written by Brian Yaeger

The marionberry was crossbred from two blackberries in Oregon in 1956. In 1985, McMenamin’s Hillsdale Brewery created not just Oregon’s, but America’s first post-Prohibition fruit beer made with wild blackberries that were climbing up the pub’s fence. So naturally in writing about fruit beers I’m going to focus on those made with kumquats.

Yeah, that’s quite a stretch and an odd topic at all considering how precious few kumquat beers exist. Still, if anywhere is poised to become the kumquat beer capitol of the world, it’s Oregon. And you probably didn’t even know they grow here. Thanks, Frasier Creek Farm’s Brian Parks.

Let’s begin with an introduction to the kumquat. It is perfectly reasonable, even among kumquat’s quasi cognoscenti, if you have never tried one. Picture an orange the shape and size of a grape. Then picture biting into it—peeling the thin skin takes some effort and eating it whole is perfectly acceptable and helps temper its pucker. The sour factor makes sucking on a Lemonhead seem like eating a Creamsicle. It’s a citrus-like fruit too intense for some folks. For others, such as Parks (and myself), the puckering appeal is insatiable. Upping the ante, Parks also grows Calamondin—a hybrid Mandarin orange citrus fruit and a kumquat citrofortunella that can knock even tart-loving kumquat eaters’ palates for a puckering loop.

Parks is a self-described “horti-nerd.” His childhood was filled with all manner of citrus trees in his grandmother’s Pasadena, California neighborhood. He took cuttings and rooted them in his Texas home. One such kumquat tree made its way with him to Corvallis when he enrolled at OSU to study horticulture in 1993, where it found its forever-home on his family farm in 2002. “Citruses do really well here,” said Parks, somewhat surprising me. “As long as you keep it from freezing, it is a fairly easy crop. Insects can be problematic when they are in a greenhouse, but frequent washing and paraffin oil are 100 percent effective if you keep up with it.”

Those in the know in central Willamette Valley are able to source fresh, greenhouse-grown Meyer lemons, Kaffir limes, and both Nagami and Meiwa kumquats. You want Buddha’s hands citron, Portuguese Yen Ben lemons, Indio Mandarinquats or Italian Sanguinelli blood oranges? Parks’ your farmer. But don’t actually visit Frasier Creek Farms. “Currently, I sell everything to the Market of Choice,” said Parks. Fortunately for us, he’s not just in the fresh produce game. Parks is also selling his fruits to sour beer makers. “Having it go to beer is so much more special,” he added. “I have a large, sour orange tree that has grown from seed. It would make an amazing addition to a beer or mead.”

The mention of mead—wine made from honey—is important because his first customer wasn’t a brewery but neighbors in Corvallis at Nectar Creek Mead. “We had been experimenting with different citrus to make a mead … since before we ever started commercial production,” said Nectar Creek’s Nick Lorenz. He and his brother Phil source their honey and other raw ingredients from the Willamette Valley, so locally-grown citrus—kumquats in particular—were featured in their Reserve Batch #2, a sweet yet citrusy carbonated mead that has most likely disappeared from shelves now that a year has gone by.

Corvallis brewery Flat Tail procured kumquats from Frasier Creek and used them to make an impeccable sour beer: a Belgian-style Witbier (meaning it contains orange peel as a spice) soured with the brewery’s unique house strain of wild Brettanomyces. Flat Tail allowed to sour the beer while aging in a barrel, and then blended in the kumquats, resulting in complementary sour notes.

kumquat, beer, sour, oregon
Flat Tail isn’t the only small Oregon brewery dabbling in kumquats. For the recent Craft Brewers Conference, The Commons Brewery collaborated with Green Bench from St. Petersburg, Florida for a Brett-fermented sour ale using puréed Florida kumquats. Commons brewers said they’re glad to know where they can get their mitts on some local fresh fruit if (when!) they brew it again. Likewise, when Breakside Brewing went looking for ‘quats for the last release in their Farmhouse, Fruit, & Funk series—a beer called Fortunella that was designed like a Witbier and includes coriander and chamomile—they had to get the fruit from California. Incidentally, the name Fortunella is kumquat’s contested scientific taxonomy.

With the sour beer trend in full swing, Oregon fruit beers are likely to keep expanding beyond the usual berries and cherries. Bless the Belgians for giving us framboises and krieks (cherry beers) in the first place. But this is Oregon; the land of Kumquat beers.