Cider Daze

X .jpg

Field Report No 20180718RB

Sometimes seen as country bumpkins next to Washington’s sophisticated wines, hard ciders are content to chill. Served frosty, in shades ranging from pale pink to deep amber, ciders beckon with a subtle invitation. But that doesn’t make them simple.  Hard ciders are nuanced and varied beverages, fast becoming the hottest artisan drinks in the “Apple Capital of the World." This year, with ten new cideries in North Central Washington, I hit the road to do some sampling.   

Tasting and telling is familiar territory for me. As Executive Director of a non-profit association called Cascade Farmlands, it’s my job to explore and promote locally grown food and drink. Filled with curiosity, sips of cider, and all sorts of false assumptions (like the idea that hard ciders are naturally sweet because they are made from apple juice), I reached out to Cheryl Koenig from Rootwood Cider in Manson. She and her husband Jim run fifth generation apple orchards that produce premium eating fruit. These days, she and her daughters are branching out. 

Taster.jpg

“For our family, transitioning some of our apple acreage by replanting and grafting cider fruit was an easy switch,” Cheryl told me. “We now have eleven cider-specific varieties going into production in our small-batch, craft ciders.” 

Cheryl explained that the apples for which the Wenatchee Valley is famous are not, with the exception of Granny Smith, great for making hard cider. “What makes a great eating apple—including high sugar content- is not always what we are looking for. High levels of acid and tannin also build flavor and fermentation.”  Those three factors—acidity, tannin and sugar—drive the flavor categories:  bittersweet, bittersharp, sharp, and sweet.   

Cider language is enchanting, filled with terms like cidre, scrumpy/farmhouse, off-dry, wild ferment, single varietal, and wood-aged. “Like wine, there are volumes written and a whole vocabulary dedicated to crafting hard ciders,” Cheryl told me. “But for the most part, when it comes to enjoying hard cider, it’s a matter of whether you like it or not!”

Underlying the flavor profiles and fun, I discovered a deeper story, one of family orchards staying viable as times change and new generations forge ahead. Independent Cider, situated in Dryden, debuted in 2017. 

IMG_8958.jpg

“Our family pear orchards span from the lower Wenatchee River Valley to the edge of Leavenworth,” Kramer Christensen, a fifth generation orchardist, explained. “We up-cycle our fruit by using visually blemished, high quality heirloom pears for our pear cider or “perry.” According to Kramer, in the past these pears would have been sold to mega juicers or been dumped at the end of the season.

I was surprised to learn that perry production is rare, and that Kevin VanReenan, of PearUp in East Wenatchee, tells the perry story better than most anyone in the United States. Launched in 2010 from longstanding family orchards, PearUp was one of the first cideries in the country to focus solely on pears. “From inception, our offerings were generated in response to direct and robust conversations with consumers,” Kevin told me. 

An amazing cultural synergy is helping PearUp go global. “We are catching on in Asia,” said Kevin. “The uniqueness of the pear finish combined with a reverence placed on the pear by Asian cultures is a tremendous sales opportunity.” Japan provided the initial consumer feedback that helped PearUp craft a whole new flavor called Pearmosa, now for sale in the U.S. 

Thus the story continues. Generations of orchard families hold on to their legacy, while innovating new ways to bring the flavors of North Central Washington to eager palates.

I’ve enjoyed watching wineries become established in our region; now hard ciders seem poised to have their day in the sunny eastern side of the state. You can visit Cheryl, Kramer, Kevin and the other cider makers this summer on July 28th.  Cascade Farmlands and the Cashmere Chamber of Commerce are hosting the first major cider festival in Chelan County in the historic town of Cashmere. Come sip and savor these brave new beverages at a party we’ve aptly dubbed “The Big Chill.”