Hard cider’s popularity is growing fast, especially in Washington

  • By Aaron Swaney Herald Writer
  • Thursday, September 18, 2014 12:42pm
  • Life

Whether boxed up in huge crates or strewn along the orchard floor, Washington apple farmers have always had too many apples. For years, farms would send their excess of the durable fruit to be made into apple concentrate or to be used as the base for other beverages.

That was before the cider boom. About three years ago, fueled by an increase in people turning to a gluten-free diet, hard cider became trendy again. Apple farmers in the state responded. Some opened up their own cideries while others started selling all those leftover apples to cideries around the region.

“We’ve always had a glut of apples; nobody can eat that many apples,” said Kevin Crisalli, brand manager at Chelan Gold Hard Cider. “The growing interest in cider gives us a place to use them.”

Chelan Gold has operated a cidery for six years, but it was three years ago that it decided to distribute its cider regionally. Since then it has experienced huge growth and its ciders are now in stores in four states. Crisalli said Chelan Gold has seen 112 percent growth in sales since just last year.

It’s not alone. Opened a little over a year ago by the brewers at Two Beers Brewing in Seattle, Seattle Cider Company has tripled its capacity since it began. Joel VandenBrink, who studied in Michigan, another state cider is hugely popular, credits the discerning taste of the younger generation for the growth of the cider industry, equating it to the craft beer boom in the 1970s.

“You have a generation of young professionals who are spending more time out and they want better choices when it comes to drinking something,” said VandenBrink. “If they’re going to spend money, they want to do it on something they enjoy.”

Cider used to be one of America’s favorite beverages. Because of a scarcity of grapes and grains, an abundance of apples and a lack of any good sanitation in early American settlements, cider was a very popular beverage. In 1840, William Henry Harrison ran successfully as the “log cabin and hard cider” presidential candidate, celebrating his down-home virtues.

But as more immigrants came from Germany and grain became the dominant crop in America, cider started to give way to beer. The temperance movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was a death blow to the cider industry as many orchards used for cider production were eliminated.

But cider is back in a big way. A good barometer of the burgeoning industry is the Seattle Cider Summit. Started four years ago by Alan Shapiro, Seattle Cider Summit had approximately a dozen cideries and 40 different ciders at its first incarnation. This past August, the summit had more than 40 cideries and nearly 160 different ciders. Right now the west coast and other apple-producing regions are at the heart of the cider boom, but Shapiro believes that may change.

“I think in the coming years you’re going to see more of the country catch on,” said Shapiro, who has helped the Cider Summit expand to three other cities, Portland, Oregon, Chicago and Berkeley, California. “Texas and Colorado are emerging states.”

In Washington a couple of recent changes in the categorization of cider have helped the industry. In March, Washington state lawmakers passed legislation allowing growlers to be filled with hard cider at retailers, bars and taverns. Prior to the legislation, cider was categorized as wine and was excluded from growler fills.

Another big change is how grocery stores have classified cider. As cider has grown, it’s continued to be classified as beer at most grocery stores, meaning it had to compete with beer for shelf space and budget. Recently though, Crisalli said some stores have started creating a separate classification for hard cider.

“It’s a huge change for the industry, Crisalli said. “Instead of having to compete with established craft beer we can carve out our own spot in stores and compete against other ciders.”

Aaron Swaney: 425-339-3430; aswaney@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @swaney_aaron79. Follow the Hops and Sips blog at www.heraldnet.com/hopsandsips.

Cider taste test

Ciders come in many different forms. Some are straight forward hard ciders with a light, tart taste and strong carbonation. Others are more like wine, dry with low carbonation. Herald writer Aaron Swaney taste tested a number at the most recent Seattle Cider Summit. For more on the ciders he tried, click here.

Cider Swig

Cider Swig, the Greater Peninsula Cider Festival, is Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. at Sehmel Homestead Park in Gig Harbor (10123 78th Ave NW, Gig Harbor). The first annual Cider Swig will have nearly 50 varieties of ciders from a number of area cideries, including Nearly 50 cider varieties by regional cideries, including Finnriver Cidery, Dragon’s Head Cider and Alpenfire Cider. There will also be food pairings from area restaurants. Advance tickets are $25 and can be purchased at www.ciderswig.eventbrite.com. Tickets are $32 at the game and include a commemorative glass and five taste tokens. For more information, visit www.ciderswig.eventbrite.com.

Cider Route

Take a day and visit some of the best cideries on the peninsula in the Port Townsend Cider Route. Check out Alpenfire Cider (220 Pocket Ln., Port Townsend; alpenfirecider.com), Finnriver Farm &Cidery (62 Barn Swallow Road, Chimacum; finnriver.com) and Eaglemount Wine &Cider (2350 Eaglemount Road, Port Townsend; eaglemountwineandcider.com). Check out the cideries’ websites for hours of operation.

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