More than 60 artisan cider makers from Oregon, Washington, Montana and British Columbia recently came to Portland to meet, share their wares and their knowledge, and spread the word about what they do. Organized by the Northwest Cider Association, it’s one of many events in Portland and the other areas they serve.
Just the week before this festival, a neighbor shared some of his homemade hard apple cider with me. His cider was flavorful and refreshing. So ciders have been on my radar and I had to learn more.
Not Exactly Something New
Ciders have evolved into a wide variety of often complex and sophisticated flavors. In England, France and Spain, ciders have a long tradition, and it was English settlers who originally brought their taste for and craft of making ciders to America. Apple trees were eventually imported from Europe, and by the 18th century, New England was producing 300,000 gallons of hard cider a year. In the early 19th century, German and Eastern Europeans’ fondness for beer changed things; beer became more popular and after that, Prohibition actually brought the burning of hard cider apple trees. When it came time to replant, the trees planted were mostly for sweet, eating apples and apples suitable for non-alcoholic ciders.
The 21st century is seeing a huge resurgence in the craft cider making, While still a niche market and mostly produced in small batches, the top 10 U.S. cider brands grew by 62% in 2012. It’s now a $172 million industry, up from $90 million the year before. And cider sales rose 49% in bars and restaurants in 2013.
The Tastings: Much to Enjoy
There are plenty of great ciders being made. Here are some of my favorites:
Tieton Cider Works. Tieton Cider Works, located in beautiful Yakima Valley, Washington, may be one of the first cider makers to challenge the idea that cider makers are “small” and “artisan.” It’s also a wonderful success story. Tieton Cider Works was started by third generation family orchard farmers, Craig and Sharon Campbell, who began making ciders as a sideline on their Harmony Orchards farm. Today, they’re moving into a 20,000 square foot warehouse building in downtown Yakima, which will allow them to double production to 40,000 cases a year and offer a tasting room.
Their flagship cider is Wild Washington Apple Cider, a semi-dry cider with flavors of lemon and green apples. With the fresh, refreshing taste of apples, it’s a great cider for newbies. My favorite is Precipice Pear, a sparkling cider that is very dry, very sparkling wine-like, with great citrus and earthy notes.
Finnriver Farm & Cidery. Located south of Port Townsend, Washington on the Olympic Peninsula, Finnriver is an organic farm that produces an excellent line of port-style spirited wines and fruit wines with apple brandy. (The pear was delicious—it’s fermented as a wine, has a sweet and rich taste; very brandy forward with a delicious pear finish. These make wonderful after dinner drinks.) Finn River also raises blueberries and grains, has an organic farming apprenticeship program and hosts workshops and other events, including a seasonal Sunday pizza night on its 33 acres.
Their Dry-Hopped cider includes plenty of florals and their Habanero Cider is fun. The Honey Meadow is a sweet seasonal botanical with a definite honey taste.
Alpenfire. Not far from Finnriver is Alpenfire Cider. It’s the second of three cider makers in the Port Townsend area. (Eaglemount Wine and Cider is the third. The three have created their own cider route map and touring would make a wonderful road trip.)
Steve “Bear” and Nancy Bishop first discovered traditional French ciders in Canada in the 1970’s and, in 200, traveled to France, England, and Spain to learn how it was done. They assumed they would use local Washington apples, but they wanted to make European-style ciders. In 2003, they planted 900 French and English cider variety trees, and in 2008, picked their first harvest. The orchard was certified organic in 2005, and in 2009 (the first organic cidery in Washington).
Alpenfire also has a line of traditional hard vinegars; another truly unique craft product.
Their Dungeness Orchard Blend is a sunny light-hued traditional non-carbonated cider crafted from more than 70 apples varietals. Their Ember-Bitter Sweet is made from late season bittersweet French and English bittersweet apples. Pirate’s Plant–Bone Dry is a “big” cider, fully flavored and complex, high in tannins, with clearly distinct initial, middle and finishing flavors. This cider really lets the Bishops’ show off the time and effort they’ve put in learning their craft, as does their Flame-Brute, a cider blend made from cider fruit and heirloom apples. This goes through a lengthy aging in bottle and all the same disgorging and other processes champagne does.
Cider Riot! Edgy, NE Portland-based Cider Riot!’s Abram Goldman-Armstrong was a home brewer making cider in his garage, but he’s now licensed and brings with him a solid 20-year background in cider making and beer brewing. Their Plastic Paddy is bottled in plastic liter soda bottles, but the taste is complex—high in tannins and acids with a bittersweet after taste. My favorite is the Everybody Pogo, with added hops—refreshing, lightly carbonated, and unfiltered.
Reverend Nat’s. Reverend Nat, otherwise known as Nat West, has been making ciders for 10 years, but took it commercial in 2011 after a successful Kickstarter campaign. Their Cidery and Public Taproom is located near the Rose Quarter in Portland and their ciders are well-distributed in the Northwest. They use apples from Hood River and Willamette Valley in Oregon and Yakima Valley in Washington.
Their goal is to make dry and off-dry ciders for both traditional American and for modern tastes. Their ciders have fun names: Hallelujah Hopricot, Deliverance Ginger, Revival Dry, Hibiscus Hymnal, Sacrilege Sour Cherry. I especially enjoyed Deliverance Ginger Tonic that includes pure squeezed ginger juice, hand-cut fresh lemongrass stalks, juice and zest of limes and the bark of the Peruvian cinchona tree (a wild form of quinine). A unique varietal is their Traditional Tepache; it’s a traditional Mexican beverage made of fresh, partially fermented pineapples, piloncillo sugar, cinnamon, cloves and allspice.
Sea Cider Farm and Ciderhouse. Sea Cider Flagship, one of my favorites, is fermented with champagne yeast, is German-style ultra-dry, and wonderfully acidic. Rumrunner is a semi-dry cider made from heritage apples and aged in rum-soaked bourbon barrels. Their apple and cider farm in Saanichton, on the north end of Vancouver Island, is lovely and you can reserve the space for weddings and other special events.. They also participate in WWOOF Canada, the Canadian arm of the world-wide organization that brings working farms and individuals together to work together on a short-term basis.
Great with Food
Since ciders are new to me, I’m curious about how they pair with food. Cue the snack table. We feast on a delicious hard cider fondue with fresh apple slices and bread and fresh vegetables with a Riesling French onion dip and hummus, and crispy fried vegetable chips. The grilled naan topped with fava bean puree, feta, red onion, balsamic and local fiddlehead ferns is about as Pacific Northwest as you can get, and the strawberry, rhubarb and mascarpone bruschetta was tasty as well. While I could have selected a specific cider I may have preferred for each dish, let’s just say that cider is a beverage that goes very well indeed with great food.
Cider’s Time Has Come Again
If you’re in the Pacific Northwest or another area of the country where ciders are being made locally, you’ve likely noticed that ciders are appearing everywhere—at local stores, on restaurant menus and at your local taprooms. Regardless of where you live, you’ll be noticing them soon. Hurry the process along by asking for them, ordering from online stores that can deliver to your door.
And give your palate a treat and sample a few. You wouldn’t taste a chardonnay or an IPA and assume that’s how all wines or beers taste. Just as with wine and beer, there’s a wide variety of ciders and you’ll appreciate finding a favorite and exploring new tastes. – Story and photos by Nancy Zaffaro
IF YOU GO:
• Learn more from the Northwest Cider Association, www.nwcider.com. There’s information here about Pacific Northwest cider events, the cider makers, recipes, pairings, and more.
• Tieton Cider Works, Tieton, WA, www.tietonciderworks.com
• Finnriver Farm & Cidery, www.finnriver.com
• Reverend Nat’s, Portland, OR, www.revnats.com
• Cider Riot!, Portland, OR, www.ciderriot.com
• 2 Towns Ciderhouse,Corvallis, OR, www.2TownsCiderhouse.com
• Sea Cider, Saanichton, Bristish Columbia, Canada, www.seacider.ca
• Catering by Rafati’s Catering, Portland, OR, www.rafatiscatering.com
• Finnriver Farm & Cidery, Chimacum, WA www.finnriver.com
• Alpenfire, Port Townsend, WA www.alpenfirecider.com