When your 7-barrel brewery shares land with more than two dozen fruit trees planted in the mid-20th century, you don’t let that bounty go to waste.
From his family’s homesteaded land in Tenmile southwest of Roseburg, Sam Draper Eslinger founded Draper Brewing in 2010 in part from a belief in brewing from the land. While Draper’s portfolio includes standards such as pale ales and IPAs, Eslinger’s heart is in producing sours, blends and spontaneous-fermented beers, using plum, apple and pears from his land, as well as working with area farmers in and around the fertile Umpqua Valley.
Drawn to the world of craft by “enjoying beers I couldn’t afford,” Eslinger wanted to develop a brewery around “esoteric beers” that could appeal to area craft beer fans, and attract new ones. It was a bold choice, too. In 2010, the only other craft brewery in the area was the Roseburg McMenamins.
Eslinger develops his harvest-focused beers with a pre-defined idea, but is also open to where the fruit and its harvest-to-harvest variances take the final product. In Stone Groove, a spontaneous sour beer, Eslinger incorporated two types of nectarines: yellow nectarines from his property and white nectarines from Brosi Sugar Tree Farms in nearby Winston.
“After a year in the bottle,” says Eslinger, “it still has great fresh nectarine aroma.”
Brewing with fruit, though, isn’t simply a matter of adding whatever is on hand into a batch. Eslinger’s “homestead-style orchard” contains a variety of fruits.
“They ripen at different times, which leads to interesting planning and different flavor combinations within the same type of fruit,” says Eslinger. “Plus, most of the trees are older, which means they’re generally giving larger yields of fruit each year.”
Eslinger refrains from using chemical pest controls. He monitors the land’s conditions, thinking through how factors such as pollination, a late spring, drought, or excess water might affect that year’s harvest.
“Each year could bring different batch types and sizes due to the yield of the trees,” says Eslinger. “We’re really at the mercy of nature.”
When developing his harvest-focused beers, Eslinger prefers “the beers to be at least 1 year old, oak-aged and either a spontaneous or lab pitch for yeast.” He also accounts for how harvest timelines from his farm and area farmers can influence the final beer. Eslinger maintains relationships with vineyards and winemakers throughout Douglas County, so he can secure their barrels for aging.
“With the selection of filled barrels I already have, sometimes it’s based on what I think will go with which fruit.”
The key, he explains, is “to adapt the beers to what nature provides.” Dry years may yield less fruit, but what does come in often has deeper, more concentrated flavors.
As Eslinger has seen how his beers developed — along with a sour house added in 2016 — he has continued evolving the beers he brews and blends.
“Over the years my use of blueberries has changed,” he explains. “I began with Blueberry Wheat, then evolved to the barrel-aged Sour Golden Ale With Blueberries. Sours bring out the complexity of the fruit, and accent different flavors that regular yeast strains may cover up.”
The barrel-aged, unfiltered, naturally carbonated, limited-release beers of Draper’s Renaissance Series, though, are where Eslinger brings art and imagination to complement technical implementation. Beers in Draper’s Renaissance Series have included a Belgian-style golden strong ale with peaches, a cherry imperial stout and a Belgian-style golden strong with strawberries that was barrel aged for six months.
He’s planning more lambic-style, barrel-aged sour beers, leveraging two types of fermentation. Spontaneous fermentation uses a coolship (traditionally used in regions such as Belgium to cool wort prior to the invention of heat exchangers). That allows microbes from the orchard and the sour house to collect. For some beers he’ll pitch a lab-grown, four-strain yeast blend.
“Each year I fill barrels with sour pitch and taste test to determine if they’ll be suitable for beer or not,” says Eslinger, “then blend based on their tastes and attributes.”
Brewing according to the harvest can be unpredictable, but for Eslinger it’s about where a brewer’s vision for a beer meets what nature has in store and seeing what happens.
“Fruit beers are all about what’s available.” •