Words by Delaney Rea | Photo by Trevor Meyer
Compared to its peers beer and wine, cider stands out as possibly the most underrated mainstream alcoholic beverage around. While the tart overtones of the drink may not be to everyone’s taste, cider deserves more attention than it receives. In the Pacific Northwest, there is no shortage of experimentation being done with cider. Reinvention, innovation and specialization are the name of the game in the PNW when it comes to cider—and you can attribute that thriving culture to the volume of fruit offered by the bountiful region.
Together, Oregon and Washington grow more apples than any other region in the country. Apple orchards are a $4 billion industry in the US, about two thirds of which is concentrated in Washington alone. Around the turn of the 19th century, pioneers found the soil in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains of Washington to be suitably fertile for crop growth—namely, apples. With an arid climate that prevent insect infiltration and airborne disease, the region was cemented as a prime location for growing pristine, high-quality apples.
Today, this history of apple growth in the region has culminated in a prominent cider culture. Cider manufacturers are dotted along the upper west coast, and the production of cider continues to spread on the back of the apple industry. The one drawback? Many of the varieties specifically cultivated in the PNW, including Gala and Granny Smith, tend to carry a rather bland and uninspiring taste when fermented into cider. To combat this distillers use a variety of tactics, including adding flavor-enhancing heirloom fruits and hops or simply letting the cider sit on the shelf until its aged into a satisfactorily flavorful taste.
There is no shortage of options to dip one’s toes into (not literally, of course) if they wish to explore what the PNW cider scene has to offer. Alter Ego Cider, which is based in Portland, produces cider in small, hand-crafted batches. Their two flagship ciders are the Brute and the Guardian Angel. The Brute is a pure apple cider made from Northwest apples that balances the crispness of the apple with its sweeter tones, while the Guardian Angel is a blueberry and pomegranate cider that is made to celebrate the berries of summer. With semi-sweet balances of refreshing complexity, Alter Ego’s award-winning ciders are something to taste.
Not to be outdone, Cider Riot! is another Portland-made cider making its name in the Northwest. Cider Riot! aims to evoke the feeling of picking through the wet woods of Yamhill county, seeking out wild seedling apples. Their newest cider is called Everyday, a vegan, gluten-free semi-dry cider. With notes of peach, tropical fruits and harvest-fresh apples, Everyday is a cider of fruity complexity. Never Give an Inch is another favorite within the Cider Riot! stable. This batch embraces the invasive Himalayan blackberries, which gives it a deliciously sweet overtone on top of its Hood River and Yakima-grown apples.
As far as Eugenian ciders go, WildCraft Cider works is hard to beat. WildCraft develops ciders that are innovative and dry, made with Oregon-grown fruits and botanicals and zero artificial flavoring or added sweeteners. I recommend their Pioneer Perry cider, which is a hand-pressed blend of wild and cultivated pears—Oregon’s state fruit, no less. WildCraft also produces a Community Apple Drive cider, made from apples donated from the Eugene community. The cider makers collect local apples from July to November to produce a truly local cider that puts a cap on the fall season with its distinct flavor profile.
All of the above ciders by Alter Ego, Cider Riot! and WildCraft are available at the Bier Stein, a popular taphouse located at 1591 Willamette St. in Eugene. The Bier Stein is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 12 a.m., and Sundays from noon to 10 p.m.