Beer Sherpa Recommends: Upright Fantasia
Upright Brewery recently convened a media event to introduce the specialty beers they'll be releasing throughout the year. Upright, for those of you who may not know, is a small brewery that--well, let me tell you an anecdote by way of introduction. During the event we were sampling one of the beers and Willamette Week's Arts and Culture editor Martin Cizmar asked founder Alex Ganum how he planned to market the beer. Mind you, breweries are businesses, an arrangement that obliges breweries to convey their products to consumers in exchange for money. In nearly every case I can think of, the brewery would have had a ready answer. Instead, Alex got a surprised look on his face and admitted he'd never considered the question.
Upright's name is an allusion to the jazz musician Charles Mingus, and never was there a more appropriate choice. Like Mingus, Ganum (and his conspirators Gerrett Ill and Bobby Birk) thinks only in craft, not dollars and cents. Unlike Mingus, Upright's beers are rarely challenging--they are more often compositions of layered nuance and balance. The barrel-aged selections are usually so balanced they don't get mentioned with awe alongside the more famous American wild-ale producers, which are more aggressive. That's a shame, because they are making some of the most interesting and accomplished beers in the country.
Take for example the lineup Upright will be offering this year. Hearts' Beat and Shades are sister cherry ales, the former made with blood-red Chelan, the latter Rainier cherries. Hearts' Beat plays on the depth of fruit flavor, which thrums with tannins and rich flavor, while Shades keys off the fruit's acidity, which tends toward white wine. Fatali Four and Billy the Mountain are longtime faves--well, Billy's a fave to a small group (me included; it's in the Beer Bible), but we really love it. And then there's Oregon Native, which gets its vinousness from the use of actual pinot grapes and aging in pinot barrels. That one, still too young to render a final judgment, has the potential to be a spectacular beer. Rarely do the delicate flavors of pinot noir grapes survive commingling with beer, but in the young version of this one, they were perfectly intact.
But for Sherpa purposes, the beer I want to bring to your attention is another long-time favorite, Fantasia. It's a lightly tart beer made with tons of peaches. It has always been one Upright's signature beers, but five years in and it's still evolving. For this batch, the brewery decided to try to preserve the unique ecosystem of microorganisms that developed as a result of wild yeasts and bacteria from the fruit skins. Birk was tasked with taking off the metal hoops from the barrels and removing the old fruit, then reassembling the barrels in preparation for the new batch of beer and peaches.
What all this trouble produces is a beer that smells like a warm, tree-ripe peach on an August afternoon. It tastes the same, and you might imagine a dribble of juice running down your chin. Because of the acidity produced by the wild microorganisms, that flavor and aroma is set and preserved; the acidity also balances the fruity sweetness and gives it a dry, crisp (and balanced) finish. It is hard to imagine anyone who wouldn't smile after a mouthful of this beer, from the most hardened, cynical beer geek to that cousin who only drinks Rainier.
Fantasia goes on sale tomorrow at the brewery, which is open from 1pm to 8pm. There's a three-bottle limit, but you can augment with a nice draft pour while you're there. I believe Four Play was on tap at the event, and that alone is worth a trip to the brewery.