For my third Washington Cider Week 2017 event, I attended a cider tasting class with Nat West of Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider (in Portland Oregon), at Downtown Spirits in downtown Seattle. It was my first time at that store, which had a large selection (spirits, wine, beer, cider, mead, etc), plus an area set up with chairs & tables for classes & tastings.
I only read about the event the day before, but it sounded like a cool opportunity, as The Reverend (as he is commonly referred to – and he is an actual online ordained Reverend) has a lot of interesting insight on the industry. I already missed out on some fun cider week events as I didn’t find out about them until after the fact (apparently the official NW Cider calendar stopped accepting submissions pretty early), so I didn’t want to pass this up.
The tasting list was a bit underwhelming with multiple mass market PNW canned ciders, but the two hour event with 10 ciders only cost $10. That was crazy good deal, as that probably only covered the cider (and maybe even not), so Nat was basically volunteering his time. He took the train up from Portland just for this and one other event. There were only 11 of us who attended (and 2 of those were store employees).
I liked that the class was very informal. We were encouraged to ask questions whenever, and we were even allowed to just pass the ciders around and pour how much we wanted (with a suggested amount so everyone got to try some). Although that meant we couldn’t go back and taste anything (unless there were leftovers), it also meant I didn’t have cider poured into my glass which I would have felt obligated to drink to move on.
Cider Tasting Notes
We tasted the following ciders, in this order: Cascadia Granny Smith, Liberty McIntosh, Wandering Aengus Golden Russet, Seattle Cider Winesap Rosé , Seattle Cider Semi Sweet, Rambling Route Apple, Reverend Nat’s Revival, Bull Run Bramble Berry, 2 Towns Cot in the Act, and Reverend Nat’s The Passion. The first was described as a palette cleanser, the next three as American Heirloom, the following three as American common, and the last three as flavored. Most of the time he would also include some European ciders, like English, French, and/or Spanish, but I think he was limited to what this store had in stock and cold.
The only new-to-me cider was Seattle Cider Winesap Rosé. Nat asked if anyone had tried all the ciders, and I said 9/10, and it was the same for him (apparently that is a new ish Seattle Cider release). The majority of the class seemed to be more so fans of Reverend Nat’s cider (which tend to be beer fans), than overall cider enthusiasts like me.
Cascadia Ciderworks United (Portland OR) Green Apple (6.9% ABV) – This retails for $9.99 / four pack of 16oz cans, and is made by Reverend Nat’s. Semi-dry, very tart, and definitely green apple flavor (single varietal).
Liberty Ciderworks (Spokane WA) McIntosh (8.1% ABV) – See my previous notes here. Liberty was described as a more traditional cidermaker, plus I know they are unique in that they are not orchard based, but only use heirloom & cider apples. This single varietal is available in bottles and on draft, and retails around $16 / 750ml. Nat described this apple variety as making a juice which is very appley (more than many other heirloom apple varieties), and it not being as common in the PNW as it is in the NE. Semi-dry. Low to moderate tannins. Notes of apple juice, caramel, honey, and must. Some other folks in the class were picking up hints of “bandaid” flavor (which is from a combination of Brettanomyces, tannins, and polyphenols). I must not be sensitive to that, as I’ve never noticed it with any cider. However, in contrast, I am very sensitive to sourness, common in farmhouse and Spanish style ciders.
Wandering Aengus (Salem OR) Golden Russet (9.0% ABV) – See my previous notes here. Wandering Aengus was described as one of the first cideries in the NW, starting in the 1990s, under the name “The Traditional Company”. This is a single varietal made using Golden Russet apples which they grew themselves, and dry farmed (no irrigation). It retails for around $9 / 500ml. I would have described it as on the sweeter side of semi-dry, but apparently this measures full dry (my all have different palettes!). Tart, acidic, bitter, and slightly tannic. Rich flavor. Long acidic tannic finish.
Seattle Cider Co. (Seattle WA) Winesap Rosé (6.0% ABV) – I’ve tried multiple single varietals from Winesap apples, and multiple rosé ciders, but not this one. Winesap Rosé is a single varietal from Winesap apples, and pink/rosé from being aged in red wine barrels. It retails for around $11 / 500ml. Semi-dry. Watery. Slightly fruity, with a hint of oak. The carbonation was visible but not detectable. Low tartness and acidity. Hints of tannins. Quick finish. I think this would appeal more to wine folks. Like most of their ciders, the flavor was very mild.
Seattle Cider Co. (Seattle WA) Semi Sweet (6.5% ABV) – See my previous notes here. This is a very commonly found cider in Seattle, and retails for about $11 / four 16oz cans. Semi-sweet to semi-dry. Fuller bodied. Low acid. Notes of apple juice, honey, and citrus.
Rambling Route (Yakima WA) Apple (6.9% ABV) – See my previous notes here. This is made by Tieton, and retails for about $9 / four 16oz cans. Higher carbonation. Semi-sweet to semi-dry. Very similar to Seattle Cider, but slightly more apple-forward. We were told these two ciders are so similar as they use the same dessert apple juice blend, same wine yeast, sugar for back-sweetening, etc.
Reverend Nat’s (Portland OR) Revival (5.8% ABV) – See my previous notes here. This retails for about $15 / six 12oz bottles or $6 / 500ml bottle. This is a very unique cider as it gets a lot of different flavors just from the use of multiple yeast strains, piloncillo sugar, and a secret ingredient which he told us but said I couldn’t write down. It is made by mixing two batches of cider together. One has yeast strain 1 and the sugar, and results in a high ABV. The other has yeast strain 2, and results in a more typical ABV. Then fresh juice is added, which is about 20% of the makeup. Semi-sweet to semi-dry. Notes of apple juice, yeast, brown sugar, honey, and hints of tropical fruit.
Bull Run (Forest Grove OR) Bramble Berry (6.8% ABV) – See my previous notes here. This cider with marionberries, blackberries, and boysenberries retails for $8 / 500ml. Semi-dry, with the berry more in the nose than the flavor, low acid, and hints of tannins from the berries.
2 Towns (Corvallis OR) Cot in the Act (6.2% ABV) – See my previous notes here. This is a seasonal apricot cider (made using the whole fruit, not just juice) which retails for about $12.50 / six 12oz cans or $8 / 500ml. Very strong apricot scent. Semi-sweet to semi-dry, juicy, notes of stone fruit, and flavorful.
Reverend Nat’s (Portland OR) The Passion (6.9% ABV) – See my previous notes here. This is a seasonal cider made with Ecuadorian passion fruit juice, toasted coconut, and vanilla, and retails for about $14 / 500ml. I had previously heard this described as a sour cider, but this bottle pour and my previous draft pour were both free from sourness, so I’m game to buy it sometime as I really enjoy the flavor. Semi-sweet (his sweetest cider). Tart. High flavor intensity, with a strong passion fruit scent & flavor, with hints of vanilla & coconut.
My favorite ciders of those were from Liberty, 2 Towns, and Rev Nat’s.
Info from Rev Nat
- We discussed some cider basics such as sweetness vs. acidity and the cidermaking process. However, I was surprised that I don’t think the word “tannins” came up at all (although it was on the handout, which had one side of general cider info and one side with info about the 10 ciders), despite at least the Liberty and Wandering Aengus ciders being good examples.
- Rev Nat’s has five cider bases, and two of them are the Cascadia green & blue cans
- 2 Towns (another common Oregon cidery) is six times as large as Rev Nat’s (I assume in context of cider produced/year)
- Rev Nat’s currently has 22 employees
- Rev Nat’s will be moving into a new 25,000 sq ft cidery space, and will then convert their current 8,000 sq ft space into only a tap room, including food. It doesn’t look like the news about this being finalized has been officially announced, but this article from last year mentioned the same info.
- Profit margins are about the same for all cideries, so ciders that cost more do actually cost more to make.
- Specific gravity is a way to measure the sweetness of a cider, using the weight of the cider compared to the weight of the same amount of water. The interesting thing with SG however is that you can have a cider with a specific gravity lower than water, so that would say the cider was drier than water lol.
- Single varietal ciders are apparently more of an American thing, due to our new experimental cider culture. They are probably second most common in England.
- Wine/champagne yeast is often used in cidermaking as it ferments cleanly at low temperatures, is easy to remove (it will clump at the bottom of the tank), and it is designed to not impact the flavor.
- Rev Nat’s in contrast uses beer yeast, which is designed to impart flavor (we were told the yeast in beer is actually what has the most impact on a beer’s flavor, not the grains or hops). I think this class did a good job showcasing Rev Nat’s ciders, as they were two of the 2-4 most flavorful ciders of the group of 10.
- Nat said cider that is cloudy is more of a marketing gimmick, and cloudy ciders don’t really retain more flavor than the more commonly found filtered ones. Cloudiness in a cider can be from suspended yeast, apple debris/pulp, or pectin (naturally in apples). The first two can be filtered out, but not the last. This really made me think, as I’ve had a number of ciders which were cloudy and very flavorful (Downeast comes to mind). They did tend to be sweet and apple juice forward though, so its quite plausible they would have still tasted like that after filtering. Also, I’ve never tried the same cider before and after filtering, which I think would be the real test.
- Nat often does an expanded cider tasting class during Oregon Cider Week, which includes 30! ciders in 3 hours
After the Event
I forgot to snag a photo before the tasting, but I got one of the aftermath:
After the event I looked around the Downtown Spirits shop and was excited to find an entire shelf of cider that was 50% off – Alpenfire, Eden, Eric Bordelet, Slyboro, etc. Its sad, but the high end and/or imported ciders just don’t sell very quickly. I’ve heard from several shops that they won’t be re-stocking those sorts of items. It has got more difficult for me to get imports especially. I hadn’t planned to pick up any cider as my cabinet is full, but I picked up six bottles of high end ciders for under $50, as it was too good of a deal to pass up. Very cool!