There’s an apple resurgence in Washington, but it’s happening in bottles, not on fruit stands.
Just as the last obituaries are being written for the flavor challenged Red Delicious, birth announcements are cropping up all over the Pacific Northwest for cideries.
But don’t think apple juice. We’re talking hard cider. Adult beverages.
In 2008 there were five hard cideries in the Pacific Northwest – including British Columbia. Today, there are 31. Bend, Ore., alone has five in the start-up phase.
And now the South Sound has one. Olympia-based Whitewood Cider Co. began production in 2012. The venture is run by Dave White and girlfriend/business partner Heather Ringwood. They began selling their first cider in May.
The pair are now producing three blends in 750 ml bottles: Old Fangled, South Sounder and Northland Traditional. Old Fangled is the driest, almost Champagne like in its flavor. South Sounder is more robust and fruity flavored and Northland Traditional has big flavors, lots of tannin and is the sweetest.
“We like bright acids and rich tannins,” White said.
Gravity Beer Market in Olympia is selling Whitewood ciders for $14.99 and Pint Defiance in Tacoma is selling them for $14.30.
“We started this on not a lot of money,” White said of his small warehouse operation. He’s been making cider since 2000, but only got serious after taking a class through Washington State University in 2008.
Compared with coffee, cider is more of a natural fit in Washington where apple growing is a major industry. But don’t ask White and Ringwood to drop the coffee mug for a cider glass. The pair are confirmed two-fisted drinkers. They both work at Espresso Parts in Lacey and met at a coffee industry show eight years ago. Ringwood judges the national barista competition every year.
While cider in America has recently gone from quaint anachronism to almost-mainstream adult drink, it’s a centuries-old beverage in Europe. Every proper English pub has it on tap.
There are expectations to alcoholic cider, White said. They include post-fermentation sweetening, carbonation, and an alcohol by volume (ABV) of between 6 percent and 7 percent.
Mass produced supermarket cider falls in a narrow band of flavors, but craft cideries produce a much wider range. Some are Champagne-like and others (called Scrumpy) taste like an orchard gone a few weeks past harvest time. The latter is an acquired taste — like stinky cheese or cured meats — but adherents swear by them.
Trends in the industry include flavoring with hops, spices (both habanero and ginger) and blending with other fruits. Pear-based cider (and a related drink called perry) shares some of the market with apple cider.
Some cideries, such as Port Townsend’s Finnriver and Vancouver Island’s Merridale, produce apple brandy, fortified wines and other higher alcohol content products.
After flavor, the biggest variation consumers will find is on the dry to sweet scale. Fermentation converts the natural sugars in the apple juice to alcohol, leaving behind a flavorful, but dry beverage. White and Ringwood dissolve sugar into their cider, averaging about 6 to 7 grams per bottle.
Washington’s apple harvest begins this month and continues into October, depending on variety and location. White and Ringwood buy whole apples from ever changing and varied sources. But they only use apples grown within 20 miles of Olympia for their South Sounder variety.
For centuries, cider makers in Europe have used varieties grown specifically for the beverage. Hard and bitter, the apples will seldom be confused with table apples. Whitewood uses eating varieties (Macintosh, Winesap, Gravenstein, Jonathan) in their Old Fangled variety and cider-friendly varieties (Yarlington Mill, Golden Russet, Ashmead Kernel) in the Northland Traditional. South Sounder takes a grab bag approach, but almost all are eating varieties.
After the juice is pressed in the fall, it “rests” for a day before yeast is added. It then undergoes a slow fermentation into winter.
The cider is then racked (drawn off ) leaving behind the lees (expired yeast), which fall to the bottom of the tanks.
After racking, the cider finished fermenting into spring.
How do they know when it’s ready?
“When the cider tells you,” Ringwood said.
“Apples and yeast and time. Time: That’s the killer,” White said. “You can’t rush through it.”
When White and Ringwood have determined the cider is at maturity it’s pasteurized, blended, sweetened, carbonated and bottled.
Other regions of the country are giving the Pacific Northwest a run for its money in cider. New England and Michigan are developing comparable cider industries. It mirrors the trend away from Big Beer.
“Craft beer has made people more adventurous,” White said.
Cideries are just the latest in the sudden growth of the local alcohol movement along with craft breweries and boutique distilleries. Time will tell which of them has staying power.
For now, White and Ringwood are sticking to traditional methods and not jumping on the trend bandwagons.
“I’ve been in coffee long enough to see trends come and go,” Ringwood said.
White is the sitting president of the Northwest Cider Association. The trade group is putting on Washington Cider Week in September, the highlight of which is the Cider Summit Seattle on Sept. 6-7 at Seattle’s South Lake Union Discovery Center (see box). More than 80 ciders can be sampled at the event.
“People are drinking this stuff up now,” White said of cider. He thinks it fills a niche. “It’s a long drink like a beer, but with more of the complexities of wine,” he said.