A Whidbey Island hard cider maker is hoping to show that sweeter is not always better.
While deejaying in London, Christopher “CJ” Powell learned to appreciate a drier type of cider.
Not much of a beer drinker but fond of London’s pub culture, Powell fell in love with English dry cider. This type of cider, he explained, is characterized by its lower sugar content.
Back in the states, Powell, now 41, sought out cider that was similar to what he had enjoyed across the pond. But it wasn’t a very fruitful search.
“There’s this misconception that Americans just like sweet cider,” Powell said. “I couldn’t find the cider I liked, so I decided I would just try to make it.”
He and his wife, Anna, established Misfit Island Cider Co. near Langley about two years ago.
But the Powells have been fermenting cider for much longer than that. After retiring as a deejay, CJ set up shop in their basement, sourcing juice from local stores and trying different styles, mixtures, yeasts and apples.
The cidery has branched out within the last year because Powell has found more time to focus on his cider craft.
“The whole COVID thing motivated me to step up what I was doing,” he said. “I kind of had a much longer time frame to do this all.”
The couple have planted 15 different varieties of trees, which produce apples used in French and English ciders. They hope to plant 150 trees total.
For now, CJ makes his cider with community-sourced apples while the trees grow. Anna helps out wherever she can, including at pop-up markets on the island.
In some of his ciders, Powell uses fresh hops, which are from Perrault Farms near Yakima. He encourages beer drinkers to try his hard cider, because the taste of the hops isn’t muddled by other flavors.
Misfit Island Cider Co.’s newest flavor, which is a coffee cider, is a collaboration with Mukilteo Coffee Roasters.
Powell added 25 pounds of coffee beans to the cider two weeks before bottling it, and added lactose sugar — which is unfermentable and gives the cider a creamy texture — a few days before bottling. Upon first sip, it’s similar in taste to a stout beer, but after a few moments it evolves into something more acidic and similar to a cider.
If the words “dry cider” makes those with a sweet tooth out there cringe — not to worry. Misfit Island’s ciders are palatable without being overly bitter.
Powell explained that he tries to use several different yeast strains in the cider-making process. He has always admired the potential for experimentation in microbreweries, and has been doing the same with his microcidery.
A nod to his career as “CJ the DJ,” the ciders are all infused with reggae.
“There is a lot of study around live organisms and positive music helping with its overall growth,” Powell said. “During all primary fermentation of any of my batches I play loud reggae out here for the first week and a half.”
The cider is aged for three to eight months, depending on its kind, in Powell’s garage that he hopes to turn into a tasting room when COVID-19 isn’t an issue anymore.
Powell is self-taught, but that hasn’t stopped him from mastering the craft.
“It’s been very scary, for sure, because I don’t really know what I’m doing and whether I’m doing it right,” he said, “but I read a lot and try to get as much information as possible, and practice makes perfect.”
Powell ended his record label and deejay career and moved back to Washington around eight years ago.
Originally from Port Orchard, CJ and Anna wanted to find their forever home. When they visited Whidbey, they fell in love with the island. At 6 acres, their property near Langley is a large enough space to house a cidery and an orchard.
The Powells both telecommute for their jobs. CJ leads an information technology team, while Anna is a pet insurance claims specialist. But their plan is to have Misfit Island make enough of a profit in the future to allow husband and wife to make hard cider full time.
Misfit Island’s cider is available at the Bayview Taproom in Langley, the Penn Cove Taproom in Coupeville and Oak Harbor and the Greenbank Farm in Greenbank, as well as several Whidbey Island restaurants. Bottles, which are 22 ounces, range in price from $10 to $12 and are available for purchase.
To fill a growler or to schedule a private tasting, email email@example.com.
The Powells said Misfit Island Cider Co. is planning to start a cider club — similar in idea to a wine club — soon.
If you go
While Misfit Island Cider Co., 2990 Quigley Road, Langley, doesn’t have a taproom, the company does offer private tastings and growler fills by reservation only. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.misfitislandcidercompany.com for more information.