By Aaron Brussat
For the Oregon Beer Growler
If you think of Portland’s beer scene as the sun, Portland’s beer festivals would be its solar flares, sunspots and cosmic wind. It’s always burning — exothermic blasts of molten malt, hops, yeast and beards swirling and bubbling with every new beer release party. A tower of foamy fire appears on the horizon; we shield our eyes and say, “Oh look, a beer festival!”
Every beer festival fills a niche, and many open beer drinkers’ eyes to what lies just beyond their experience, that errant bottle in the back of the fridge. Portland Farmhouse Weekend provides a city-wide opportunity for beer lovers to go deep into a largely misunderstood sect of beers. The “Weekend,” set for Friday March, 31 through Sunday, April 2, is an extension of the Portland Farmhouse & Wild Ale Festival, now in its fifth year, held at Saraveza Bottle Shop.
To say that founder Ezra Johnson-Greenough has a few beer festivals under his belt is an understatement. He’s been conceiving and organizing events in Portland for years. Johnson-Greenough started the Portland Fruit Beer Fest, and his fingerprints are all over Portland Beer Week and many other tap-related happenings. Some are annual; others spring up and are gone, not unlike styles of beer on a taplist suited for today’s fickle consumer.
Johnson-Greenough’s goal for the Farmhouse & Wild Ale Festival is to “make it the best fest of its kind. We’re increasing the size of tents, hours and beer. The last couple years have been more stagnant. There was no marketing budget for the fest.”
This says a lot about the popularity of the event; Saturday’s general session last year was packed shoulder-to-shoulder with people vying for tastes of rare beers from big names like The Ale Apothecary and Jester King Brewery.
In expanding the festival, Johnson-Greenough has also expanded the concept. On top of Upright Brewing’s eighth anniversary party, beer releases and educational seminars around town, Wander Brewing, from Bellingham, Wash., will bring its 25-barrel coolship to town for a collaboration brew with Breakside Brewery. The project will generate beer for the event in coming years.
The festival includes a beer release specifically for attendees. Last year, The Commons Brewery produced The Croze, a pale beer fermented in open-topped barrels (croze is a cooperage term referring to the groove at either end of the barrel that holds the head in place). This year’s very limited release is a lambic-style beer from Logsdon Farmhouse Ales. Brewer Shilpi Halemane, who’s been at the Hood River brewery a year-and-a-half, started a program of beers brewed in the “Methode van Lembeek” with veteran wild ale brewer Curtis Bain. For the festival, “We thought it might be nice to showcase and sneak preview a single barrel that tasted really good.”
The beer, Saraveza Sour, is brewed with Pilsner malt, raw wheat and aged hops. The brewing process uses a multi-step mash (raising the temperature several times to activate different enzymes) and a two-hour boil. The beer is transferred from the kettle to a coolship — a wide, shallow metal vat open to the country air. There it picks up a bevy of microscopic hitchhikers that will eat their way through the complex sugars in the wort. The inoculated wort is transferred to conical fermentors for two weeks before it is racked into used American oak barrels.
The final product is “in the 5.5% alcohol range. It is tart and Brett-forward with a funky aroma, very clear and bright. It has a classic lambic profile; that’s kind of the goal.”
More and more breweries in the country are experimenting with spontaneous fermentation. They pay homage to the classic Belgian appellation while showcasing the “terroir” of local yeast and bacteria. The wort can be produced in the same way anywhere, but it is the surrounding air that ultimately gives the beer its personality.
What Is Farmhouse Beer?
In our modern era of opaque, flesh-colored IPAs that taste like the Tropicana test kitchen, it’s easy to lose sight of the creative work being done with Oregon’s state microbe Saccharomyces cerevisiae (ale yeast) and its cousins Brettanomyces (a “wild” yeast), Lactobacillus (a common fermenting bacteria), and others — the fermenting family tree is more like a forest.
Most brewers will credit Saison Dupont as the godfather of farmhouse-style beers. It was first imported to the United States in the 1980s, and helped to usher in the idea of beer as a flavorful beverage. It defies accurate reproduction by way of its yeast, which some speculate to be a blend of strains. With a simple malt and hop regimen, the beer gets its particular spicy-fruity profile from unusually high fermentation temperatures.
The new, Americanized genre of “farmhouse” beers encompass a range of styles, flavors and colors, as their origins are multifarious and knotted in untold agrarian histories.
“I like how broad a term it is for the range of things you can use,” says Halemane. “I dislike it for the same reason. If I read a description and it says ‘farmhouse ale with cherries,’ that could mean anything.” At Logsdon, “By virtue of brewing it in a barn, we could make anything and call it a farmhouse ale.” Very tricky. Overall, the farmhouse flavor relies on the characteristics of fermentation and is augmented with the brewer’s choice of malt, hops, wood, fruit and/or spices.
The Farmhouse & Wild Ale Festival has one rule: only U.S. farmhouse-style beers.
“There’s no reason to discriminate if it was made on a farm or not,” says Johnson-Greenough. “It matters how good it is. I’m looking for yeast-forward, Belgian-inspired beers from breweries known for their farmhouse beer — mostly. It’s a very exciting year because there’s more and more options.” Some of the breweries making their debut this year include Alesong Brewing & Blending, Astoria’s new Reach Break Brewing, Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery and Yachats Brewing.
Learn more about Portland Farmhouse Weekend at portlandfarmhousefest.com.
Shaun Kalis, founder of Ruse Brewing, has a temporary home at Culmination Brewing. He met Culmination owner Tomas Sluiter at Old Market Pub & Brewery. A trust developed and Kalis found himself in a unique situation: he’s part of the Culmination team and uses that system for Ruse between production times. Photo by Kris McDowell
By Kris McDowell
For the Oregon Beer Growler
By definition a "ruse" is a trick or an act that is used to fool someone, according to Merriam-Webster. In some cases, there is malicious intent behind it. In other cases, like with M.C. Escher's impossible constructions, it is a way to play with the mind. In the case of Ruse Brewing, one of the newest to debut on the Portland brewing scene, it speaks to the mystery of the word and is a drinkable expression.
Shaun Kalis is the founder of Ruse, a transplant from Michigan whose resume includes six years at Old Market Pub & Brewery as well as stints at Cascade Brewing Barrel House and Two Kilts Brewing Co. which bookended an education at the American Brewers Guild. Like many, he remembers the beer that opened his eyes to what beer could be beyond the yellow, fizzy swill he had previously known -- a stout from Michigan-based Bell's Brewery, Inc. Known for the vast number of stouts they produce, it's no wonder that the beer had such an impact on the young Shaun and was part of what drove him to begin down the brewing path. What started as homebrewing, and self-described as "minimalist" at that, evolved into something much greater after his relocation to Portland.
The location of that move was somewhat of a random decision based on his desire to get into brewing. And while multiple cities would have sufficed, he could not have landed in a better location than Portland. Not only does the area have an incredible brewing culture, but it has the added bonus of a vibrant live music scene. Although he’s played since he was a kid, Shaun got more serious about music as an adult — taking the time for lessons and then using his skills as a guitar player in a Portland bluegrass band.
When developing the concept for Ruse Brewing, Shaun knew he would incorporate music as he feels it parallels brewing in that a song is written to speak to a particular feeling and experience in the same way that brewing a beer, for him, is speaking to something. Ultimately, Shaun would like to have a brewery/music venue where he can work with artists and musicians to create beers. In the meantime, he has found a fortunate situation and temporary home at Culmination Brewing. Shaun met and worked under Culmination founder Tomas Sluiter at Old Market and their relationship has deepened as Shaun's brewing has evolved. Rooted in their time together at Old Market is a trust that has allowed Shaun to step into a very unique situation: he is both part of the Culmination brewing team as well as an independent brewer utilizing the Culmination system between production times. As collegial as the relationship is, there are designated spaces within the Culmination facility for ingredient, empty keg and cooler storage of beers as well as a 10-barrel fermenter Shaun owns. For anyone that has experienced living with a roommate, allowing someone to have intimate access into one's personal space requires trust and communication. That is taken to a higher level when that sharing of space is in the place that houses one's livelihood and is something that speaks to Shaun's integrity as a person and competency as a brewer.
So what about the beer that Shaun is making? To begin, his year-round offerings will be Translator IPA, a citrus-forward beer with a soft mouthfeel from an English yeast, and Architect Saison, an approachable, session beer (4.8% ABV) that is dry and light in body. He wants to focus on fewer styles out of the gate so that he can be more creative with them. In addition, Shaun is adamant about quality control and committed to dumping out anything that doesn't meet his standards. As part of his role with Culmination, he is also taking over the brewery’s quality assurance/quality control (QA/QC).
Year-round beers may be a solid foundation for any brewery, but it's often the one-off and seasonal beers where brewers really get to have fun. For Shaun that fun is creating barrel-aged beers, saying "something about the oak is so romantic." At first blush, delving into barrel-aging so early on might sound limiting, but as Shaun explains it, "it gives me a buffer — time to focus on the IPA and the saison."
He anticipates the barrel-aged beers will sit for at least nine months, only being released when they're ready and if they meet his standards. The barrels he's sourced, to date, are pinot noir and Burgundy barrels from Walter Scott Wines in the Willamette Valley and spirit barrels from McMenamins and Bull Run Distilling Company. Shaun's first two barrel-aged beers will be MultiBeast and Red Saison. MultiBeast uses Ruse's own Brettanomyces strain (banked at Imperial Organic Yeast) and is dry hopped with Mosaic. Nearly ready, Shaun may debut it at Saraveza's Farmhouse and Wild Beer Festival in March, in addition to bottling it. The Red Saison won't be ready for months as it just went into barrels in December 2015, but a young sample of it shows great promise, displaying a pleasing licorice aroma with hints of leather and oak in the smooth, saison flavor.
Those looking to try out Ruse Brewing for themselves need not look far, starting with the taproom at Culmination where at least one of his beers will be part of the lineup on an ongoing basis. Beyond his home base, the new management at Great Notion (formerly Mash Tun) in Northeast Portland took a shine to Ruse, buying the first available keg in December 2015. And as a 10-year veteran of McMenamins (in a non-brewing capacity), his connections there ensured that beer can be found at some of their locations, including the Market Street Pub near Portland State University. Going beyond beer-centric spots, he's started the process to get both his IPA and Saison into Bamboo Sushi locations. He plans to be in 10-12 businesses around Portland and will be bottling the IPA and saison in 22-ounce bottles in the near future. His barrel-aged beers will be available in a 500-milliliter format.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.