The Must-Attend Fest of 2011: Fruit Beer Fest

Let's try a little thought experiment. I say "fruit beer" and you think _____________? If you're like me, you think of a light, sweet liquid that straddles the line between beer and alco-pop. I'd like you to put that image out of your mind and consider this weekend's Fruit Beer Fest anew.

Fruit offers to beer many things: a source of fermentable sugars, color, aroma, and flavor. Used ham-handedly, you get a sugary mess. Used skillfully, fruit can add layers of subtle flavors and aromas impossible with grain and hop alone. For the Fruit Beer Fest, Ezra Greenough-Johnson has assembled a collection of specialty beers that demonstrate how versatile fruit can be: small beers, stouts, sours, and, yes, hop bombs all transformed by the additions of fruit. Nearly all of the beers are rare, and many are one-time batches produced specifically for the fest.

You can read about all the beers here, but I wanted to highlight a few just to illustrate how seriously the brewers have embraced this fest, both in concept and execution:
  • Block 15 Psidium. The name of the beer is the name of the fruit you'll find in it--guava. Nick Arzner's idea was to brew a pretty straightforward farmhouse ale. After his initial order of guavas failed to ripen, he found puree instead and produced a beer he felt was too flat and one-dimensional. To liven it up, he added 20-25% soured ale he'd had in a barrel for 21 months. The effect is totally misleading though; Psidium doesn't taste like a sour ale. Rather, the blended beer works with the fruit flavors to create the sense of a fruit skin astringency. When I tasted it, I was certain what I was tasting was skins.
  • Hopworks Chupacabra Chili and Fort George Badda Boom Stout. Stouts are a fantastic substrate on which to project fruit flavors, as these two illustrate. Ben Love put three infusions of two chilies into Seven Grain Stout to create a wonderfully lush beer. You initially taste the chili heat, but it fades into the flavors of the chilies, smoky, sweet, and a tiny bit tart. The heat completely fades in the swallow. Badda Boom is made with cherries and raspberries, and tastes like a dark chocolate truffle. The fruit is an understated note in the center of the beer. Their sweetness melds into the chocolate roast of the stout and harmonize into an intense, long finish. It's liquid decadence.
  • Alameda Huckleberry Hound and Breakside Mango IPA. Hops contribute far more than bitterness; they add flavor and esters, both of which are often likened to fruit. Why not take intensely hoppy beers and accentuate their hop-fruitiness with actual fruit? That's what Alameda and Breakside have done. Huckleberry Hound is an imperial IPA that was sweetened with honey and sugar as well as the hops. It is surprisingly gentle. We didn't have a chance to try the Mango IPA, but tropical fruit should enhance notes in the Citra, Cascade, and Ahtanum hops in the beer.
  • Upright Gin Barrel Strawberry Four. The name tells you a great deal about this beer. What it doesn't tell you is what the beer tastes like. The strawberries express themselves principally in the aroma. They're fermented out so that the resulting beer is bone-dry and heavily influenced by the gin botanticals. It tasted a bit like bitters to me.
These are just a few examples. Fifteen beers will pour throughout the fest, and another 16+ rarities will rotate in and out (some of these are five-gallon kegs). Full event details are here, but here are the highlights:
Fruit Beer Fest, June 11-12
Saturday, 11-9pm, Sunday, 11-6pm
Burnside Brewing, 7th and East Burnside
The event is free, glasses are six bucks, tickets for regular 4-ounce beers $1, special beers cost 2-3 tickets. Kids are welcome. As you would expect with an event hosted at Burnside, the food looks fantastic.

In short, you should really try to stop by if you have the chance. This is one of the new breeds of specialty fests, and everyone involved has worked to make it a special one. If you feel insufficiently convinced, have a look at what Bill and Rachel have to say about it.