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Of missed opportunities and Raspberry Wheat Beer

Now, more than two months after the Craft Brewers Conference and BrewExpo in D.C., I am realizing I’ve made a mistake: I didn’t try the raspberry when I had the chance.

Why I’m grasping that just now? Well, because I finally had the chance to talk to Chris Hodge from Oregon Fruit Products, whom I met back in April. And throughout our conversation, we kept stumbling upon their raspberry puree.

The history of Oregon Fruit Products goes all the way back to the 1930s, when they started processing and canning fruit. A few decades later, the family business bought an aseptic filler and started making their fruit purees shelf-stable – which still proves to be one of their main characteristics. It was around that time (in the late 90s), that another game-changer made its appearance: “Purple Haze”, one of the first lager beers brewed with (you might have guessed it) raspberry puree by Oregon Fruit Products. Admittedly no one would have considered it a game-changer back then – it wasn’t until a few years later that fruit beer and creative brewing really became a thing. “In about 2009, the whole ‘fruit for brewing’ thing really exploded”, says Chris. “The demand has kept growing since then, which is why we have to keep working on our infrastructure and will open a new production facility in 2019.” And that’s how the small family-run business went from canning fruit to processing it and became an international seller of fruit purees. By the way: even though the “fruit for fermentation” sector of Oregon Fruit Products has been growing impressively, they also produce several lines of fruit for other fruit products. Due to my personal preference for beer and Chris’ position as Director of Sales Brewing with an impressive 30 years of experience in the brewing industry, I’ll stick to the beery side of the story though.

Which is obviously not only about raspberry. Right now, there are 19 different fruit purees available – and Chris is expecting their number to rise “We’ve had a few seasonals now that we just kept in the assortment when the season ended – with innovation being such a big part of the growth of the craft beer industry, we will continue to hunt for unique and interesting fruits for future seasonal offerings.” Number one best seller? Have a guess … Yep, it’s raspberry! Followed by mango (which I did try – and enjoy – in D.C.!) and blackberry, which have both seen an impressive increase in popularity over the last few years.

So, let’s say I’m a brewer, about to brew a fruity specialty. Why would I buy a puree, and not just whole fruit or extracts? “Simply because puree combines all the advantages”, Chris explains without hesitation. “You don’t have to process any whole fruit, which lets you save costs and time – as the puree is shelf-stable you just have it in stock and ready to use. At the same time, it still tastes like real, fresh fruit, which is rarely the case with extracts.” Okay, I’m convinced. So I order the fruit and receive it aseptically packaged – which means I don’t even have to keep it refrigerated for the first few months. Sticking to the most common and less exotic method, I’m then adding the puree during the fermentation process – at around Day 3 to Day 5 if I’m brewing a wheat beer, just to give an example. The amount of puree will of course always depend on different factors, such as the character of the base beer, whether I am or am not letting my beer age in a barrel, which fruit I’m using, how fruity I want my beer to become, … and the list goes on. However, Chris gives a rough guideline: for stronger flavors like raspberry, sweet cherry or blackberry, around ½ lb of puree per gallon can be enough to create a fruity note – more subtle flavors like apricot or peach will require a little higher dosage. And: Chris strongly encourages brewers to experiment with combinations of different flavors and suggests a peach-apricot flavored Belgian-style beer – I myself am intrigued! The finished beer will then not only have the fruity taste, but also a soft and natural coloration.

That leaves me with nothing much to say, except for cheers and see you in Nashville next year, Chris – and be sure to bring some raspberry puree, because I won’t be missing out on it again!

By the way: if you have any questions about fruit for fermentation or just want to talk about beer, feel free to reach out to Chris: chrish@oregonfruit.com.

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