Laurelwood Brewing has unveiled a new collaboration beer with USA Pears called NEIL Farmhouse Saison. The New School’s contributor Neil Ferguson hooked Laurelwood up with the fresh fruit supply from USA Pears and the beer is on tap now at the brewpub and will be available at Belmont Station for a special multi-beer release this Tuesday, February 25th.
USA Pears is a Milwaukie-based non-profit that is responsible for promoting fresh pears grown in Oregon and Washington. Together, both states grow 88% of the U.S. fresh pear supply. The proximity to the growing regions makes pears an appropriate adjunct for craft beers.
With spring just around the corner, the Laurelwood team decided to brew an easy-drinking saison with a little bit of funkiness to complement the citrusy pear flavor of Green Anjou pears. To brew the beer, 90 pounds of fresh pears were sliced by hand and added directly to the fermentation vessel. They brewed a farmhouse wort using Pilsen, Spelt and Century Rye and put it right on top of the pears. Using Kviek yeast gives the beer a fruity ester, and Brettanomyces brings out a funky complexity. Mandarina Bavaria hops accentuate the fruitiness but the keep bitterness mellow. At 5.5%, this saison is ideal for those days when there is still a slight chill in the air but the sun is starting to come out of hibernation after a long Northwest winter.
Laurelwood Production Manager Bryan Liedman describes the beer as the product of circumstance. “For years we had an underutilized sour tank that was primarily used to carbonate barrel aged beers and mostly sat in a web covered corner of the brewery. Then when Ninkasi started packaging our 6-pack cans, the brewers at NE Sandy saw it as an opportunity to experiment and expand our offerings. We looked over at the sad shell of stainless in the corner and realized we needed to ferment in it. We wanted the first ferment in the tank to be a banger! The brewers all wanted something with wild fruit yeasties, mixed cultures, the whole smack. Our new hire Brandon [Easley] said he knew a guy in pears, and BANG, NEIL was born!”
That guy in pears was Neil Ferguson, who, besides being a beer-loving contributor to the New School, works as the Communications Specialist and social media guru at USA Pears. “Pears tend to be an underrated fruit and we’re always exploring new and delicious ways to present them to consumers. Oregon contains two of the nation’s largest pear growing regions, one of which is practically in Portland’s backyard, so it makes sense to combine them with a local beer culture that is as rich as the soil of the Hood River Valley,” says Ferguson, adding that “we have been seeing more and more breweries working with pears as of late, which is very exciting for our growers.”
The combination of friendship and creativity resulted in one of Laurelwood’s most unique and experimental offerings to date.
Liedman points to the yeast as a major driver in the recipe, saying, “We needed a yeast where temperature wasn’t an issue. The current hype boi who doesn’t like control is Kviek. Let it rip, and it’ll taste great. We asked USA Pears to find a fruit for us that is both sweet and will impart a classic pear flavor. Neil was like, ‘How about Green Anjou Pears?’ And we were like, ‘Yeah!’ We all got together for a cut-up party, threw them in the tank, and pitched the wort and yeast right on top. A few degrees before terminal we finished off all those pear sugars with a proprietary Brettanomyces strain from Little Beast. Tasty.”
Liedman is quick to point out that “NEIL” is a rare beer that cannot be replicated, at least not perfectly. Laurelwood will be serving NEIL at 5115 NE Sandy Blvd until they run out and a small run of kegs will be offered to select craft beer bars. If you miss it this year, Laurelwood also acquired two Willamette Valley pinot noir barrels from Bergstrom Winery of Newberg, OR, and NEIL will return next year as a barrel-aged treat. Barrel Boy Brandon Easley says of the barrels, “These? These are really nice barrels!”
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.