in a good way of course), is Fort George’s Badda Boom. Brewed initially for the brewery’s Stout Month in February, this stout utilizes the same Trappist high gravity yeast featured at 2011’s Portland Cheers To Belgian Beers (thought this beer did not appear at PCTBB). More than 40 pounds of raspberries and bing cherries (the beer was originally dubbed” Badda Bing”) were used in this brew that meld with a the rather subtle and mellowed yeast character that takes a back seat to the big dark malt feel. “We use whole fruit in all of our fruit beers” said co-founder and brewmaster Jack Harris. “Spencer our head brewer lives in a house with a bunch of hippies – and these guys just come out of the woodwork. He calls them all down (to the brewery) and they sit there, all these guys at the table, drinking beer for free and cutting cherries open for hours and hours and hours and hours. They throw (the cherries) into buckets. Once the beer is done (with primary fermentation), we’ll pump it all into another fermentor with all the fruit in it and let it sit there for a week or so, then we’ll crash it and transfer it. It’s all kind of risky because we don’t sterilize the fruit. We don’t heat the fruit. We just throw the fruit in.” This is a lighter and drier stout than usual according to Harris. Still, at 6.9% ABV, it has some kick.

Fort George's Jack Harris pours a sample of his brewery's Badda Boom! Cherry Stout

Oakshire Blind Date: Here is a Belgian-style brown ale brewed with, you guessed it, dates. Oakshire brewmaster Matt Van Wyk was unable to attend the preview due to him being at Savor in the nation’s capital, but Ezra described this beer to us as a medium-bodied Oatmeal brown with organic dates. The fruit is not an overpowering aspect of this beer as it amalgamates tidily with some malt roast and a smooth texture administered to the mouthfeel by the oats. The use of Calypso hops, a relatively new varietal of high alpha hops that emit an aroma oft likened to pear and red apple (You might remember Oakshire also used these hops in a their Cooperative Suds & Suds IPA brewed with Block 15). All the aspects of this beer provide PFBF goers with one of the best smelling brews at the fest – fruity, roasty, brown sugar, mmmm!

Distinguished members of the Portlandl beer media (L to R) It's Pub Night's Bill Night, Beer O'Clock's Lisa Morrison, and The Oregonian's John Foyston

Hopworks Chupacabra Chili Stout: To be found at the festival’s “rare tent,” this beer is the brainchild of HUB brewmeister Ben Love. Love added a blend of chili peppers to three kegs of the brewery’s Survival Seven Grain Stout. In other words, a half barrel of Survival was divvied up three ways. Each 1/6 barrel features a different blend – one with chipotles and poblanos, a second with Anaheims and Scotch bonnets, and a third with Habanero and cherry bombs. Henceforce, each keg has acquired its own flavors off the different pepper combinations isolated. Those kegs were later blended to taste for “the ultimate chili pepper infused stout made just for the Portland Fruit Beer Festival.”

Alameda Brewhouse's Huckleberry HoundAlameda Huckleberry Hound: Presented by Alameda head brewer Carston Haney, this beer is a spin on their Yellow Wolf Imperial IPA in which 40 pounds of huckleberry puree was used to doctor the batch. Residing in the realm of 100 IBU, this hophead treat is accented by the color (a beautiful red hue with a soft pink head) and mild flavor of the fruit. “Huckleberries don’t have a whole lot of sugar” Haney said, “so we added a small amount of honey as well.” Beware, this beer, though quite flavorful, still packs quite a wallop, registering at 8.2% ABV.

Alameda head brewer Carston Haney shared a laugh and his Huckleberry Hound Ale with Lisa Morrison (John Foyston pictured also)

Burnside brewer Jason McAdam with Gooseberry and Marionberry Berliner WeissbiersAfter sampling on the pub side had commenced, Burnside brewer Jason McAdam led our group into the brewhouse where we were sampled on two renditions of Burnside’s fruit-infused Berliner Weiss. 180 gallons of this super light yet favorably tart 3.1% ABV beer went into three Pinot Noir barrels. Two of these barrels were filled each with 50 pounds of Washington heirloom grown gooseberries. “These came whole on dry ice, frozen, that we macerated with a soup mixer” said McAdam. Despite being uncarbonated at the time, the carbonation had initiated due to, as McAdam put it “something going on their with the fruit and the yeast.” The gooseberry infused Berliner Weiss possessed a hazy glowing light greenish yellow hue, whereas the one barrel of marionberry (a hybrid fruit developed at Oregon State University with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service is a cross between the ‘Chehalem’ and ‘Olallie’ berries) held a magnificently violet hue. “Though aged in barrels, you’re not going to pick up a lot of wood” said McAdam. “That’s not what we’re looking for. We’re looking for color and the blending of the fruit and the beer together.” In addtion to Lactobacillus, a German ale yeast was used to finish the beer. This gives off a slight sulfuric note to the brew that is masked in the barrel by the fruit. McAdam said “These days (Beliner Weiss) is typically more Pilsner (malt) than wheat. In the past it was more wheat than Pilsner malt.So we stuck with the traditional style and did about 63% wheat. It’s a non-complicated beer – 2.1 IBU; only a half pound of Goldings (hops) to keep the boil down. Not a lot of hops. Not a lot of alcohol. But a lot of tartness and wheat flavor – a lot of body from the wheat. Look for Burnside’s Gooseberry Berliner Weiss in the main event area and the Marionberry version to be featured at the “rare tent.”

More details about the Portland Fruit Beer Festival from the organizers:

15 beers will pour outdoors in the partially covered parking lot. A special few taps will be offered next door in the brewery’s production space, featuring extremely rare rotating beers that have very limited availability. Tasting glasses are available for $6 and are required to sample beers at the festival. Tickets are $1 each. A 4oz pour requires 1 ticket, with pints available for 4 tickets on the primary 14-15 beers. The rare rotating taps will range from 1-3 tickets a 4 oz pour. Food options include Tastebud’s mobile wood-fired oven and Burnside’s own outdoor BBQ, and there will be juice and soda for those not partaking in beer and live entertainment.

In addition to the beer the Portland Fruit Beer Festival will feature snacks and drinks for all-ages. With previously mentioned food vendors like Tastebud making wood fired pizzas and sandwiches on site to Burnside Brewing’s BBQ, fresh 100% natural non-alcoholic juices and now Ice Cream too!

Fifty Licks
What can be better than delicious handcrafted fruit beers? How about delicious handcrafted ice creams made with fruit? This is where fine purveyors of that most glorious combination of sugar, ice and cream come in, Fifty Licks Well, ice cream is handmade too, only, they use only the finest local and direct trade ingredients and ditched the frozen can method. Every small batch of their unique ice cream is smooth and creamy, and available in a variety of delicious, creative flavors. We hope you’ll agree that once you taste Fifty Licks, life will never be the same again.

Brewvana Portland Brewery Tours
We are excited to be partnering with our friends at Brewvana who will be offering discounted trips on their bus to and from the Portland Fruit Beer Festival making a few stops along the way. For only $30 you get a ride to and from the festival plus a glass and ticket package that includes 1 gold flaked festival glass and 10 beer tickets. Contact Ashley at Brewvana to find out their schedule and book a trip: Brewvana@gmail.com

Brewvana: The Ultimate Brewery Tour Experience.
With this city overflowing with amazing, handcrafted beers, BREWVANA embraces its “beer Mecca” culture and promotes local breweries by creating a one-of-a-kind tour experience that leaves you elated and buzzing with a sense of brewvana in the beer capitol of the world.
Our tours are ALL INCLUSIVE and provide transportation to and from Portland’s award winning breweries as well as smaller, upcoming breweries, a sit down lunch pairing beer with food, a tour of the brewing facility, beer 101, tasting 101, trivia, fun and more!  We take care of you every step of the way, making sure you have the best experience possible.

For a complete list of beers, rare beer, vendors, sponsors, and more, visit http://www.burnsidebrewco.com/FruitBeerFest.php

Burnside Brewing is located at 7o1 E. Burnside in Portland, Oregon (Click here for directions). The 2011 Portland Fruit Beer Fest is taking place June 11 from 11AM until 9Pm and June 12 from 11AM until 6PM. For more information visit their website or call (503) 946-8151; email info@burnsidebrewco.com. See you there!