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Thursday, September 13, 2018

Thwarted in Portland, Ferment Opens in Hood River

Two years after plans to open in Portland fell by the wayside, Dan and Jennifer Peterson opened Ferment Brewing on Hood River's busy waterfront. The brewery and pub, which is just a hop and a skip from pFriem Brewing, opened in early August.

The Petersons originally planned to open their brewery in Portland’s Yard (Death Star) Building, near the east end of the Burnside Bridge. But those plans failed to materialize and they moved onward (and upward) to Hood River.

You suspect they're fine with the location. Dan Peterson was formerly head brewer at pFriem (2013-2015) and Full Sail (2010-2013). A microbiologist by education, he started his career at Brooklyn Brewing in New York, where he worked from 2003 to 2010.

“The concept here is a little different than pFriem,” he said. “I like traditional beers brewed with ingredients from the places where they originated. Whether it’s English, German, Czech or whatever, we strive to use ingredients native to those areas.”

Ferment's 20-bbl brewhouse was fabricated by Specific Mechanical Systems of British Columbia. They initially had two 20-bbl fermenters, and have added two more of the same size within the last week. The brewery is simple, old school.

“There isn’t a lot of automation here,” Peterson said. “I like simple controls and a hands-on feel in the brewery. To me, a big part of craft brewing is someone mindfully taking part in the brewing process. That was the concept with this setup.”

Peterson also believes in low ABV beers. All of Ferment’s Signature Series beers clock in at 6% ABV or less. The Premium series of bottle-conditioned and barrel-aged beers will include an expanding selection of higher ABV product as the brewery gets up to production speed.

During the time when they were hoping to open in Portland, Ferment was brewing at Zoiglhaus and Pints. That arrangement continued as they located the space in Hood River and began the construction process. That allowed them to work on recipe development and have a full set of beers available when they opened.

The Signature Series beers include: Czech Lager (5%), ESB (5.4%), India Pale Ale (5.8%), Dry Stout (4.5%), Biere De Garde Ale (5.8%) and White River Saison (5%). My favorites from the list were the Czech Lager and the ESB. But tastes will differ.

The building itself provides a unique presentation. The restaurant and taproom area is bathed in natural light and features a community-centric atmosphere with picnic-style tables and benches. Patrons can look down on the brewery below while sipping on a beer or enjoying a meal. Or they can see what's going on out on the Columbia or in Waterfront Park.

“It was a fun challenge to make a brewery work in this space,” Jennifer Peterson said. “We have a lot of windows all around and garage doors on the main floor. We made it all work by situating the brewery in the middle. Views of the brewery and surroundings were a definite consideration.”

An outdoor patio just west of the taproom is shared community space between the tenants in the building. It also features splendid views and Ferment is hoping the space will be available to beer sipping patrons. However, they had not acquired the necessary permit in early September.

The Peterson’s have modest goals when it comes to growth and distribution of their product, believing they’re better off selling their beer to patrons in Hood River than exporting a lot of volume in packaged form to a hyper-competitive marketplace. It doesn't make business sense.

“Once we're fully up and running, we’ll push a limited supply of beer out into distribution,” Dan said. “We’ll use 500 ml bottles for our packaged product. I’m not interested in chasing trends. I like the feel of glass. No liner to worry about. Beer poured from bottle to glass is elegant.”

Ferment’s food menu, like the tap list, features eclectic options and isn’t limited to a particular style or ethnicity. Locally-sourced produce and meats are the backbone. Jennifer Peterson, former part-owner of the now defunct Pine Street Kitchen in Hood River, was instrumental in developing the approach to food.

"We wanted to create a menu that would pair with a wide variety of beers,” she said. “The approach to food needed to mirror the approach to beer and I think we’ve done that. It is, of course, a work in progress that will evolve and roll with the seasons moving forward.”

One of Ferment’s pet projects is kombucha. While they were refining beer recipes and waiting for a space to materialize, they played around with kombucha. The result was several tea-based recipes that lean on simple, natural ingredients. Three brands are available on draft and in packaged form.

“We kind of fell in love with it,” Jennifer said. “We eventually decided to incorporate it since it falls into the ‘fermented’ category. It has great health benefits and tastes pretty good, too.”

For more information, visit Ferment’s website.

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