The day was gorgeously sunny with soft, cooling breezes; the venue, the waterside Northwest Maritime Center, inspiring; and the hard ciders, an eclectic selection from 18 artisan cidermakers from all around the Northwest, included elixirs to satisfy the most discriminating palates. Judging from the lively conversations and smiling faces of dozens of self-described ‘cider nerds,’ the 6th Annual Summer Cider Day in the Victorian seaport of Port Townsend, Washington, was a hands-down success.
Summer Cider Day is a tradition of the Northwest Cider Association, a group of 70+ commercial cidermakers from Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, and British Columbia. The goal is to introduce cider lovers to the offerings of some of the best artisan cidermakers in the Northwest. This year, 18 cidermakers brought a large selection of their wares for tasting—everything from dry, heritage apple ciders to pear cider, watermelon-apple, and even marionberry-apple cider.
Guests paid $30 and received a commemorative glass and tickets for eight cider samples. And the tastes weren’t skimpy. Each pour was about 1/3 cup. If you drank all of your samples, you’d consume nearly three eight-ounce glasses of cider! Of course, vendor tables offered dump containers for flavors visitors didn’t like or for guests who didn’t want to consume so much hard cider.
New and Veteran Cidermakers
The vendors were an eclectic bunch from well-established cider makers like Chimacum, Washington’s Finn River Farmcrafted Cider to newer players like PearNCider UP, two brothers who make cider from apples and pears grown in their great, great grandfather’s orchards in Wenatchee, WA. “My little brother and I are the entire company,” said owner Kevin Van Reenen, as he poured some of their Watermelon Cider. Both men work full time day jobs. “Making cider is a passion for us, a don’t-get-much-sleep project that started when I served pear cider at my wedding and someone said, ‘I’d buy this from you.’”
PearNCider Up’s flagship pear cider is made with 100% pears. It’s a fruit-forward cider that’s not too sweet and, at 5.5% alcohol content, not too boozy. They also served a Watermelon-pear cider, that we weren’t as keen on, but another guest really did and commented, “I love this watermelon cider. It would make a perfect BBQ drink.”
Heather Ringwood, co-owner of Whitewood Cider Company of Olympia, Washington, said the four-year-old company looks for the “best of the season’s apples.” This year, for instance, they purchased a variety of apples from Gibbs Farms. “They were heritage apples, but it was a menagerie of different varieties.” The result was Gibbs Farm Cider, a not-overly-dry cider with an intense, satisfying apple flavor. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime cider that won’t produced again because that exact mixture of apples won’t be available again.
Liberty Cider from Spokane served a varietal cider made from Gravenstein apples.
Fermented in a whiskey barrel, the cider was light with subtle whiskey notes. Their New World Blend is made with a number of different types of apples, including Manchurian crab apples the size of cherries, which give the cider a dry, complex flavor.
And that’s the beauty of the Summer Cider Fest: It’s an opportunity to sample a wide variety of types and flavors of cider and find new favorites. One of our favorites came from Snowdrift Artisan Hard Ciders in Wenatchee, Washington. Cidermaker Tim Larsen makes a pear cider using the in-bottle méthode champenoise (Champagne method) to give his cider effervescence. Their pear cider has a soft, yet robust pear flavor that literally explodes in the mouth.
Snowdrift ciders are made with fruit grown right on their property using old English-style cider-making methods. They never use concentrates or additives.
Snowdrift’s Red Cider is made with red-flesh apples, which give the cider a beautiful red color and deep flavor. Cider Day guest and cider aficionado, J.R. Page from Seattle, told us, “I’ve tasted more than 250 ciders and Snowdrift’s Red Cider is among my top 10.”
When we sampled Snowdrift Red Cider, the word that came to mind was “stunning.” We paid $15 to take a bottle home of this robust-flavored, semi-sweet, not overly dry cider.
2 Towns Cider traveled from Corvallis, Oregon. Like many of the cider makers at this year’s event, they add no sugar or other ingredients. Their ciders are made with 100% apples and other fruits, which give a fresh fruit flavor rather than cloying sweetness. They also put many of their ciders in cans rather than bottles. “It’s better for the environment and cheaper for us and for our customers,” they told us.
Their Made Marion, a blend of marionberries and apples, was another of our favorites. It offered great balance and this one would pair beautifully with dishes like chicken.
And speaking of food. Guests at this year’s Summer Cider Fest could purchase dishes such as rustic tomato tart, pulled pork sliders, prawn skewers, and even cider love cupcakes from Port Townsend’s Siren’s Gastropub. The restaurant offered pairing suggestions so guests could couple different ciders with each dish.
For the past six years, Summer Cider Day has been held at the Northwest Maritime Center, a modern, wood and glass structure that overlooks Port Townsend bay. It’s a great choice. Many guests sidled out onto the deck with drinks and food to watch pleasure boats and the ferry churn through the blue waters. What could be better?
Real Bottom Line: If you haven’t tried hard ciders lately, you’re in for a treat. Trust me: These artisan-crafted beverages aren’t your grandmother’s cider. Like good wine, hard cider in the Northwest has grown into a real art form with cider makers using time-tested techniques paired with today’s creativity to make some really exciting flavors. Northwest Cider Association’s Summer Cider Day in beautiful Port Townsend, WA, is a chance to sample many terrific cider all in one place. We’re marking our calendar for next year’s Summer Cider Day. You should too. nwcider.com