“In Oregon, cider has the unique and interesting status that wine had 30 years ago,” said Erin James, author of “Tasting Cider” and editor in chief of Seattle-based CIDERCRAFT and related magazines. “But we don’t hold wine grapes in our hands.”
“Whether you’ve ever been to an orchard, you understand the concept of an apple, the ultimate farm-to-table food,” she said. “It’s the simplicity of cider that makes it so approachable.”
The industry acknowledges a definite divide between heritage-heirloom, orchard-based ciders and the juice-producing model using out-of-hand or commercially bought fruit, she said.
Pacific Northwest cidermakers embrace both: “You see the passion, the innovation, especially in using local additives such as cherries, hops, pears — also rhubarb and stone fruit.” Oregon and Washington are known as the Wild West of cider because of their dense apple-growing regions and sheer numbers of cider producers and products (not volume), James said.
Lest we forget the origins and role of hard cider in North America, she reminds us that Europeans brought fruit cuttings and seedlings, planting as they colonized in the early- to mid-1600s.
“They wanted a clean drinking-water resource — and good times,” she said. Transforming fruit juice into an alcoholic beverage made it safer to consume than murky water.
And imbibing nowadays?
“We’re in a really cool place,” James said. “Seattle and Portland consume more cider than any other cities in the U.S. In the Northwest, people are really drawn to infused ciders. And draft offerings ‘on premises’ are surging.”
Ciders and their makers around the United States and Canada are profiled but the Pacific Northwest is well-represented in “Tasting Cider,” a guide that packs in lots of info for novices and aficionados, plus a few recipes. Here’s a sampling of regional ciders featured in the book:
Anthem Cider, Salem, OR
The world’s first commercial hopped cider came from arguably the nation’s most beer-savvy state and was inspired by blending cider and beer. Dry-hopped with Oregon-grown Cascade hops, the cider’s floral hops give off pilsner-like aromas, while the juice creates a friendly, sessionable flavor on the palate. Pair with a greasy cheeseburger. 6.9% alcohol by volume
Grizzly Ciderworks, Milton-Freewater, OR
Two college buddies started a cidery, without apples and hardly with equipment. A number of variations and rotating seasonal selections later, the original ciders still remain, like this Belgian wheat beer-influenced sipper of fresh fruit, spices, and citrus. 6.7% ABV
Pirate’s Plank ‘Bone Dry’
Alpenfire Cider, Port Townsend, WA
From the state’s first organic cidery, this bone-dry cider was roused by similarly styled English ciders. Estate-grown English bittersweets and bittersharps (plus some Granny Smith) are fermented into an unapologetically tannic and sharp cider with aromas and flavors of red apple and earthy aromas of hay, dusty skin, wax, and citrus peel. 6.9% ABV
Deliverance Ginger Tonic
Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider, Portland, OR
This sipper compiles the spice from gallons of pure squeezed gingerroot juice with hand-cut lemongrass, hand-extracted quinine from Peruvian cinchona tree bark, and fresh citrus juice to an off-dry dessert apple blend. The result has been a cider cult-classic, promoting the natural health benefits of all ingredients involved. 6.1% ABV
Dragon’s Head Cider, Vashon, WA
Ambiguously named for the many Pippins growing on trees through North America, this is exclusively Albemarle (Newtown) Pippin, largely from the estate orchard of this Seattle-area island. With aromas of fresh green herbs, tangy apple, and soft pear, some moderate farmhouse funk spills out, and astringency and fruit dance in the finish. 6.9% ABV
2 Towns Ciderhouse, Corvallis, OR
This apricot- and hazelnut-accented tipple is built on acidic and tannic bittersweet apples, fermented, fortified, then aged. The full-bodied drink is finished in a variety of wine barrels, locking in the flavor and bringing in many dimensions that pair beautifully with creme brulée. 19% ABV
— Erin James
From “Tasting Cider, the CIDERCRAFT Guide to the Distinctive Flavors of North American Hard Cider,” copyright 2017 by Sip Publishing. Excerpted with permission from Storey Publishing.