Summertime in Oregon is all about the fruit — much more than the plump, juicy berries we find at U-pick stands and farmers markets in nearly every corner of the state.
We’re talking fruit beer, fruit cider, fruit-based distilled spirits and fresh fruit used in making everything from the decadent Peruvian dishes and cocktails at Andina in Portland to the marionberry milkshakes at Burgerville statewide.
Chris Sarles is chief executive officer of Salem-based Oregon Fruit Products, the 81-year-old company known for black vintage-label cans of fresh fruit purees that are perfect for pie-making. He’s seen the evolution and growth of the local fruit industry as more people — especially brewers — here and internationally come to associate Oregon with spectacular fruit.
In fact, more than 125 breweries statewide (many of which are mentioned below) use Oregon Fruit Products; internationally it’s 500 or more. “Oregon is synonymous with quality throughout the world,” Sarles says. “We continue to add brewers from all across the country.”
Here are 7 ways visitors can enjoy Oregon fruit this summer, in all of its glorious bounty:
1. Explore Portland’s fruit beer and cider scene.
If beer is a blank canvas, local fruit is the paint for brewers. Many have been sourcing from Oregon Fruit Products for ages, like McMenamins for their Ruby Ale made with raspberries. Others are newer, like Ecliptic Brewing, which uses the fresh fruit puree for their UltraViolet BlackBerry Sour, Zenith Grapefruit Gose and other playful brews. Other Portland spots include Burnside Brewery, The Commons Brewery, Gigantic Brewing Company, Kells Brew Pub, 10 Barrel Brewing and Deschutes Brewery (which also uses the fruit for their bourbon cask program). Grab a Boysenberry Hop and happy hour snacks at Portland Cider Company’s new Hawthorne District location. With 28 ciders on tap, it’s now the largest cider house in Oregon. For more tasting inspiration, check out the list of the dozens of fruit beers and ciders entered in the Portland Fruit Beer Festival.
2. Sample fruit beer and cider statewide.
It’s not just Portland brewers that turn out incredibly complex flavor profiles with apples, cherries, blackberries and other Oregon fruit. Central Oregon is home to the most breweries per capita in state, so it’s easy to travel the Bend Ale Trail to get a true sense of the craft innovation at work. Drinkable Diversions and the Bend Brew Bus take visitors on a rotating quest, often stopping at Atlas Cider Co., Red Tank Cider Company and Far Afield Cider. In Corvallis, quench your thirst with a Throne of Thorns marionberry and raspberry cider by 2Towns Ciderhouse at their tap room. Out in Eastern Oregon, Prodigal Son Brewing in Pendleton is known for their sweet-tart huckleberry wheat, made with wild huckleberries, and Dragon’s Gate Brewery in Milton-Freewater makes farmhouse-style ales with local raspberries, apricots, sour cherries and more. You can practically taste summer in a glass in Eugene with WildCraft Cider Works’ Oregon Kiwi Berry, or at Sunriver Brewing with their Blueberry Pancake Pale Ale. And don’t miss the many cideries of the Hood River Valley like the Gorge White House and Fox Tail in Hood River.
3. Savor fruit-distilled spirits.
For the harder stuff, fruit is also a key ingredient that’s opened doors to all types of drinkers. In Troutdale, stop into McMenamins Edgefield Distillery, home of the easy-drinkin’ pear brandy made from Hood River pears and Aval Pota apple pie-inspired whiskey featuring Hood River apples. In Portland, grab a tasting and tour at Clear Creek Distillery, known for their exquisite pear brandy and other fruit spirits made exclusively from Oregon’s orchards (as well as plums from Oregon Fruit Products). Wild Roots Vodka, on Portland’s Distillery Row, captures the essence of Oregon-grown raspberries and marionberries with their unique infused vodka. From field to bottle, these fruit-based spirits come at a premium and are typically made in small batches by hand according to season.
4. Tour local farms.
Take a tasty day trip along the Wild Rivers Coast Farm Tour in Bandon, where you can sample your way through local farm stands and some of the best blueberry U-picking in the state. In the Willamette Valley, take an agriculture tasting tour with stops at Cherry Country Orchard near Salem, Midway Farms near Albany and Gathering Together Farm — which has a farm stand and beautiful restaurant — in Corvallis. Just outside Portland, Smith Berry Barn in Hillsboro has 30 acres of more than 20 varieties of berries ready for picking.
5. Wander the farmers markets.
In Eastern Oregon, don’t miss the farmers markets in Pendleton, Baker City, La Grande and other small towns. On the Coast, nearly every town has its own farmers markets as well: Astoria, Tillamook, Toledo, Waldport, Manzanita, Lincoln City, Newport, Gold Beach, Bandon and more. And Portland Farmers Market, with endless diversity in Oregon fruit, recently ranked No. 2 on a list of 101 best farmers markets in America.
6. Attend a festival.
You can sample cider in the big city at Cider Rite of Spring (March 25), featuring nearly 100 unique ciders and 30 cidermakers. During harvest season, the Hood/Gorge region is ripe with self-guided tours and fruit-forward events culminating in the Hood River Valley Harvest Fest (October 13-15), a weekend-long celebration with food and wine vendors, games and entertainment. Feast Portland‘s (Sept. 14-17) largest event, the Oregon Bounty Grand Tasting, will feature fruit-centric dishes from Oregon Fruit Products and the Oregon Raspberry and Blackberry Commission.
7. Discover cranberries.
Cranberries don’t often come to mind in talks about Oregon fruit, but they are king in Bandon, on the Southern Oregon Coast. Discover what it’s all about during the 70th annual Cranberry Festival in the fall (Sept. 9-11, 2016). While you’re there, take a tour of Bowman Bogs, a working cranberry farm that also sells fresh cranberries, syrup and concentrate. You won’t think of cranberries — or Oregon fruit — the same way again.
Bonus: Looking for some inspiration? Oregon Fruit Products has enough recipes to keep your taste buds happy this summer.