My first article for USA TODAY’s online travel site came out last week, highlighting my recent exploration of the craft hard cider scene in the Pacific Northwest. Washington Cider Week is happening this week, but these cideries are worth checking out any time of year. Read the full article (also included below), and see the gallery of images at USA TODAY.
Long before the Pacific Northwest became known for producing table apples like the Red Delicious, it was cider apple country. Gnarly, feral fruits with strange names like Yarlington Mill and Brown Snout, cider apples are nearly inedible, but they provide just the right acid, tannin and aroma required to make complex, fine hard cider. These pioneer-era drinking-apples (which were a mainstay of a budding American nation) were all but wiped out by Prohibition. But spurred in part by Americans’ thirst for all things gluten-free (roughly 30% of Americans are now shopping for products labeled “GF”), naturally-GF hard cider is swiftly staging its comeback in the country, and cider apples trees have begun to reclaim their place in northwest orchards.
On September 5-6, more than 40 passionate producers in the Northwest Cider Association will convene in Seattle for the fifth annual Cider Summit Seattle, kicking off the now-Governor-sanctioned Washington Cider Week in urban restaurants, bars and cideries. For a sip straight from the source, set your GPS to the scenic tasting rooms of Washington’s lush, densely forested Olympic Peninsula (a breathtaking ferry ride from Seattle via Bainbridge Island, or from Edmonds via Kingston, with sweeping views of the Puget Sound). Here, the Port Townsend Cider Route traverses a short loop from the quaint, eponymous Victorian tourist destination to the apple-laden orchards of three award-winning cideries where you can taste elegantly sweet, dry, still or sparkling craft ciders pressed straight from the new, old apple trees of the Pacific Northwest.
At Alpenfire Cider, the tidiness of “Bear” and Nancy Bishop’s immaculately trellised, one-acre, 1,000-tree English and French cider apple orchard is only one manifestation of their deeply-rooted dedication to quality. Washington’s first certified organic cidery and orchard, Alpenfire produces unfiltered ciders without sulfites or additives, and with conviction (a discussion of GF with Bear quickly leads to one about GMOs and the general state of the country’s agriculture).
Made through the effort-intensive bottle conditioning method, ciders like their “Glow” (a single varietal “rosé” cider, which inherits its hue from the surprisingly bright red flesh of the Hidden Rose apple) showcase the complexities of the apple — and nothing else. Visitors to the tasting room (open on weekends or by appointment) can check out the cidery equipment, tour the orchard and taste their lineup of ciders as well as their hard cider vinegars and Nancy’s latest specialty: shrubs.
Eaglemount Wine and Cider
Head a few miles south to Eaglemount Wine and Cider, where a more-than-century-old renovated barn house surrounded by once-abandoned, old-growth 1883 homestead apple trees paints a picture of what life was like for the early settlers of the Pacific Northwest. Instead of curated rows, Eaglemount’s Winter Banana, Winesap, White Pippin, Roxbury Russet and other North American apple trees sprawl and meander haphazardly across the idyllic estate orchard, preserving history as they produce the sought-after cider apple acidity and complexity.
Female cidermaker Trudy Davis has been credited as the first to create the now popular ginger cider combination, and has also been lauded for her unique Quince-infused cider, made from northwest quinces. Sip these and her other wines and ciders in the tasting room where, if you’re lucky, her husband might stop in to tell you some of the property’s legendary Sasquatch lore.
Finnriver Farm & Cidery
Tucked into the tiny farming town of Chimacum a few miles south, the 33-acre sustainableFinnriver Farm & Cidery is like a fairytale farm-scape come true. A charming red barn house cidery and tasting room welcomes guests daily for tastings of handcrafted hard ciders and “spirited fruit wines,” made primarily from their own heirloom cider orchards and infused with their farm-fresh and organic fruits and herbs. The down-to-earth, contagiously-passionate Crystie and Keith Kisler offer production and orchard tours on select weekends and, on summer Sundays, sell wood-fired pizzas (gluten-free or regular) paired with cider and live music in their rustic farm pavilion.
Try the Farmstead Cider for a taste of their vision of community supported agriculture and the Habanero Cider or Solstice Saffron for a memorable example of their creatively infused ciders. Call ahead to book an orchard tour or reserve a night at the neighboring Huckleberry House, an unforgettable, upscale farmhouse escape. A Huck-Finn apple cider farm stay? It doesn’t get more all-American than that.
SEE MORE: Explore artisan cider all over the USA
–Jamie Relth is a freelance food, wine and travel writer based in the heart of California’s Central Coast wine country. Her latest work can be found at jamierelth.com.