Falling for pFriem’s Fruit to Glass Beers

With pFriem Family Brewers’ latest fruit beers–Pruim, a plum sour ale, and Druif, a wild farmhouse ale with Riesling grapes–a picture emerges of the broadening depths of the brewery’s commitment to local fruit and farming. When it comes to fruit, the Columbia River Gorge has an abundance of farms and some of the finest orchards on the west coast. It’s also the place pFriem Family Brewers calls home. Though the brewery is more known for its IPAs and classic clean Belgian-styles of beer, owner Josh Pfriem and Head Brewer Gavin Lord have slowly carved out an expansive lambic-inspired line of fruit beers years in the making that is strangely inconsistent with the rest of the brand. This fall and winter have seen two of pFriem’s most unique fruited beers in Druif and Pruim, both released in very small batch bottles from the tasting room in Hood River.

Gavin Lord is pFriem’s Head Brewer and he says that the brewery’s now seven entries long fruit sour series was inspired by both traditional Belgian beers, U.S. brewers’ innovation, and the world-class fruit of the Pacific Northwest. The fruited sour series is actually a huge departure from pFriem’s usually very stringent and deep commitment to controlled and reliably consistent results in its beers, a dedication to clarity and knowing what to expect from each glass that extends to filtering even the farmhouse/saison-style beers, but all that changes when it comes to the fruited line.

“While in every other aspect of the brewery we demand the utmost consistency, in this series, by using 100% fresh fruit, we ensure that each vintage of these offerings will be distinct,” says Lord.

Mt. Hood, vineyard, wine, Oregon, Brooks Vineyard

For example, he cites a much hotter growing season for the lightness of the brewery’s first vintage of Frambozen, which ended up with a stronger fruit presence and more color in its recent second release. The newly released Druif uses Riesling wine grapes and also will likely be much different than future releases because of a shorter, wetter, and cooler fall than previous years. Plus, Lord says, “will our next Peche taste a touch smokey due to the Eagle Creek Fire? Time will tell.”

Unlike most breweries that strive for predictable consistency, and others like Oregon’s Hair of the Dog Brewing that do not even attempt it, pFriem is splitting the difference when it comes to locally-sourced natural ingredients like fruit. But perhaps that is also true to the Belgian brewing heritage the brewery attempts to partially recreate with this line of fruited beers along with non-fruited beers like their Flanders-style red, brown and blonde ales.

plums to be processed for pFriem’s Pruim

“We refer to these beers as ‘Lambic-Inspired,'” says Lord, hopefully appeasing the style Nazis who often come down on any U. S. brewer who refers to its beer as Lambic (a style that is spontaneously fermented with wild yeast in the air of Belgium).

“Belgian Lambic tradition has had a profound and lasting impact not only upon pFriem, but upon the American craft brewing industry as a whole. As such, traditional producers in the Senne River Valley deserve our deference, and our beers are decidedly NOT Lambic in two notable ways.”

Lord lists the fact that they are not (yet) spontaneously fermented as one of the main reasons they are not Lambics, but inspired by the originals. They do start with a similar grist to those famous ales with 40% unmalted wheat, 60% malted barley, a more complex turbid mash and aged hops.

After the ingredients and the hot-side of the brewing process, Lord says, “we then cool the wort through our heat exchanger and inoculate with a carefully house-curated blend of microflora. Our primary fermentations are about 50% in oak and 50% in stainless, so far we like a blend of the two, but the more we experiment, the more we learn. ”

pFriem likes to mature beers in neutral French oak barrels for their second fermentation, where they get topped up and have time to condition in a climate-controlled barrel house for anywhere from one to three years before they are blended and added onto fruit.

Riesling wine grapes from Brooks Winery that will be added to pFriem’s Druif lambic-inspired grape sour

The fruit itself is key to the final product, even with the special time and preparation it takes to make such ales. pFriem sources most of its fruit within five miles of the brewery, and at most nowhere more than 100 miles away. Building a relationship with local farmers is key to the production, according to Lord, who notes that, “I’d like to thank Brian McCormick, Silas Bleakley, Jayson Hoffman, Bill and Annie Maslen, Joyce Willis, Carla Pilgrim, and Claire Jarreau, not only for their extraordinary produce, but also for all of the lessons they continue to teach us along the way.”

pFriem production team processing plums for Pruim

Lord and the brew team usually targets fruit at the peak of its ripeness, which can call for an all hands on deck from the production crew to help in the harvest. They process the fruit in-house by first rinsing it with cool water, then removing and discarding extraneous or undesirable elements like pits and stems. “The larger stone fruit is halved, while smaller berries are left whole,” says Lord. They then add the fruit into clean stainless steel vessels that are purged with c02. pFriem targets between 2.5lbs to 4lbs of fruit per gallon of beer, which is a hell of a lot. Adding to the already massive amount of extra labor involved in these beers, that means they process well over 3,000 lbs of fruit in one day for a beer. Having already decided what barrel-aged beer blend will be best, they rack that over top of the fruit where the extra sugars of the fruit and still active wild and controlled yeast restart a vigorous fermentation.

“Although it varies from fruit to fruit, we typically expect this portion of the process to take between 6 and 9 months,” notes Lord. After the beer is dry and fermented out enough with the desirable level of PH and Titratable Acidity before the beer is removed from the fruit for bottle conditioning on active yeast, unlike the rest of pFriem’s beers as we noted previously. ” It’s not uncommon for them to age 4-6 months in the package before we deem them ready for release,” adds Lord. Over the years pFriem has refined the process, from equipment changes to their mash regime and barrel technique. The brew team even selects fruit differently and is constantly learning more and adjusting from what is learned at pFriem and other local brewers and from the farmers.

Brooks Winery Riesling harvest, Eola-Amity Hills AVA, Willamette Valley, Oregon

The fruit itself really should not get short shrift in this process. pFriem uses the same base beer for all of the fruit beers, with some exception of reformulation. This consistency actually lets the brew team understand the more inconsistent nature of the fruit and allows it to take center stage in the fermentation and final process. This has lead to the brewery’s changes regarding selection of fruit in areas like ripeness, process, and, of course, varieties of fruit. On the ever evolving research process on each of these beers, Lord says, “we’ll chat with as many brewers as we can. Next we’ll develop relationships with growers and learn as much as we can about their processes and preferences. How do they grow what, and why? Finally, we’ll work together to develop a solid plan and execute.”

A purple labeled, stubby, and curvaceous bottle of pFriem’s Pruim has been si tting in my fridge for a couple of months before I popped the cork on it earlier today. pFriem worked with Carla Pilgrim of Sherwood Orchard on this beer to develop a blend of Italian and Brooks plums that they hoped to achieve a balance of almost spicy character from small Italian plums and a more full jammy quality from the Brooks plums. To get that full flavor they halved the plums and added about 3.5lbs of fruit per gallon of beer.

Pruim pours with a long lingering white head of small bubbles and a pinkish and peach colored body, slightly hazy with creamy lighter flesh tones at the thinner stem of the glass that meld into a reddish flush orange color like your cheeks after coming in from a cold winter walk. There are aromas of cranberry, raspberry, raisins and vanilla. A wheaty-bready mouthfeel that quickly gives way to a grape and plum-like sour bite with a hint of the bitter plum skin on the backend with a yeast bite and slightly tongue numbing alcohol. A medium sourness that travels from the front center of your tongue up the sides of your mouth until you slightly pucker and suck the last sweet tart juices down with a lip smacking sound. Pruim is just 6.4% ABV and 6 IBU’s.

Druif is pFriem’s latest in the fruit sour line. pFriem worked with Claire Jarreau of Brooks Winery on the selection of fruit after sampling their wines to come up with a plan for the desired flavor profile. “Claire and the Brooks team are extraordinarily knowledgeable and really helped us anticipate potential results from several of their vineyards,” says Lord. pFriem settled on “suitcase” Riesling grapes that were hand-carried in from Europe by an Austrian in 1995. “Our goal here was to create something unique within the series, neither beer nor wine but exhibiting strong elements of each.” When I cracked my recently shipped bottle of Druif, my tasting notes were a bit different than Lord’s own. I found a pale blonde ale with a white head that, unlike the Pruim, dissipated quickly. The same base beer in both was evident, with this also having a hazy, almost milky appearance, but this one was yellow instead of peach colored, with an equal amount of wheat for a bready and soft mouthfeel. I smelled an aroma of white grapes, apricot skins, musty wine, and lemon spritzer. The flavor carried a yeasty, wild, and autolyzed bitterness, more tannic than others, with the bitterness of grape skins and yeast merging into the background. Druif is much less sour that Pruim, but it does end with a juicy apricot-like tartness and the bite of a dry and strong white wine. pFriem’s brewers tasting notes are “crushed pineapple, ripe mango, white nectarine, and jasmine.” Druif lambic-inspired ale is 7.3% ABV, 6 IBUs.

Both Pruim and Druif are available now at the brewery tasting room, perhaps in bottles and on draft if you get there soon. The burgeoning fruit program is still growing; even at four years and counting, it’s still in its infancy. Gavin Lord notes they are beginning to change up the base beers on this program, which were previously all the same. For example, the brewery’s earliest wild/sour ale release was of a Flanders-style, and they are readying a new Flanders “Red” Kriek with cherries for 2018, as well as a rustic Nectarine Saison. I am also looking forward to a special strawberry version of a fruited sour with the same base beer as past releases. pFriem is also getting closer to the beers of Belgium from which they draw inspiration with the addition of a coolship for spontaneous inoculation of wild yeasts in the Gorge air, and an investment partnership with a local farmer to plant a dedicated orchard that’s already nearly two years in the works. This is a project that let Gavin Lord, who grew up on a Willamette Valley nursery, get out of the brewery and hand plant some trees that will eventually bear fruit used in the beers and make its way through hand processing to your glass.

Samurai Artist
Samurai Artist

Founder of The New School and most frequent contributor Ezra Johnson-Greenough has worked in the craft beer industry for almost 10 years, doing everything from illustrating beer labels to bartending at renowned beer bars and breweries like Belmont Station, Apex, Laurelwood and Upright Brewing. He has also had a hand in creating events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, Portland Beer Week, and the Brewing up Cocktails series. He is available for freelance consultation in marketing, events, graphic design and branding. Contact: SamuraiArtist@NewSchoolBeer.com


  • napoleon bonerparte
    napoleon bonerparte
    Sun Dec 10, 2017 1:01 AM

    dang those brewskis sound delicious. maybe ill grab a few.

    • Mahatma Bongdi
      Mahatma Bongdi
      Wed Dec 13, 2017 5:15 AM

      Using ingredients that are in your backyard just makes sence, nice work! Will have to get some of that soon!