Robert Fontaine is a self-professed nomad.
Born in Massachusetts, he has spent time in Florida, Washington, D.C., Louisiana, El Paso, the Bahamas, Germany, Philadelphia, New Mexico and many points in between. But it was Washington where Fontaine and his wife, Regina, wanted to settle down.
That doesn’t mean slow down, though. After moving back to the Puget Sound region four years ago, the Fontaines dipped into their 401K savings to open a cidery. Soundbite Cider, Everett’s first cidery, opened last month along Everett Mall Way in south Everett.
For Fontaine, who had been brewing beer for 30 years, opening a cidery made business sense.
“When we moved back to the Northwest, it was obvious there were so many great breweries here that it didn’t make sense to open another,” Fontaine said. “We saw an opportunity in cider.”
Fontaine did his research before diving in. He took two cidery courses at Oregon State University on how to run a cidery and make cider, and reached out to local cider makers Jason Spears at Locust Cider and Joel VandenBrink at Seattle Cider for advice. Regina, who exclusively drinks cider, helped shape his recipes.
A year ago, Fontaine found a promising location in a commercial space in the same office park off Everett Mall Way as Crucible Brewing. The building had high ceilings and a small office space perfect for a taproom. He purchased two 20- and 40-barrel fermenter/brite tanks and a three-barrel fermenter for blending purposes. The showpiece of Soundbite’s operation, though, is an Italian crossflow filter machine that cuts filter time from days to hours. That time saved allowed Soundbite to open with eight of its own ciders on tap, a rarity.
“It’s been a life-saver,” Fontaine said.
For brewers and cider makers, sometimes good help is hard to find. Other times it shows up on your doorstep. While Fontaine was in the middle of working to get his cidery open, John Fleming walked in off the street, told Fontaine he knew how to make cider and offered to lend a hand.
“I told him to pick up a hose,” Fontaine said, laughing.
Since then, Fleming, who has been brewing 23 years and has experience making cider at Cellar Ciders in Sultan, has become an integral part of Soundbite’s operations. As Fontaine’s right-hand man, Fleming helps write recipes, blend ciders and even contribute ingredients: the plums in Soundbite’s recent blend, Two Plums Up, came from John’s front yard.
As for the cider, Fontaine’s philosophy is simple: natural, not sweet. He doesn’t back-sweeten and gets fresh apple juice from Eastern Washington. Unlike most cideries that use a single yeast to make its ciders, Fontaine uses three: two wine yeasts and an ale yeast, each one giving Soundbite’s ciders a unique flavor profile.
“I don’t want people to taste the fruit juice,” Fontaine said. “Instead, I want the yeast to bring out the subtle flavors.”
Blending is a big part of Soundbite’s ciders. So far, Fontaine and Fleming have added cherries, blood oranges, pineapple, plums in their recipes. The biggest hit has been Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch Cherry Bomb, a semi-sweet cherry cider made with ancho, chipotle and habanero peppers to give it a bit of heat. Fontaine’s next blending concoction is a blueberry and pear cider he’s going to call Mathblue Perry.
Fontaine said the early response has been positive. Local breweries like Crucible, Middleton and Lazy Boy, all within walking distance of Soundbite’s operation, have put Soundbite cider on tap and upcoming festivals like the Snohomish Cider Festival and Seattle Cider Summit have invited Soundbite to pour its ciders.
On a recent weeknight, Tim McKnight and Laura Burton enjoyed small glasses of cider in Soundbite’s cozy taproom. Burton heard about Soundbite from her son, Keyan Burton, who is a regular at Crucible.
“I was expecting it to be sweet like apple juice,” Laura Burton said, “but it’s more dry and really easy to drink. I was blown away.”
Snohomish Hard Cider Festival
This year’s Snohomish Hard Cider Festival is from 1 to 5 p.m. Aug. 11 at Thomas Family Farm, 9010 Marsh Road, Snohomish. Taste cider from 14 local cideries, cheese and charcuterie. Tickets are $30 in advance, $35 at the door. Admission gets you six tasting tickets. More at www.snohomishciderfest.com.