Forest Park’s Wildwood Trail is teeming with edible wild plants. The first mile alone is flanked by minors lettuce, elderberry, salmonberry, spruce and cedar, wild ginger, stink currant, red huckleberry, thimbleberry, vanilla leaf and licorice fern.
A month ago, Matt Wagoner of the Forest Park Conservancy took brewers from four Portland breweries on a hike down this trail. The idea was to inspire them to make new and unusual beers using plants they saw along the way.
The result is a spruce tip wheat ale from Breakside Brewery, a huckleberry and ginger root Saison from Coalition Brewing, and a salmonberry sour brewed with vanilla leaf at Hopworks Urban Brewery.
The brewers tapped their beers this week at a “Beers Made By Walking” event at Portland’s Belmont Station.
Eric Steen, creator of Beers Made By Walking, has been organizing these kinds of hikes with brewers around the country for several years. He sees the resulting beers as “drinkable portraits of the landscape.”
The idea started as an art project in Colorado Springs.
“One of my goals is simply to get people outdoors to see the world a little differently,” he said. “People who are really interested in plant identification get to see things from the brewers’ perspective, the brewers get to see things from the botanists’ perspective, and the public gets to see things from both perspectives.”
In previous years, Beers Made By Walking inspired a salmon berry and stinging nettles ale from Coalition Brewing, a juniper and sage IPA from Deschutes Brewery, a cherry and yarrow Saison from Flat Tail Brewing in Corvallis, and a sweet root and wild ginger ale from Standing Stone Brewery in Ashland.
As she sipped on the latest flight of beers made by walking, Lisa Morrison, co-owner of Belmont Station and author of Craft Beers of the Pacific Northwest, said it was like having “a palate full of Forest Park.”
“I just love the ginger in the Saison, and it has the berry sweetness without being too sweet,” she said. “The sour probably has the most complexity to it, and somehow I’m getting hints of cinnamon. Where did that come from?”
Brewer Amelia Pillow of Hopworks Urban Brewery said this is the first time she’s used foraged ingredients to make beer, and the resulting salmonberry sour is “interesting for sure.”
She initially planned on using elderberry but found that it wasn’t in season yet. So, she decided to forage for vanilla leaf instead, but that didn’t go as planned either.
“I was looking for the vanilla leaf and was having a hard time finding it,” she said. “I didn’t have a lot of time, but I knew I could find salmonberry.”
Pillow did use the little bit of vanilla leaf she found, which she said amounted to maybe 2 ounces once it was sterilized and dried. But it turned out to be surprisingly potent.
“You can really smell it in the aroma,” said Pillow. “It’s not vanilla-y so much as clover honey. It also adds a tea-like woody finish on the beer. I was expecting to get the aroma, but I wasn’t expecting the flavor to come through. It has a strangeness to it. I think it will be an interesting conversation piece.”
While the brewers in this year’s “Beers Made By Walking” event did forage for some of the plants they wound up using, they had to go outside Forest Park to get their ingredients because foraging isn’t allowed in the city park with out a special permit.
Elan Walsky of Coalition Brewing foraged some of the huckleberries for his Saison, but hours of searching yielded only a few handfuls of berries. He wound up buying the rest of the berries he needed from a Seattle-based wild foods company. The berry flavor didn’t come through in the beer as much as he had hoped, but he liked the adddition of the wild ginger flavor to his Saison recipe.
“I’m 90 percent happy with it,” Walsky said. “I just wish you could taste more of the fruit.”