Fuji to Hood Festival’s Beer, Cider Collabs Are Innovative and Downright Tasty

The Tokyo-inspired brewers festival in Portland alternates biannually with the Portland-inspired brewers festival in Tokyo, Hood to Fuji.

The Fuji to Hood crew in 2018. (Courtesy of Fuji to Hood.)

How did Portland come to be known as the “Craft Beer Holy Land” in Japan?

The answer is complicated, fascinating and ultimately responsible for one of the country’s most unique beer festivals.

The Fuji to Hood Festival—held Saturday, July 20, at The Redd on Salmon Street, an events space on Salmon at Southeast 9th Avenue—will celebrate the special place Oregon beers hold in Japanese culture. Brewers and cidermakers from both regions collaborate on new drinks made using at least one Japan-sourced ingredient, such as black honey, sansho peppers, green tea, seaweed, sweet potatoes, koji rice, cedar, plums or regional citrus like yuzu. Guests sample finished beers and ciders alongside Japanese food and entertainment.

The origins of Oregon’s Japanese connection are difficult to pin down to one single event; a handful of milestones led to the bond that exists today. Red Gillen, co-organizer of Fuji to Hood, says it goes all the way back to 1848, when Fort Astoria-born Ranald MacDonald became the first English teacher in Japan. He also cites pop culture for playing a role over the past few decades.

“In addition to being fans of The Goonies and Stand By Me, Japanese were glued to a television series called From Oregon With Love that aired during the ‘80s and ‘90s,” Gillen says. “That media exposure established Oregon as a place of beautiful, ‘big nature,’ as the Japanese would call it. Then, in the 2010s, Portland, in particular, benefited by being featured in Japanese media again, when the focus was on the level of craftsmanship here; artisans hold a special place in Japanese culture.”

As for the beer connection, that may go back to 1959, when Portland established its sister-city relationship with Sapporo—original home to the namesake mega-brewery founded in 1876. Oregon has also had a sister-state relationship with Toyama Prefecture since 1991. There’s even a PDX Taproom in Tokyo, where guests watch Timbers games over Oregon-made beers and ciders.

All of these things, as well as the Japanese love of Oregon craft beer, sparked Gillen’s idea for a collaborative festival. He was also inspired by Portlanders’ enthusiastic response to the Japanese craft beers offered at the 2016 Oregon Brewers Festival.

“We were very surprised by the turnout, as we had doubts that such a niche-y beer and cider festival would be a draw for Portlanders,” says Gillen, who developed the festival concept and organized it along with Ezra Johnson-Greenough, Michael Walcott and Tomas Sluiter.

Fuji to Hood’s Portland popularity inspired a mirroring festival called “Hood to Fuji” that first took place in 2019. Both festivals now alternate between Portland and Tokyo, with the next Hood to Fuji set for 2025. The brewers don’t actually brew together but communicate via email and Zoom on the beer recipes, and mail their country’s special ingredients. Fuji to Hood obtained 501(c)(4) nonprofit status earlier this year. Its organizers are setting their sights on replicating the event in other countries, such as Mexico.

The twin festivals appeal to Japanese and American brewers for a variety of reasons.

“The curiosity of discovering new ingredients and new ways to think about how beer can be made differently,” Charles Porter of Little Beast Brewing says of the festivals’ appeal. Little Beast concocted a Biere de Garde for Fuji to Hood that swapped specialty malts for hatomugi-cha, or Job’s tears tea, for a toasty flavor and lagerlike quality.

Kaori Oshita, head brewer at Osaka Prefecture-based Minoh Beer, views the festivals as an opportunity to shine in the global beer mecca known as Portland. Minoh Beer teamed up with Astoria’s Fort George Brewery for their Nikiri Rice Lager brewed with mirin, a sweet and syrupy rice wine.

“Portland breweries are always attracting attention from all over the world, and I think there is no brewer who is not influenced by them—I am one of them,” Oshita says. “I am very honored to be able to collaborate with such breweries that everyone is paying attention to.”

Standouts among this year’s 25 collaborations include Baerlic Brewing and Fujisakura Kogen’s Kito Yuzu-weizen, a yuzu hefeweizen; Breakside Brewery and Totopia’s Kurokuro, a brown ale with kuromitsu, or Japanese black honey; Hair of the Dog Brewing and Shonan Beer’s Ura, a barrel-aged strong ale made with yuzu kosho pepper seasoning; and Level Beer and Fukuoka Craft’s Kodaru Otaku, an English-style ale infused with biwa-cha, or loquat leaf tea, cask-conditioned with kokuto black sugar.

“To a large degree, the cultural component overshadows the beer,” Gillen says.

Fuji to Hood will serve Japanese food from local favorites like Miyamoto Sushi and Ramen Ippo, as well as soft drinks, wine and spirits from Japan, or from Japanese-owned local producers. Taiko drum performances, Japanese dancing, and kendo fencing demonstrations will also take place. Renowned mother-daughter DJ duo RuShfunk will spin a soundtrack collaboratively produced between Oregon and Japan.

Outside its quietly growing reputation among America’s coolest beer events, Fuji to Hood is perhaps the best manifestation of Portland and Oregon’s strangely awesome relationship with Japan. Oshita philosophizes on how this came to pass.

“Oregon has a deep-rooted culture of admiration for not only beer, but also nature and life, and I think many Japanese people have a strong interest and admiration for Oregon,” she says.

Porter echoes this sentiment.

“I think that the two cultures work so well together because they both are curious and engaging cultures to begin with, with open minds,” he says.

SEE IT: Fuji to Hood Festival, Redd East Event Space, 831 SE Salmon St., 503-227-6225, fujitohood.com. Noon–8 pm Saturday, July 20. $30–$45, free for minors and nondrinkers.

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