Cider Riot!

Cider Riot! is dedicated to producing high quality ciders from Cascadian grown apples. With tradition as our guide and our roots firmly planted in the rich soils of our bioregion, our urban cidery produces refreshing, flavorful ciders.

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Abram's Writings on Cider

©2010 - Oregon native Abram Goldman-Armstrong writes about beer and cider for various regional and national publications.


- published in Northwest Brewing News October 2010

Local artisan cidermakers hope cider can achieve the success that craft beer has achieved in the Pacific Northwest. Though still a very small segment of the drinks market, cider has been gaining ground in recent years. As consumers more consumers look for gluten free alternatives to beer, ciders are often the perfect fit. This fall marks a bountiful harvest for cider-lovers in the Cascadia with the opening of Bushwacker Cider, a cider specific pub in Portland, the Cider Summit Northwest in Seattle September 11th, Vashon Cider Fest October 9 on Vashon Island, WA, and the cider tasting that is part of Portland Nursery's 23rd annual Apple Festival October 9-10th and 16-17th.

English cidermaster and biochemist Peter Mitchell has helped foster the development of cideries throughout Cascadia with regular classes in basic and advanced cidermaking in Mount Vernon, Washington. With more cideries opening, one of the challenges cidermakers face is the scarcity of cider apples. These small, tannic, acidic fruits are nothing like the dessert apples found in your local supermarket, and convincing commercial growers to plant them is a struggle.

There are several schools of cidermaking in the Pacific Northwest. Traditionalists such as Westcott Bay and Merridale strive to produce authentic English or French style ciders. Blenders, such as Wandering Aengus and Tieton mix cider apples with dessert fruit for mellower, but still tannic ciders. Another branch of cidermakers, including Blue Mountain Cider Company in Eastern Oregon, and Raven's Ridge in the Interior of BC use dessert fruit, often heirloom or pollinator varieties to produce their ciders. Large commercial or “processed” ciders, such as Spire Mountain and Ace generally use bulk apple juice or even concentrate and balance it post-fermentation with added acids and sweeteners.

British Columbia
In BC commercial ciders such as Growers, which started in Victoria in 1927, and Okanagan are readily available, so there is more awareness of cider. These sweet ciders are made from dessert apple juice, and often flavored. Ranging from white cranberry to peach these flavored ciders are sold in plastic two liter bottles and have more in common with wine coolers than traditional ciders.

BC's leading craft cideries, Merridale and Sea Cider are both located on Vancouver Island. Merridale was started in 1990, in the Cowichan Valley by Scottish cidermaker Al Piggot, and bought by Rick Pipes and Janet Docherty in 1999. They grow 30 varieties of cider apples, mainly English and French, and rely on about 10 core varieties for their line of traditional English and French style ciders. Merridale is also home to the Cider House bistro, and the Brandihouse, built in 2007, to showcase a distillery that Merridale uses to produce apple brandy.

When Kristen Jordan inherited an apple orchard as a teenager, she had no idea it would lead her to open Sea Cider. Her husband Bruce he was already a home cider maker, when the pair met, and in 2004 the couple went to “cider school” with Peter Mitchell in Mt. Vernon, Washington, and bought a farm in Saanichton. They planted 1000 cider apple trees, opening to the public in 2007. The Jordans grow 60 certified organic varieties of cider apples and use additional organic apples from surrounding farms and a few from the mainland.

“We make what I would call New World styles of cider says Kristen Jordan. “We're interested in showing the public that there is a lot of diversity in cider, and recapturing some of the tradition of cidermaking in North America.”

In the interior of BC the apple industry is huge, with dessert fruit grown on irrigated land in the Okanagan Valley. A number of small cideries produce ciders from these dessert apples. Okanagan Hill Estate Cidery in Oliver in the Southern part of the Okanagan Valley produces Red Roof cider, and Okanagan Bubbly, a champagne style cider. The Raven Ridge cidery in East Kelowna is known for its single varietal iced ciders made with dessert varieties such as Fuji, Ambrosia, and Braeburn.

The Evergreen State has long been known for its commercial apple production, and is now home to a plethora of cideries. Ron Irvine at the Vashon Winery in the San Juan Islands was one of the pioneers of traditional craft cider in Washington, releasing his first batch in 1989, In 2000 he and Alan Foster, of Oregon's White Oak Cider received a grant to study traditional cidermaking in France and England.

Also in the San Juans, Westcott Bay has been producing traditional English-style ciders since 1999. Its ciders exhibit the fullness of color and body that comes only from proper English cider apple varieties.

Wildfire, located in Port Townsend, began planting its cider apples in 2003 and in 2009 became Washington State's first certified organic cidery. Wildfire makes all of its cider from traditional cider apples, and even makes a German-style apfelwein, a style of cider made in the area around Frankfurt.

Keith and Crystie Kisler were looking for a value-added product to compliment the seasonal nature of their organic Finnriver farm in Chimacum, and turned their cidermaking hobby into a business, selling their first batch in January of 2010.

“We feel very lucky in the timing of our getting into cidermaking,” says Keith Kisler. “There's great momentum building around cider in the Northwest.”

At Finnriver traditional cider apples from the Kisler's farm are blended with dessert varieties organically grown on a family farm in Eastern Washington, to produce a champagne style cider, a bittersweet cider, and a blueberry cider. They also make a perry, fermented from heirloom pears, and have applied for a distiller's license to make calvados (apple brandy).

Near Wenatchee, in Central Washington apples are king, and the Ringsrud family has grown apples commercially for four decades. In 2003 they began learning about cider apples from Peter Mitchell, and in 2009 Snowdrift Cider was born. Blended from cider apples and crab apples grown as pollinators between rows of dessert apple trees, Snowdrift ciders range from semi-sweet to dry.

In Tieton, near Yakima, another apple growing family, the Campbells started adding cider apple trees to their organic Harmony Orchards in 2007 and have begun making ciders from those apples, blended with the dessert apples. They have also taken over the cider orchard at Ford Farms on Sauvie's Island in Oregon. Ford Farms stopped producing its champagne style cider a few years ago, and the resurgence in interest in cidermaking has cidermakers across Cascadia on the hunt for any mature cider apple trees.

Modern cidermaking in Oregon reputedly started with winemaker Fred Arterberry Jr., who began producing cider in 1979 from dessert fruit, releasing varietals such as Gravenstein. In 1989 Alan Foster began planting traditional cider apples on his farm near Newberg, and White Oak Cider was born. Hailed as one of the most traditional English farmhouse ciders this side of the Atlantic, and recognized by Slow Food's Ark of Taste, White Oak was too hard to sell, and Foster began pulling out his trees to make way for more profitable Pinot Noir vines in 2005. Roger Mansfield pioneered cidermaking in Southern Oregon, opening the Traditional Company near Ashland. In 2004 he sold the business to Nick and Mimi Gunn who brought the business to the Eola Hills near Salem, and renamed it Wandering Aengus.

Wandering Aengus blends cider apples with dessert fruit for most of its lineup, and has just introduced Anthem Cider this year. Made year round with dessert fruit pulled from cold storage warehouses in Hood River, and available on draught, Anthem Ciders come in Apple, Pear, and Cherry variations with an experimental hopped cider Anthem Hops in the works.

Blue Mountain, in Milton-Freewater, Oregon took shape from an apple growing family's desire to get a value-added product. Pollinator, or heritage apples are used to make their line of ciders. They also blend in fruit, to make raspberry, cherry, and other flavors of cider.

Carlton Ciderworks started in McMinnville in 2009, releasing its first cider, Citizen in September. Owner Mark Bailey has planted two acres of cider apples and is trying to convince commercial growers to plant some of the varieties he prefers. He takes a slightly different approach to cidermaking, “People are very interested in making traditional cider- nobody drinks a traditional beer. Why drink something that tastes exactly like it did 300 years ago? If it's tart and tannic not enough people will buy it. “Interesting” doesn't translate into sales.”

Oregon's newest cidery Bushwacker Cider doubles as a cider taphouse, pouring local and European ciders, opened this September. Owners Jeff and Erin Smith are jumping from 5-gallon homebrew batches to a 250-gallon batch size. After studying under Peter Mitchell, Jeff Smith is looking to make a number of different ciders, sourcing his fruit from farms in the Portland area. Bushwacker caters to celiacs as well and will offer gluten free snacks to accompany its ciders.

Ace has an important place in the history of cider in North America. Owner Jeffery House began importing English ciders in 1986. Ace ciders are made from dessert apples grown in Sonoma County.

Red Branch Cider is a side project of the Rabbits Foot Meadery, which opened in 1994 in the Bay Area. Owner Mike Faul began making a cyser (honey and apple juice fermented together) in 2001.

“We're primarily a mead producer, most of our ciders are actually cysers,” says Faul. “It's gone kind of crazy,” he says of the demand for the ciders, which are distributed in six states and the Republic of Ireland. Faul calls the cysers a “gateway product to mead,” and uses Sonoma County dessert apple juice to make them.

Two Rivers Cider was started in 1996 by Vincent Sterne, who worked at Rubicon Brewing in Sacremento. He uses juice from a blend of 4-6 locally grown dessert apples to make Hard Apple cider, sweetened with fresh juice after fermentation, and makes a dry cider aged in oak for 6-24 months. Two Rivers is predominately a draught producer, and is becoming best known for ciders flavored with fruits as varied as pomegranate, huckleberry and boysenberry.

Fox Barrel, located in Colfax, also uses fresh pressed local juice to produce its sweet ciders. Fox Barrel started in 2004 and has gained commercial success competing with Wyders and Woodchuck.

Cider Can it Sell Like Beer
Almost every cidermaker in the business expresses desire to gain more attention for the beverage. Cider is such a niche market that there is a shared belief that instead of fighting for a small slice of a small market that cidermakers must work together to promote cider.

“Whether or not people drink your cider, getting them to drink cider benefits everybody,” says Mark Bailey of Carlton Ciderworks.

According to James Kohn of Wandering Aengus, the cider market is “a bunch of puddles scattered around, it's not like a true market you can conceptualize.”

The Northwest Cider Association, a producers group formed from the remnants of the Northwest Cider Society is working to promote artisanal cider in the Northwest, with events such as the Cider Summit Northwest. Summit organizer and cider importer Alan Shapiro says, “the cider market is like craft brewing was 25 years ago, people are just discovering that cider isn't just the supermarket 6-pack brands.”

Kristen Jordan of Sea Cider says that marketing cider is especially challenging as people have different expectations and assumptions of what cider is. Some people think cider is juice, others think of the wine cooler/alco pops. It's a farm product that can have all of the flavor and nuance of wine or beer. Cideries like Merridale have paved the way, but we're still fighting against that alcopop idea of what cider is.”

Kohn says on a recent trip to LA he visited 40 different accounts and only three grouped ciders together. “That tells me retailers don't know how to sell cider, and the consumer has no clue that there is a cider category.” In an effort to change that, Kohn organized a tasting of 67 ciders at Portland Nursery's annual Apple Tasting, last year. At the event over 50 types of apple are available to taste, and this year Kohn hopes to have 100 ciders available and be able to sell bottles to go.

In Seattle importer Shapiro hopes to raise awareness of cider with the Cider Summit Northwest, focusing not only on local producers but also showcasing traditional English, French and German ciders. He says that cider should not be restrained a narrow definition, as CAMRA does in the UK. “I think what's going to work best is a range of flavors. The beer market wouldn't be all that interesting if it was just pale ales and wheat beers. I think there's a lot of room to be creative and generate more interest in the category.”

The goal for Carlton's Bailey; “getting people to think of cider as a weekly if not daily refreshment.”

©2010 - Oregon native Abram Goldman-Armstrong writes about beer and cider for various regional and national publications.

Other Articles: Oregon Cider 2004 - Oregon Cider 2012

The Process

Cider Riot! is an urban cidery dedicated to the production of dry ciders. We use a variety of apples grown in Cascadia, including rare English and French cider variety apples, wild apples from Yamhill County, Oregon, and dessert apples from the Yakima and Hood River Valleys. Thanks for visiting Cider Riot!

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