By Kirby Neumann-Rea
For the Oregon Beer Growler
An ancient beer style has found a perfect home in the Pacific Northwest thanks to the cherries that grow in Hood River County. The combination will be celebrated Saturday, July 9 in Parkdale with Kriekfest, the first known beer festival to honor the sour cherry tradition.
The event is a collaboration between Portland-based beer writer Brian Yaeger and Solera Brewery of Parkdale, owned by Jason Kahler and John Hitt. At least 30 diverse and well-aged krieks will be poured in a park setting with a spectacular view of a towering Mount Hood. The lineup is dominated by Oregon producers, but attendees have the chance to taste ales from around the U.S. and as far away as Belgium — including an entire keg by the renowned Cantillon Brewery. The all-ages event also features savory food, pastries and fresh fruit in a farmers market.
A kriek is, by definition, a lambic aged on cherries for one or more years — usually three. Kahler said, “Lambic is a pretty obscure style on its own, and we’re taking it down to another style, kriek.
“They’re expensive, time-consuming beers to make,” Kahler continued. “You’re dealing with fresh, perishable fruit and a lot of these were made with sour or pie cherries that are more acidic and not sweet, and those are getting harder and harder to find.”
Like krieks themselves, the festival is an idea that has been fermenting a while. Yaeger, visiting the upper Hood River Valley several years ago, suggested it to Kahler and Hitt, and broached the subject again in early 2015.
“I said, with your blessing and cooperation, we can make this happen,” Yaeger described. He put the word out on July 9, 2015, to give brewers with krieks aging in barrels plenty of notice. Yaeger added that while he could have planned Kriekfest in Portland and sold more tickets, it was critical to him to hold it in the heart of the Fruit Loop, with its abundant cherry, apple and pear crops.
“It’s really exciting to have all these beers in one location, especially the location that it is — in the middle of this fruit valley where there is a fair amount of cherries being produced,” said Kahler, who will present tastes of up to four of his own blended krieks made from Ballantine cherries grown in the Gorge.
“We are not aware of a festival like this happening anywhere, specifically krieks. Perhaps in Europe,” Kahler said.
Yaeger said kriek gatherings in Belgium feature ales from specific locales, and a Belgian brewery/restaurant in Maine holds an annual brewer’s dinner featuring krieks, but this is the first event he is aware of that’s amassing a large number of krieks, and only krieks, from around the U.S. and Belgium.
“Cantillon is considered among many to be one of the best breweries in the world, and I subscribe to that theory,” Kahler said. “They produce a very small amount of beer. It’s pretty expensive and hard to get your hands on. We have a keg, and I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a keg. To see any Cantillon beers on draft is kind of a treat, but having a kriek is really special.”
Yaeger said, “One of the very first calls I made was to the distributor (Massachusetts’ Shelton Brothers) and explained that this will not be your average request for this beer, that it would be a special festival. And they said, ‘We’ll make it happen.’ That call was another reason to plan this a year ahead, because it paid off.” He said he has not seen Cantillon in kegs anywhere in the U.S. in the past 10 years — ever since the style rose in popularity here.
Yaeger said he sees the festival not only as a chance for people to experience many kinds of krieks in a pastoral setting, but also as a way to profile what he regards as an emerging “Hood River-style kriek.” The Gorge will be well-represented: in addition to Solera, look for krieks from Double Mountain Brewery, Full Sail Brewing Company, Logsdon Farmhouse Ales, pFriem Family Brewers and Thunder Island Brewing Co., all from Hood River County. 54°40′ Brewing Company and Everybody’s Brewing will represent the Washington side of the Gorge.
The sourness spectrum ranges widely, and while Kriekfest isn’t providing specifics on where a beer falls in that spectrum this year, the brewers are open to questions.
“There will be a lot of interesting beers,” Kahler said, all imbued with one shade or another of cherry-delivered crimson.
Indeed, color, along with flavor and aroma, combine to make krieks interesting. And Yaeger announced an exciting addition to the lineup on June 15: Jester King Brewery of Texas has collaborated on a kriek with Michigan’s Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales.
Then there is the featured Cantillon: here’s a tip — get there early. We’re talking one keg of the rare stuff, equating to about 170 four-ounce pours.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.