Though there’s little indication of it now, hard cider was once the most popular alcoholic beverage in the United States. British colonists brought the fermented fruit beverage with them when they landed in the Northeast and soon began growing apples to make their own supply of the sweet thirst-quencher. By 1700, the average American consumed 35 gallons of the stuff each year. But the reign of cider in early America was short-lived; the next wave of immigrants (mostly from Germany and Eastern Europe) brought beer, which supplanted cider as Americans’ drink of choice. Prohibition was the death knell for cider production in the 20th century, but today, this drink is finally making a comeback. The state of Washington is at the forefront of this movement, with the Northwest Agriculture Business Center reporting that the Evergreen State produced almost 200,000 gallons of cider in 2011.
As with the brewers behind the state’s craft beer community, Washington cider producers get creative. Here, you’ll find excellent traditional ciders, but Washington’s ciders are pushing the flavor envelope with unique combinations and techniques. Here are our picks for five Washington-made craft ciders to try the next time you’re craving a sweet antidote to a hot summer day.
Snowdrift Cider Co., Cidermaker’s Reserve
Snowdrift’s Cidermaker’s Reserve is an outstanding example of a traditional cider – so outstanding, in fact, that the cider placed first in the 2012 and 2013 Three Counties International Cider & Perry Competition in Herefordshire, England — much to the dismay of the British, who pride themselves on fine cider. The cider preserves the best characteristics of the apples used to produce it; the overall flavor is bittersweet yet smooth, floral and deeply nuanced. It’s bottled by hand in the méthode Champenoise style, meaning it’s fermented in the bottle. Find it in Seattle at Beveridge Place Pub, Bottleworks, Full Throttle Bottles, The Noble Fir, PCC Natural Markets and Whole Foods.
Whitewood Cider Co., South Sounder
Olympia-based Whitewood Cider is one of the state’s newest players on the cider scene. Owners David White and Heather Ringwood introduced two ciders earlier this year, South Sounder and Old Fangled, with plans to release two more in 2013. Their South Sounder makes locavores proud; the apples are sourced from the yards and farms of Olympia and the surrounding area. Most of the apples are heirloom, and each batch will taste slightly different. Bet on layers of flavor that stay true to Whitewood’s love of tannins, fragrance and acidity. Pick up a bottle at Full Throttle Bottles, Bottleworks and Capitol Cider.
Schilling Cider, Ginger
Colin Schilling, a cider fan who founded Seattle-based Schilling Cider, admits that his first batches of the stuff were destined for the drain. After years of practice, though, he’s making some mighty fine progress. His eponymous line of ciders is one of only a few on the market that you’ll find in a can – a passion for the environment led him to a lighter, easier-to-recycle vessel for his product. Schilling’s Ginger cider is made with fresh California ginger, a spice that hits you in the nose before you even take a sip. Fear not, though; the finish is smooth and the apples create a nice undertone. Add a few cans to your basket next time you shop at PCC Natural Markets, or try stopping by Bottleworks, Full Throttle Bottles, Downtown Spirits, Central Co-op, Capitol Cider and Brouwer’s Café to re-stock.
Alpenfire Orchards, Glow
Alpenfire is the first USDA-certified organic cider producer in Washington, earning organic certification for its orchard in 2005 and its processing in 2009. The company’s Glow cider is a surprising rosé that takes on its color from the bright pink flesh of the rare, small Almata apples used to make it. The flavor is reminiscent of a caramel apple, but it’s not a cloyingly sweet drink. Instead, it’s more like a traditional French rosé wine — smooth, balanced, refreshing and pretty to look at. This tasty cider can be purchased in Seattle at Beer Junction, Beveridge Place Pub, Bottleworks, Downtown Spirits, Full Throttle Bottle, Local 360, Capitol Cider and Whole Foods.
Finnriver Farm & Cidery, Black Currant Lavendar
Finnriver is a sustainable farm and cidery on the Olympic Peninsula specializing in sparkling hard ciders and fruit wines. The company’s farm-raised berries and apples are featured heavily in its products, along with wild apples from area homesteads and fruit from around the Pacific Northwest. The black currant lavender cider is a limited-edition summer release that gives a respectful nod to the many lavender farms surrounding the cidery. The lavender provides a floral undertone – and a surprising, purple hue – for the black currant and apples, which lend a bright tartness. Keep an eye out for this seasonal cider at Downtown Spirits, Brouwer’s Café, Bravehorse Tavern, Central Co-op, Noble Fir and Bottleworks.
Photos Courtesy of iStock-petrenkod, Snowdrift Cider Co. and Alpenfire Orchards