The Fruition-farmers connection: A pandemic lifeline — and a source of fruits that distinguish its beers

Tallula Preston manning the Fruition Brewing booth.
(Via Michael Hanson)

The Santa Rosa plum brew is a local fave, but other flavors emerge when regulars provide bulk produce like candy cap mushrooms or avocado for beermaking at Watsonville’s Fruition Brewing, where the tie that binds the brewery and local farmers is a strong one.

Some dreams do come to fruition — as Tallula Preston of Fruition Brewing can confirm, with her dream of owning a brewery having finally come true.

Preston owns and operates Fruition Brewing with David Purgason, partners in life and beer, as well as longtime fixtures in the Santa Cruz brewing community. Purgason previously worked at both Boulder Creek Brewing Company and Westside distillery Venus Spirits, while Preston managed Seven Bridges Cooperative, an organic brewing supply company that closed in 2017.

At farmers market, the Fruition booth features a row of cans and bottles with brightly colored labels — a small selection of the Watsonville brewery’s diverse inventory of mellow ales, hoppy India pale ales, seasonal sours and wine-beer hybrids.

“Everything we make is beer,” Preston explained, “but not everything tastes like beer.”

In 2020, like many of their fellow business owners, they needed a supplemental storefront to sell outdoors. Six months into the pandemic, Fruition opened a stall at the downtown Santa Cruz farmers market. “The farmers markets were full,” she said. “People felt comfortable shopping here. So it was wonderful to have that opportunity.”

Now the brewery is back open in Watsonville, where it was established in 2019, but Preston still likes to keep a presence at local markets and said she enjoys the relationships she has developed with farmers and the access she has to local fruits, key to Fruition’s difference in brewing. Currently, Fruition sets up its booth once a month at the downtown, Westside and Live Oak farmers markets.

Fruit from the farmers market and Santa Cruz County farms often finds its way into Fruition Brewing’s beers. For example, its series of low-alcohol session sour ales, which Preston and Purgason named “Snacks” — “because everyone likes fruit snacks” — includes about 85 different variations.

“At the end of the day, if there’s any fruit getting soft, I just swoop in,” Preston said. “It’s a win-win for everyone. I get it at a good price, we put it into the beer, get to put the farm’s name on the label and cross-promote each other.”

Sometimes Preston and Purgason like to pursue specific fruit to experiment with, but most of the time, Preston notes, they work with what they have available. For instance, one of their newest Snacks comes from Sweet Prairie Farm in Monterey County, which specializes in haskap berries, which Preston describes as a mix among elderberries, cherries, cranberries and raspberries. Sweet Prairie sought out Fruition as part of its campaign to get the word out on this unusual Canadian berry, giving Fruition the opportunity to try something new.

Other flavors range from tropical configurations to berry mixes to individual flavors like strawberry or prickly pear. While the brewers have regular annual favorites, like Santa Rosa plum, other flavors emerge when regulars drop off bulk produce like candy cap mushrooms or avocados.

When sourcing ingredients, Preston and Purgason weigh sustainability highly, even over other characteristics, like organic certifications. While they strive for organic when feasible, other factors take precedence.

Bottles and cans from Fruition Brewing.
(Via Michael Hanson)

Beer has four essential components — malt, hops, yeast and water — and Preston and Purgason are mindful about these ingredients as well. They use organic and California-grown grain, which they get malted at Admiral Maltings in Alameda. The Bay Area company is a preferable option to the alternative, which would be to ship local grain to and from the Midwest, home to the majority of malting facilities in the United States.

Organic hops in popular varieties, however, are harder and more expensive to come by.

“We think about it like this,” Preston said. “The amount of grain that goes into beer [requires] a lot more acreage compared to hops. One acre produces a lot of hops. ... So we try to prioritize sustainability as much as we can and organic ingredients. But we never wanted to box ourselves in by trying to get certified.”

Fruition’s brick-and-mortar Watsonville business is open Wednesday through Sunday in the East Lake Shopping Center. Since opening, Fruition has essentially tripled its production, from 21 beer barrels monthly (bbls) to the 65 bbls it brews now.

Fruition has a rotating selection of beers on tap at the brewery. It brews around 80 different varieties throughout the year, with 15-17 on tap at any given point.

While Preston says pilsners are a personal favorite, Santa Rosa plum is the most popular fruit beer, and IPAs are the most popular flavor overall, especially hazy IPAs: “Craft beer drinkers gravitate towards IPAs. That’s just the way it goes.”

For the most part, Fruition keeps it local, mostly self-delivering to customers in Santa Cruz County. However, you can find its brews around California, including in San Francisco and the Lake Tahoe and Bakersfield areas — and Fruition is in the process of expanding to Monterey and Santa Clara counties.

Find Fruition beers at the Live Oak, downtown Santa Cruz and Westside farmers markets once a month, as well as stores across Santa Cruz County.

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