Port Townsend Cider Route – Finnriver Cider

As a continuation of my trip report on the Port Townsend cider route, here is post 4/4, on Finnriver Cider.  Check out here for overview post 1, here for post 2 on Alpenfire, and here for post 3 on Eaglemount.  It was our third and last cidery visit of the day.  Finnriver is unique in that they were a farm prior to becoming a cidery (and still are, growing produce and raising chickens for eggs).  They are on 80 acres in the Chimacum Valley, south of Port Townsend.  Finnriver Cidery was founded in 2008 by husband & wife Crystie & Keith Kisler and their business partner Eric Jorgensen.  I learned that in May they plan to move the tasting room about 2.5 miles down the road, to their orchard location.

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They also recently became a B corporation, the first winery/cidery in WA to do so.  This means they promise to meet higher standards of transparency, accountability, and performance, and are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their employees, suppliers, community, the environment, etc.  They believe that “all business ought to be conducted as if people and place mattered.”  B Corp status can be compared to Fair Trade, LEED, or Organic certification, but is more comprehensive, a commitment to harness the power of their business to solve social, environmental, and economic problems.

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Unfortunately they had the most restrictive tasting options of the three cideries due to the Red Wine & Chocolate & Cider event, but also the most chocolate pairings.  I look forward to visiting them (and the other cideries) again soon.  There is also a Port Townsend cider tasting event in August, Summer Cider Day, featuring the three Port Townsend cideries and many others, which I want to attend.

We started outside in the pavilion, with a sample of their Crew Selection Black Currant cider.  It is similar to their regular Black Currant cider (which I reviewed here), but made with local black currants from Tahlequah Farm in Agnew, and aged 8 weeks in oak barrels.  I found it light bodied, with moderate carbonation, semi-dry to semi-sweet, a touch of oak flavor, mild to moderate tartness, and moderate acidity.  It was slightly richer and less tart than their regular Black Currant cider.  They also offer a Lavender Black Currant cider (which I reviewed here) and a Black Currant Brandywine (which I reviewed here), so I think they like Black Currant!

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Next we were served a beverage mixing their Cacao & Pear Brandywine with Theo sipping chocolate.  It tasted like a very thick & rich hot chocolate with a boozy finish.  It was paired with a Raspberry Brandywine and Cacao chocolate handpie from Crust Bakery, served warm out of their pizza oven, a buttery pastry crust with rich chocolate.

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Then we moved inside and sampled Love & Bubbles, a mix of their Artisan Sparkling Cider (which I reviewed here) with their Raspberry Brandywine.  I found the raspberry wine to tone down the acidity of the sparkling cider.  Overall it was semi-dry, so I assume more cider was used than brandywine.  Tasty!

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Next up was their brand new Liberry Brandywine, made with red currants from Tahlequah Farm in Agnew, as a fundraiser for the Jefferson County library system.  Sweet.  Moderate acidity and tartness.  Long boozy finish.  I found it to have more tartness and zing than their Black Currant Brandywine.

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Last was the Spirited Blackberry Wine.  Its made from apple brandy and blackberries, and aged with oak spirals.  Semi-dry.  Medium bodied.  Moderate acidity and tartness.  Long finish.  It was a bit too alcohol-forward for my tastes; I prefer their brandywines so far.

I learned that their tall clear bottles of brandywines are cordial style and their shorter dark bottles of spirited wines are port style.  The brandywines have more apple brandy and less fruit wine (at a lower ABV).

They also had truffles from Elevated Chocolate, which were tasty.

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I bought bottles of their Pommeau (which I reviewed here, when a friend let me sample some), Farmstead cider, & Fresh Hopped (for my husband), some cute apple earrings, and a t-shirt.

My favorite ciders overall from Finnriver so far are their Pommeau, Fire Barrel, Lavender Black Currant, and Honey Meadow, and I’ve tried quite a few from them (19 per my Ciders I’ve Tried list).

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This concludes my four part series on the Port Townsend cider route–thanks for reading!

Port Townsend Cider Route – Eaglemount Wine & Cider (& Mead)

As a continuation of my trip report on the Port Townsend cider route, this is post 3/4, on Eaglemount Wine & Cider (here is overview post 1 and here is post 2 on Alpenfire).  It was our second cidery of the day.  Eaglemount is unique in that they also offer red grape wine and mead (honey wine) in addition to cider.  All of these are made by the co-owner Trudy.  It was quite busy, but I got a chance to chat with her and introduce myself.  I learned that Drew Zimmerman from Red Barn Cider in Mt Vernon WA was an inspiration in their making cider, wine, and mead.  Red Barn Cider closed a few years ago due to his retirement.  Its not the first time I’ve heard of Drew Zimmerman…his Fire Barrel cider is now made by Finnriver (who also bought his cider apple orchard).

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Eaglemount is owned & operated by the husband & wife team of Jim & Trudy Davis, since 2006, although they had been making these beverages for 10 years prior to that.  They moved their tasting room just over a year ago from their home, orchard, & cidery/winery/meadery to a separate property (the Palindrome).  I learned they often start their ciders fermenting with wild yeast, then may add yeast as required.  There is an Airbnb on the new property, and plans for a new septic system and commercial kitchen so they can host events.  At their orchard they are planting 800 cider apple trees to add to the current 200.  They currently use cider apples in a mix with dessert apples in their Dry & Semi-Sweet Homestead ciders.

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One of the disadvantages of visiting during an event was they were offering less tastings for a higher cost (due to the chocolate pairings), and they were served in plastic cups (for some reason cider always tastes better from a glass to me).  I went through two sets of four tastes at Eaglemount.  My husband also sampled some of their red wines.

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The cider & mead tasting options that day were Homestead Dry cider, Homestead Semi-Sweet cider, Cyser, Quince cider, Rhubarb cider, Raspberry cider, Raspberry Ginger cider, Ginger cider, Apple mead, Cherry mead, Cranberry mead, Quince mead, Apple Dessert Wine, and Harvest Apple wine.  The last two were described as apple wines as they had higher ABVs.  I believe the only cider from their lineup that wasn’t offered was Boot Brawl, their hopped cider.  Bottles of cider & mead ranged from $14-$26 (mostly $14-$16), and most bottles are 750ml.  They also had 5 red wines they were tasting out of the 6 in their lineup.

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<this brand of environmentally friendly mini plastic cups is quite popular, also used at Finnriver and at several other cider events I’ve been to; I later learned that the county requires the two tasting rooms to use disposable drinkware as they have not yet met certain requirements such as water use and septic monitoring history–quite interesting>

Homestead Semi-Sweet Cider, 8% ABV – This is the sweeter version of their Homestead cider, also available in Dry.  Smells likes sweet apples with a touch of honey.  Slightly hazy.  Semi-sweet.  Moderate carbonation.  Medium bodied.  Low to moderate tannins.  Low tartness and acidity.  Yeasty, slightly rich, similar to English cider, but with a touch of honey notes.  Moderate finish length.  I liked this much better than their Homestead Dry that I tried at Cider Summit, as it didn’t have as much tartness or bitterness.

Rhubarb Cider, 8% ABV – Cider with organic rhubarb.  Smells tart and fruity.  Described as semi-sweet but I found it semi-dry.  Low carbonation.  Light bodied.  Low to moderate tartness.  Moderate acidity.  Fruity notes, although I’m not sure I could have identified them as rhubarb.  A touch alcohol-forward.  Long finish length.

Quince Mead, 9% ABV – Made from honey and organic quince from San Juan island.  Smells sweet, fruity, and of honey.  Semi-sweet.  Full bodied.  Low to moderate tartness and acidity.  A hint of bitterness.  Tropical notes.  Moderate finish length.  I prefer their Quince cider.

Apple Dessert Wine, 18% ABV – Apple brandy blended with apple juice (which would more commonly be called Pommeau).  Smells like apple brandy.  Semi-sweet.  Light bodied. Low tartness and acidity.  Oddly enough I picked up a hint of tannins.  Smooth.  Honey, caramel, and brown sugar notes.  Long warming boozy finish.

Raspberry Cider, 8% ABV – Cider (80%) with pure raspberry juice (20%).  Deep red hue.  Described as semi-sweet but I found it sweet.  Moderate tartness and acidity.  A hint of tannins.  Medium bodied.  Full flavored with lots of raspberry flavor.  Quick finish length.

Apple Mead, 10% ABV – Mead (made from honey from Sequim WA) with apples.  I’m not sure how this varies from their cyser (which is also made from honey and apples).  Smells mild, of apple juice and honey.  Semi-sweet.  Medium bodied.  Mild acidity.  Moderate tartness.  A hint of bitterness.  A hint of tannins (apple skin flavor).  Notes of apple, honey, and pollen.  From memory I think this has more apple flavor and a higher ABV than their Cyser, which I prefer.  Moderate finish length.

Cherry Mead, 10% ABV – Mead (made from honey from Sequim WA) with Organic cherries.  Deep red hue.  Sweet.  I only picked up cherry notes, not honey, and they tended towards medicinal.  However, my husband really enjoyed this one.  I think at a lower ABV I may have liked it better.  Alcohol-forward.  Medium bodied.  Long warming finish.

Harvest Apple Wine – This is a new release for them, described as a dry wine crafted from heirloom apples and wild yeast.  They had planned to blend it, but liked it on its own.  Semi-dry.  Medium bodied.  Low to moderate acidity and tartness.  Low tannins and bitterness.  Both apple and alcohol forward.  Long warming finish.

I picked up a bottle of Homestead Semi-Sweet (and my husband bought a bottle of red wine).  I think their Quince cider remains my favorite, followed by the Homestead Semi-Sweet and Cyser, which I find to be their most complex ciders.

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Stay tuned for post 4/4 on Finnriver!

Port Townsend Cider Route – Alpenfire Cider

As a continuation of my trip report on the Port Townsend cider route, here is post 2/4, on Alpenfire Cider (see here for post 1/4, an overview).  It was our first cidery of the day, just after they opened at 11am, and we were the only customers.  This was good as instead of their Red Wine & Chocolate & Cider event pairing, I was offered the option of partaking in their regular tasting (which I chose, then I sampled some of the chocolates!).

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Alpenfire Cider is owned & operated by the husband & wife team of Steve (Bear) and Nancy Bishop.  They started under the name Wildfire but changed to Alpenfire in 2010.  The name is a nod to Bear’s firefighting background.  They live on the property with their orchard, cidery, and tasting room.  Their orchard is primarily made up of English and French cider apple varieties (although they have recently planted some heirloom apple and perry pear varieties).  They were the first certified organic cidery in Washington and had their first harvest in 2008.  I learned that currently all of their ciders which have the USDA Organic seal are made from apples from their own orchard, and those that don’t are from other orchards.  They also produce a line of vinegars.

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<it was a beautiful day!>

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I had met Nancy at a few events for Washington Cider Week last year, including Cider Summit Seattle, and she actually remembered me!  I had hoped they would have some bottles of Smoke, which I think is my favorite from them (amazingly rich & smokey), but alas their next batch is still barrel aging.  Their last batch was 16% ABV, made from Kingston Black, Dabinett, & Vilberie apples, and triple fermented in charred oak whiskey & mead barrels.  No estimate on when the next batch will be released as it takes as long as it takes until they are completely happy with it.

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<barrels of Smoke>

They had an interesting cider tasting order, from sweet to dry to sweet.

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Spark – Their semi-sweet cider, a customer favorite, made from cider and heirloom apple varieties, and their most “American” cider.  Semi-sweet to sweet.  Low acidity and tartness.  A hint of tannins.  Honey and floral notes.  Medium to full bodied.  Moderate finish length.  This would be a great introductory artisan cider for folks used to drinking commercial cider, due to its sweetness (and it was for me).

Ember – Made from late season French and English bittersweet apple varieties.  This cider was described as being especially ideal to pair with food.  Semi-dry.  Low acidity and tartness.  Moderate tannins.  Bittersweet apple, caramel, honey, and floral notes.  Light to medium bodied.  Long finish.

Dungeness Orchard Blend – A unique still (non carbonated) cider made from over 200 varieties of apples from the Dungeness Orchard in Sequim WA.  It can almost be better compared to white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc, than cider.  I was also told that due to the number of apple varieties used, it can be a bit “volatile”, varying batch to batch (some past batches have been significantly sweeter).  Dry to semi-dry.  Slight funk.  Light bodied.  Low tartness.  Moderate acidity.  Light tannins.  Complex with floral and mineral notes, but otherwise I find the flavor difficult to describe.  Long finish.

Pirate’s Plank – Their flagship award winning “bone dry” (zero residual sugar) cider, described as similar to traditional English cider.  Aged in white oak.  This is a “Scrumpy” unfiltered and unpasteurized cider.  It was said that this could be used similar to a sour beer in food pairings.  Fully dry.  Low acidity and tartness.  Moderate tannins.  A hint of funk.  Light bodied.  Citrus, floral, oak, and earthy notes.  Long finish.

Glow – A single varietal rosé cider made from Hidden Rose red fleshed apples, which are unique for Alpenfire as they are actually a dessert apple variety (not heirloom or cider apple variety).  These are rare in the U.S. as the majority are shipped to Japan, where they can fetch $12-$15 per apple!  They tried to grow these in the Alpenfire orchard, but they weren’t thriving in the cool climate, so now they source them from Oregon, where the variety was discovered in the 1960s.  The cider is a lovely blush color.  It smells very fruity, of watermelon and strawberries.  Sweet.  Complex and fruity.  Very full flavored.  Low tartness and acidity.  Medium to full bodied.  Nearly still.  Moderate length finish.

Cinders – This is their newest release, a Methode Champenoise version of Glow, and a very limited release of 454 bottles.  Methode Champenoise is an old world labor-intensive way of making a naturally carbonated champagne-style cider.  It involves secondary fermentation in the bottle, daily hand turning of bottles on a riddling rack, and manual disgorging of the residual yeast sediment.  Semi-dry.  Very high carbonation.  It smells more yeasty than fruity to me.  I was surprised how dry the Methode Champenoise made it.  The flavor seemed mild, especially compared to Glow.  A completely different cider.

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<Methode Champenoise riddling rack with bottles of Cinders>

Calypso – This is their only cider which has an addition besides apples, blackberries from Sequim WA.  Pippin apples from their orchard were used, and the cider was aged 2 months in Bull Run Distilling rum barrels.  Semi-dry.  Low to moderate tartness.  Very light oak barrel influence.  Low to moderate blackberry flavor.  Light bodied.  Moderate carbonation.

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I had tried Spark, Ember, and Dungeness previously (as well as Apocalypso, a twist on Calypso that was aged 4 instead of 2 months, and Simple Cider, which were both draft-only releases).  Its crazy how much tastes can change (and ciders, year to year), as the first time I tried Dungeness I really wasn’t a fan…it tasted like dry white wine to me.  Now that my cider palate has expanded I could taste the complexity of the cider.  Even last summer I remember Ember as being too tannic for my tastes, but now it was enjoyable.  The only cider of their current lineup I haven’t tasted yet is now Flame, a Methode Champenoise style cider.

I picked up a bottle of Glow and a cute Alpenfire t-shirt.  I was expecting to purchase a bottle of Cinders, but honestly I preferred Glow.  I can get Glow at home (but not Cinders, although it is currently on VinoShipper), but its no fun to leave a tasting room without cider!  It was my favorite from this tasting.  Overall my favorites from them are Glow, Spark, Smoke, and Calypso/Apocalypso.

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Stay tuned for posts 3/4 and 4/4 on Eaglemount and Finnriver!

Port Townsend Cider Route – Road Trip Report

I finally made it out the Olympic Peninsula to visit the three Port Townsend Washington area cideries, Alpenfire, Eaglemount, and Finnriver.  My husband took me on a birthday weekend getaway, and we stayed the night in Port Ludlow (South of Port Townsend).  This post will cover the trip as a whole, then I’ll have three other posts for tasting notes and info on each of the three cideries.

We planned this trip a couple months in advance, but it ended up being weekend 2/2 of a Red Wine (& Cider) & Chocolate Valentine’s Day thing, so unfortunately that meant I didn’t get the typical tasting experience.  In addition to having a different tasting selection, the cideries appeared to be charging more for tastings (as they were offering chocolate pairings).  However, that also meant that Alpenfire was open (they usually close for the Winter this time of year).

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It was an early wake up for a Saturday, as I wanted to allow extra time for ferry delays or whatever just in case, although the trip is only a couple hours.

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(1) We started with the 8am Edmonds to Kingston ferry, which is a quick 30 minute trip, but actually didn’t save us much time (vs. driving around to the South), but is fun and breaks up the trip.

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(2) Then we headed up North to Port Townsend, did a quick driving tour of the town, and ate a late breakfast at a cute French-themed restaurant called Sweet Laurette (which was very good).

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(3) Next we realized the Mount Townsend Creamery was on our route, and we had a bit of time, so that was a fun quick stop.

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(4) Then, on to our first cider stop, Alpenfire!  We got lucky as for this event weekend they opened at 11am instead of noon, giving us an extra hour.  Also, we ended up being the only guests at Alpenfire, likely as it was so early.

I should note that this area is lovely just to take a drive, surrounded by trees.

(5) Next was Eaglemount (at their new location by the way–the cider route maps still have their old address).  They are unique on the cider route as they also make grape wine and honey wine (mead) in addition to cider.

(6) After that we stopped in at the Chimacum Corner Farmstand to take a look.

(7) Last, we ended the cider route at Finnriver.  We made good time and finished up there just before 4pm (so without the hour head start it would have been 5pm).

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(8) Finally, we drove South to Port Ludlow to the Inn at the Resort at Port Ludlow.  It appears to be the nicest accommodations in the area.  There aren’t many newer / higher priced options in Port Townsend.  Port Ludlow is actually closer to Finnriver than Port Townsend (and closer to the ferry), so it wasn’t really an inconvenience.  The main thing it impacted was our dinner options, as Port Ludlow is much smaller than Port Townsend…we ended up at The Fireside restaurant at the Inn for both dinner and breakfast, which was very nice, but definitely added to the cost.  The Inn is beautifully situated on the marina in the planned community of Port Ludlow.

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I was surprised at how small it was, less than 40 rooms, although they also have several event and banquet rooms.  Overall I think it was overpriced (it looked nice on the surface but the room had a lot of little annoyances like a loud heater & mini fridge and uncomfortable bed), but for the level of accommodations we are used to, it was the best option.  We had time before dinner to walk along the waterfront.  Its a popular destination for weddings, and I imagine they are full all summer long (even without air conditioning!).  For our February stay however it was fairly quiet.

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I was drawn to the restaurant’s cider selection on their online menu, but it ended up being a disappointment…they had reduced their ciders from 4 by the glass, 4 by the bottle, 1 Pommeau, and several Finnriver brandywines to only 1 by the glass (Eaglemount Ginger), 1 by the bottle (Alpenfire Glow), and the Finnriver brandywines.  You’d think their best option would be to stock 500ml Finnriver bottles as to not have to keep anything open, have ciders that are widely appealing (not ginger), and have something that one person could order (plus although Glow is amazing, I’d call it more of a dessert cider than something to pair with dinner).  I ended up ordering a cocktail with Prosecco and Finnriver Black Currant brandywine.  The food was amazing but the service was absent at times.  Overall our stay met our needs but didn’t amaze us.

Wanting to make this trip yourself?  Here are my tips:

  • Although its doable to make it a day trip from the greater Seattle area (especially as the cideries are only typically open noon-5pm), staying overnight was great, and gave us a chance to have a leisurely dinner too instead of rushing home.  However, especially in the summer, be warned that hotels book very quickly, likely as there are few options.
  • Definitely be safe and have a designated driver, as its a lot of cider tasting in a short period of time.
  • Plan your route.  I’m glad I planned the order we’d visit the cideries, how long of a drive between them, etc.  It wouldn’t have been fun to go on the trip and end up only making it to 2/3 cideries for example due to running out of time.
  • Bring some snacks, as there are very few options once you start the cider route, and cider tasting on an empty stomach isn’t wise.  Apparently in summer some of the cideries may offer food though (such as pizza at Finnriver).  One option is the Chimacum Corner Farmstand, which is a mix between a roadside produce stand and a mini PCC (plus they even sell garden type stuff like fertilizer outside).  They are close to Finnriver and have some grab & go lunch type stuff.  We stopped in but didn’t end up buying anything.  Due to our large breakfast just before starting the cider route, we ended up being ok food-wise until the third stop at Finnriver, where we had some of the snacks we brought (I went a bit fancy and packed us a cheese plate in a cooler).
  • Cash wasn’t necessary, although it could be handy for tasting fees and tips.  All three cideries used the credit card payment app Square on an ipad (no extra fee).
  • Plan to purchase bottles (and cidery swag if interested), as you will get a chance to taste at least a few ciders that aren’t distributed.  Cinders at Alpenfire and Pommeau at Finnriver for example.

Stay tuned for my tasting notes from Alpenfire, Eaglemount, and Finnriver!

(UPDATE – Posts on Alpenfire, Eaglemount, and Finnriver are now up.)