Geography is destiny, Napoleon said. The emperor wasn't talking specifically about booze, but he could have been.
Europe is almost evenly split into wine and beer. South of the Alps, where fruit grows better than grain, wine is the fermented beverage of choice. North of the Alps, it's beer. In a few places, fruit and grains both grow well, and things get weird. Belgium is in between them, which is why the beers there can be so like wine—barrel-aged, wild yeasts, blends of different fermentations and, sometimes, with fruit.
That's why you'll find a lot of Belgian-influenced beers in the lineup for this weekend's Fruit Beer Festival at Burnside Brewing. And why Portland, between the Hood River fruit loop and the Willamette Valley's sprawling fields of cereal grains, is the perfect place for America's only annual fruit beer festival, now in its third year.
Judging by the six samples poured at a media preview last Friday, there will be some great one-off beers poured at this festival. If you go, don't miss Burnside's rum-barrel-aged creation with blueberries, golden figs, mission figs and dates.
And if you can't make it? Well, Oregon breweries also bottle some very nice fruit beers. Here are four picks to get you started.
Alameda Brewing, 4765 NE Fremont St., 460-9025, alamedabrewing.com. $5.
In years past, Huckleberry Hound was made from a hoppy IPA base. This year, it's a biscuity golden ale. Light fruitiness comes through mostly as an aftertaste in this very mild brew.
Bend Brewing, 1019 NW Brooks St., Bend, 541-383-1599, bendbrewingco.com. $8.
Built from a sour wheat base, this Berliner weisse was flavored with puréed pomegranate and hibiscus flowers instead of traditional raspberry or woodruff syrup. It's big, tart and bready.
Logsdon Farmhouse Ales, Hood River, farmhousebeer.com. $20.
The most elaborate and traditional of this bunch, Logsdon's Cerasus is a sharp Flanders-style red ale that is blended with massive quantities of sweet and tart local cherries and several strains of exotic yeast. It drinks like a wine—and costs as much as a decent bottle, too.
Burnside Brewing, 701 E Burnside St., 946-8151, burnsidebrewco.com. $5.
My favorite Oregon fruit beer of the moment, Burnside's Lime Kolsch is, yes, a little like an upmarket Bud Light Lime. Lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, lime pulp and spicy noble hops make for a citrus-forward lager perfect for an extra-warm day. It's not on the festival's lineup, but since Burnside is hosting, it'll be easy to grab one to go.
GO: The Portland Fruit Beer Festival is at 701 E Burnside St., portlandfruitbeerfest.com, on Saturday (11 am-9 pm) and Sunday (11 am-6 pm), June 8-9. $20. 21+.