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Enjoying Hard Ciders on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula

CF_Sea Cider (1280x857)Editor’s note: While it may be chilly fall in most parts of North America, our Northwest Wine, Brews & Spirits Editor Nancy Zaffaro takes us back to a warmer, sunnier day enjoying ciders on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Use this to plan your next cider trip in the beautiful Olympic Peninsula.

It’s another sunny summer day in Port Townsend, WA and I’m here at the Northwest Cider Association’s 4th Annual Summer Cider Day. The temperature is a comfortable 67 degrees and I’m on the outdoor deck of the Northwest Maritime Center overlooking the Strait of Juan deFuca. Local band, Brother Townsend, is playing a short distance away and I’m watching the boats and Washington state ferries and marveling how beautifully the water glistens. There are 19 cider makers here today, with more than 70 ciders available for tasting. I’ve joined forces with a couple of cider aficionados: Rick is a seasoned cider fan, while Dana is newer to ciders. Neither are shy about sharing their opinions, my kind of people. We we won’t try them all, but we know there are some terrific ciders ahead.

Nine Cideries You Need to Try

Here are some of my favorite ciders and cideries from this cider festival:

E.Z. Orchards. Talking with people at Cider Day, I repeatedly hear buzz about Kevin Zielinski, owner of E.Z. Orchards. “He’s the cider maker’s cider maker,” more than one person says.

The Zielinskis, owners of E.Z. Orchards, use old world techniques to produce ciders that are "all about the fruit."

The Zielinskis, owners of E.Z. Orchards, use old world techniques to produce ciders that are “all about the fruit.”

His 2011 cider won five stars from The Cider Journal—the only American cider yet to do so. Zielinski demurs at the flattery, but admits, “It does help to confirm what we do, and it helps us share what we do. We really work to be about the fruit alone, against a medicinal taste, but rather old world fruit tastes and technique.”

E.Z. Orchards Cidre Dry is a blend of French bittersweet cider apples and nine other cider apple varieties grown in their own orchard in Salem, Oregon. You really taste the ripe fruit. Hawk Haus is an American-style cider; bright, with a good, high acidity. Using the traditional methode champenoise enhances the mature apple aroma and creates natural carbonation; small bubbles with lighter tastes.

“Cidermaking is winemaking,” Zielinski says.

It’s true; cider makers just use apples instead of grapes. Kevin’s approach to fermentation ends with a cider that has high tannins, ripe fruit flavors and aromas, and a really mild acidity. Most cider makers believe their ciders are made for drinking soon. Zielinski has opened bottles from as far back as 2008 and has found that his ciders mature quite well. There is less fresh fruit flavor and up front aromas with these aged ciders, but more natural spice and really good mid and ending flavors, even aging like some good wines.

The Zielinksi’s also manage their farm and family-friendly farm stand, where they sell fruit, flowers and gift baskets, as well as a seasonal shortcake stand. It’s the place to go for shortcake, ice cream and milkshakes in Salem. It’s a different vibe from the grown up world of hard ciders—and Kevin Zielinski is happy to have a place in both.

This Cider Day event was held at the beautiful Maritime Center in Port Townsend, WA.

This Cider Day event was held at the beautiful Maritime Center in Port Townsend, WA.

Dragon’s Head Cider. From Vashon Island (a 15 minute ferry ride and a world away from bustling Seattle), Laura and Wes Cherry live and make their ciders on their 30 acre farm. They’ve planted 400-500 cider fruit trees a year, currently caring for about 1,500 trees and 55 varieties, including Pippin apples and Perry pear trees.

Their Wild Fermented Cider is a truly exceptional cider. Rather than select particular yeast or yeasts, as is the usual process, they allowed for a “wild ferment,” using the natural yeast present on the apples. The result is a unique cider with each year’s batch, but I’ve been told last years’ was also one of the best offerings at the fest—they’re obviously doing it right.

Neigel Vinters. Located on their great-grandfather’s pear orchard in East Wenatchee, brothers Kevin and Mark Van Reenen exclusively make pear ciders. While they source some pears, most are from their family’s 60-year-old pear trees. Truly artisan-sized, they’ve honed their craft.

Their Forgotten Virtue pear cider, made from Bartlett and D ’Anjou pears, is a tart, English-style cider. Their Cider Baron from Bosch pears has great fresh fruit taste. They package their cider in those cool new bullet cans, in a bright “pear” green.

There are plenty of cider varieties to take home too.

There are plenty of cider varieties to take home too.

Snowdrift Cider Company. East Wenatchee is well represented at this cider event. Lars Ringsrud makes his ciders from heritage cider variety trees on the family farm Frederick and Norma Ringsrud started in the 1940’s. Lars discovered hard ciders in the 2003, started learning about cider apple trees, planting them and began making cider soon after. They’ve been licensed to sell ciders since 2009.

Their Semi-Dry Cider is deliciously woody with some apricot and vanilla flavors. While most artisan cider makers eschew adding sugars, this cider has some added brown sugar and honey; a traditional New England technique.
Their Cidermaker’s Reserve and Summer and Winter Red use the methode champenoise. The “reds” are rosé ciders and are made from the apple that’s all the rage in cider making right now—red-fleshed apples. Hidden Rose, from Thomas Paine Farms, is one trademarked version. This apple makes fantastic ciders; do try a rosé cider soon.

Colin Schilling, whose great grand dad started Schilling Spices, has great flavors in his heritage.

Colin Schilling, whose great-great grand dad started Schilling Spices, has great flavors in his heritage.

Schilling & Company. Founder Colin Schilling’s great-great grandfather founded Schilling Spice Company in San Francisco, so seeking good taste and flavor is in his blood. Schilling pays strong attention to their yeasts, using different yeasts for each cider, and their goal is nothing less than restoring cider as America’s pre-Prohibition popularity. Schilling has also joined the bandwagon of packaging most of their ciders in aluminum cans, stating they have a smaller environmental impact, protect their product from light, and are recycled at a higher rate (cans are often recycled as new cans within two months).

Try their oak-aged cider, dry hopped cider, and grapefruit” radler-style” cider. (Radler is actually a style of beer made with grapefruit.) While most of the cider makers like to talk about traditional cider and techniques, Schilling says he prefers to look for something new. Indeed, these ciders are refreshing and innovative. They also run Schilling Cider house in Seattle.

At Nashi Orchards, it's all about pear cider.

At Nashi Orchards, it’s all about pear cider.

Nashi Orchards. Also from Vashon Island, Nashi Orchards is the new kid on the block. Owners Jim Gerlach and Cheryl Lubbert are working their very first show and are happy to be joining the cider maker community. They’re already active; they recently led a discussion on perry making at Schilling Cider House.

They’ve created a unique niche; Nashi Orchard grows Asian, or nashi, pears, those wonderful crisp round pears that initially had to be imported from Asia and now are grown here in the States. Their Chojuro Blend is made from their Chojuro nashi pears and has wonderful floral aromas and a light fresh taste. This one would taste great with seafood or alone as an aperitif.

Their Island Harvest Blend is from their Shinsseiki Asian pears, perry pears and a variety of other pears from Vashon Island. A more traditional perry, it’s dry and finishes like a good dry white wine.

Alpenfire, Finnriver Farm & Cidery, and Eaglemount Wine and Cider. Port Townsend’s hometown local favorites, these three cider makers are on Port Townsend’s Cider Route. All three are experienced cider makers, making truly excellent, flavorful and often complex ciders. They operate farms where you can visit their tasting rooms and see much of their cider making operations. It doesn’t hurt that they’re all really nice people either.

When you're done with the Cider Fest, you can enjoy the rest of beautiful Port Townsend.

When you’re done with the Cider Fest, you can enjoy the rest of beautiful Port Townsend.

Alpenfire Cider hosts a potluck breakfast for the cider And all three cider makers are instrumental in this festival.

Northwest Cider Association knows how to throw a party. They’ve chosen a great venue. Cider sales are handled at a separate sales area, freeing the cider makers to pour and chat with attendees. Local favorite, Sirens Pub, offers great food on-site, or you can take a break from tasting and visit any of the downtown restaurants, then return to the fest! If you haven’t attended Summer Cider Day in Port Townsend, put it on your calendar for next year. Then, raise a glass and enjoy! —Story and photos by Nancy Zaffaro, Wine, Brews & Spirits Editor, Northwest


If You Go:

• Visit Northwest Cider Association’s website to learn more about their members, where to find the ciders, food pairing suggestions, and their other events throughout the Northwest. www.nwcider.com
• Visit the Port Townsend Visitor Information Center, 440 12th Street, Port Townsend, www.EnjoyPT.com
• Olympic Peninsula info, visit www.OlympicPeninsula.org
• E.Z. Orchards, www.ezorchards.com
• Dragon’s Head Cider, www.dragonheadcider.com
• Nashi Orchards, www.nashiorchards.com
• Snowdrift Cider Company, www.snowdriftcider.com
• Neigel Vinters, www.neigelvintners.com
• Schilling & Company, www.schillingcider.com
• Alpenfire Cider, www.alpenfirecider.com
• Finnriver Farm & Cidery, www.finnriver.com
• Eaglemount Wine & Cider, www.eaglemountwinery.com

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Nancy Zaffaro

Nancy Zaffaro is a travel and food writer based in Portland, Oregon. She enjoys travel, writing, good food and drink (of course!), cooking, yoga, kayaking, and photography. She’s a long-time writer and editor who has had interesting and varied careers in the arts and in business, and is thrilled to be able to travel the world and write about her adventures. Nancy is also the Editor of ConfettiTravelCafe.com.