This past weekend marked the second annual Portland Fruit Beer Festival, one in which the "uniquely crafted fruit beers of the Pacific NW and beyond" were celebrated. This centerpiece of Portland Beer Week was hosted by Burnside Brewing Company and utilized prime Portland real estate to bring a variety of food carts, music, and special-edition fruit-infused ales and lagers to the masses. The event gave jaded beer geeks an opportunity to try many beers never-before-seen and produced specifically with this weekend festival in mind.
One of the best entries was the NC-17 Honeydew Malt Liquor from Naked City Brewing in Seattle, Washington. It provided a sweet and clean adjunct-heavy base over which ample amounts of fresh melon aroma were able to flow. (We suspect there was a heavy dose of flaked corn in the mix.) It was a bizarrely appropriate breakfast beer: Corn Pops and melon balls all the way. This combination showed how fruit has the potential to balance an otherwise heavy beer style.
Portland's Gigantic Brewing, while fairly new, was able to churn out a complex version of their flagship black saison, The City Never Sleeps. Named Hot Town, Summer in the City, this beer was infused with a variety of roasted chiles. There was almost no capsaicin heat present, but the charred, fruity notes of pepper flesh elevated the roasty/sweet dichotomy of the black saison, and notes of cherry and plum lingered on the palate.
Breakside Brewery, a standout at the recent Cheers to Belgian Beers festival, hit the mark again with their tribute to strawberry rhubarb pie. Brewed with whole pies (yes, actual strawberry-rhubarb pies) and finished with graham crackers, the gimmicky beer proved a surprising success. The tart/sweet balance of fruit beside the golden maltiness and hint of cinnamon brought honest-to-goodness pie flavors into the beer. I only wished that the resulting brew was more red-hued, to provide a visual match to accompany the remarkable taste feat.
Another standout was Burnside Brewing's International Incident (formerly titled Kali-Ma) which was pouring quietly inside the pub for those who sought respite from the festival crowds. The bold wheatwine-style ale is an imperial version of their flagship Sweet Heat, adding toasted cardamom, Dandicut peppers, and a Belgian yeast strain to the original beer's apricot chile wheat profile. This beer brought the heat that was missing in Gigantic's beer, and the Belgian yeast coupled with the apricot sweetness created multiple dimensions of fruitiness on top of pepper sweetness.
Finally, the surprise star of the fest was a collaboration between Bushwhacker (a Portland-based cidery) and Upright Brewing. Upright blended their salty Gose-style beer with Bushwhacker's caramel cider to created a Salted Caramel Apple. It was so refreshing—and the flavor was so spot-on, that it caused quite the buzz amongst the 'been there, done that' festival crowd. None of us had ever tasted anything like this memorable blend.
Sure, there were some stinkers, too, but the weekend was an overall success. The food offered by Burnside, Fifty Licks, 808 Grind, and Tastebud pizza was thoughtfully chosen and accompanied a day of drinking with style. The festival was well-organized and only slightly overcrowded. If you missed the fest this year but want to try some of these beers, never fear; most will be available at the individual brewpubs or breweries for weeks to come. Make your plans now for next year's festival. It's always the second weekend in June and definitely worth the trip to Portland.