Last week, at the Portland Fruit Beer Festival media preview, I snagged a few minutes with one of its founders, Ezra Johnson-Greenough. Let me start by saying, I was nervous. I had good reason to be.
One, I’m new to Portland. So there’s that. Which two, by default compared to Portlanders means, I’m a craft beer rookie. Oh, and three, Ezra is kinda a big deal here. Okay, not kinda, he’s basically a kingpin of the Pacific Northwest beer scene.
Portland Fruit Beer Festival Preview
Ezra is Samurai Artist. Founder and most frequent contributor of The New School. The ultimate craft beer Wonk’s webmag in the Pacific NW. Ezra’s on Thrillist and oh yeah, Beer Advocate.Just in case that’s not enough, Ezra’s a samurai beer label illustrator too and just so happens to be involved in founding Portland Beer Week and the Portland Fruit Beer Festival.
I should have just tapped out before I even began. Here’s the thing, Ezra was just standing there, watching what he’d created from the sidelines, by himself. So I ponied up and started asking questions like I knew exactly what I was doing.
5 Answers: Ezra Johnson-Greenough
The festival is in its seventh year and at the media preview, the Brewmasters themselves were pouring. So we had the chance to talk to them directly about their creations. More on that later.
For now, Ezra.
ALOR Q1: Seven years ago, did you think the Portland Fruit Beer Festival would be what it is today?
Ezra: No, no, no, absolutely not. I mean, we were starting something from scratch that really hadn’t been done before with fruit beer. So no. I didn’t expect it to be as popular as it was. I’ve been involved in a couple other fests but not running them. This is my first fest, that I am actually in charge of. So what I was shooting for was Cheers to Belgian Beers, which actually is tonight and Hopworks, Bike and Beer fest.
From here we talk numbers in attendance but here’s the clincher. The Portland Fruit Beer Festival outperformed Ezra’s “stretch goals,” the first year running.
Ezra: Our first year, we did a thousand more than our max, I thought we could get to. After the first day in the first year, we ran out of beer. So we were actually scrambling, running around trying to find beers to keep pouring.
The Portland Fruit Beer Festival has continued to grow year over year. A far cry from just over a dozen breweries and running out of beer year one.
ALOR Q2: So how many beers will be pouring at this year’s Portland Fruit Beer Festival?
Ezra: This year we have 30 Breweries that brewed a full beer for it, but we also have all these other specialty taps that are rotating taps. So we’ll have over 50 beers total.
Side note, if this is your first year hitting up the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, make plans now, for how you plan to get home. At the preview event alone there was so much temptation to taste, that not trying everything just seems ridiculous.
A strategy is your friend here.
ALOR Q3: With that much beer pouring, do you have any tips on strategy for enjoying the Portland Fruit Beer Festival?
Ezra: Look at styles that you’re into because it used to be, and some people still think that all fruit beers are the same, but they are not. There is a wide range. There’s tons of hoppy beer with fruit. Popular IPAs are made to taste more fruity so it’s natural, but dark beer goes well with fruit too. We have the dark rye rogen beer with fruit. Another beer that’s not here today [meaning the preview event] but we have is a dark schwarz German lager with raspberries that’s going to be pouring [at the Portland Fruit Beer Festival]. We have awesome Ciders. There is light refreshing, sours, we have everything.
ALOR Q4: How do you decide what the mix of beers will be at the Portland Fruit Beer Festival? Are there trends you include or avoid?
Ezra: Yes and no. I don’t want to over accept people’s creativity. So I generally let everyone come up with their own ideas, but I do 86 stuff. Only to keep it so that there are not too many doubles of the same flavors. My own rule is that I don’t want more than two of anything the same. We do see trends every year. Both last year and this year, tropical is a big. Pineapple, mango are big ones everybody wants to use and they are great. So we will have pineapple and mango but I had to 86 a whole lot. Other than that, I leave it to people. There are a few ideas that I actually have, that I pitch to people.
ALOR Q5: Is one of your beer brainchildren pouring at this year’s Portland Fruit Beer Festival?
Ezra: This year actually, 10 Barrel has a Key Lime Pie that is my idea that I pitched Whitney. Not here right now, but the High Wheel fizzy wine was my idea, which was a blueberry lemonade. Every year there are a few that are based on my idea. I don’t brew the beer myself but I pitch the ideas because I see what people want over the years. We had one year where, we had a lot of dark strong beers and it was just too many dark strong. In my experience it’s not as big of seller. Certainly, in Summer people are not drinking as many dark beers and I think in general dark beers are just misunderstood. There is the common misconception, in America at least, that dark beers are higher in alcohol but that’s not necessarily true at all.
From here Ezra started explaining more about the darker options pouring at the Portland Fruit Beer Festival this year, including Stormbreaker Brewing’s Boysenrogenbierry. A German style Roggenbier aged on 125 lbs of boysenberries with a spicy hint of clove from Hefeweiss yeast with a 4.4% ABV.
This was right about the time, I knew it was time, to get tasting. I thanked Ezra for giving me so much of his time, then made a beeline for the Barrel Brewing’s Key Lime Pie beer. Brewmaster Whitney Burnside did Ezra and 10 Barrel proud with that Key Lime Pie idea. It’s zesty, perfectly tangy and still creamy, exactly what you want a citrus-forward American Sour with a cream ale to be.
Now, back to the note I made earlier about head Brewers being at the Portland Fruit Beer Festival preview. Hopworks Head Brewer Trever Bass was there, pouring Pliny the Elderberry. A Barrel aged mixed-culture golden ale with elderberry and fresh elderberry flowers. It’s easily one of my favorites at the Festival.
Trever, by the way, hand foraged the berries and the flowers himself, over two seasons. One berry, two seasons, one beer. This beer needs its own story. As does Whitney’s Key Lime Pie.
Stay tuned! I’m going to see if this craft beer novice can learn a thing or two from the Brewers themselves in upcoming interviews!
Portland Fruit Beer Festival starts tomorrow! June 9th – 11th at 7th and NE Burnside Blvd.
For now, here’s a glimpse of what festival goers can look forward to!
This post was written after attending a media preview for the Portland Fruit Beer Festival.
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