At the end of last week Upright Brewing announced the upcoming release of Fantasia, one of a handful of bottles of primarily fruit-driven beers that will be released in the coming weeks. I recently spent a very enjoyable evening at Upright tasting those soon-to-be-released beers and while I'm the first to admit Upright's beers don't always make my taste buds sing, there was only one of the bunch that I wouldn't wrestle you for.
Seeing as how Fantasia, now in its fifth vintage, is just days from being released it only makes sense to start there. Peaches from Baird Family Orchards, the place Upright sources all of its fruit, are put into casks whole, with just a quick knife stab to ensure the skins are broken. Brewed in mid-2014, the beer was aged in reused casks (previously containing other Upright fruit beers) for a year before it was bottled six months ago. The result is a beer that is pale but rich in color with an aroma that in no uncertain terms lets the nose know there are peaches within. There's a mild tartness, no doubt influenced by the unique microflora of the casks, and a juiciness that intensifies as the beer warms.
Peaches and cherries, used in Hearts' Beat and Shades, are agricultural products and as such have unpredictable peak ripeness which can make planning brew days challening. It's a minor inconvenience owner Alex Ganum is willing to deal with in order to utilize the "fuck-ton of really good fruit in Oregon."
The cherries used in Hearts' Beat are a variety called Chelan which are so dark they appear nearly black and impart so much color to the beer that by the end their year in the casks the cherries themselves are very pale. While it utilizes cherries, Alex was very clear that this beer is not a Kriek, instead it brings together elements from many styles. The powerfully delicious cherry flavor has a hint of tart/sour from the Brettanomyces that was pitched as well as from Sacromyces naturally occurring on the fruit or existing in the casks.
Shades, which utilizes two lots of Rainier cherries, gives nothing away in appearance that it, too, is chock full of fruit. Rainiers are beautiful cherries in their own right but pale in color, contributing little to the color but contribute significant acidity to the beer. That combined with the three strains of Brettanomyces pitched, result in a more tart, yet equally delicious beer.
Moving from beer-typical fruits to a wine-typical fruit, Oregon Native combines skin-on estate Pinot Noir grapes of Patton Valley Vineyard with Upright's cask fermentation. In designing this beer Alex, "wanted to make a beer where you can smell it and taste it and know it's a pinot beer." Not being much of a wine drinker myself I found it to be an outstanding balance between traditional beer and wine. Alex's talent is showcased in being able to capture the pinot quality of the delicate grapes in what is distinctly a beer. As with the previously mentioned beers, aged hops (2012 Columbia stored at room temperature) were used in a purposeful plan to avoid overhopping and overpowering these fruity beers.
Going further afield to chili peppers, which are botanically fruits, is Fatali Four. Thanks to the dedication of Ritch Marvin, who has provided Upright with chili peppers every year of its production, this balanced beer should please those who are looking for a beer with a subtle but slowly growing heat. Near the end of the year-long stint this beer spends in casks (four wine and one gin) the peppers are added to give the dry, tart beer to provide additional complexity. That complexity is belied by both the aroma and the pale color, being expressed as the beer is sipped and savored.
The final beer of the tasting was the first beer Upright ever brewed, Billy the Mountain. This old ale is one that Alex describes as "a bizarre beer" and one they get a lot of shit for making. He explains, "This beer has always been really personal for me," a beer that is his take on an unforgettable beer - Gale's Prize Old Ale. The 9.5% beer is fermented with British ale yeast designed for open fermenters and is a blend of 80% "freshly brewed" (one year old) and 20% three-year-old beer. While this is not a beer that I enjoy, especially after the earlier beers that were right up my alley, I respect Alex for continuing to make it and know there are plenty of folks out there that are happy he does. Without such passion and willingness to make what they love the craft beer world would be significantly less interesting.
For details on all of the releases follow Upright on Twitter, Facebook or pop into the tasting room to enjoy any number of beers while getting the news straight from the source.