A growing thirst for cider
Wineries jump into the cider market
Two 500-gallon, stainless steel tanks nicknamed Geraldine and Boris made the temporary switch this summer from grape juice to apple juice.
The tanks had been used to chill and produce wine for the past six years.
But in June, Helioterra Wines owner Anne Hubatch repurposed the tanks to make hard cider under a new label, Alter Ego.
She and her partners Nate and Kris Wall moved the tanks, a chiller and other equipment to Coopers Hall, the Southeast Portland wine bar and restaurant that opened in April.
They ordered a 1,000-gallon batch of juice from the Hood River Juice Co., let it ferment and then carbonate in a separate tank, tasting and perfecting as they went along.
Within four short weeks, they had their first 200 kegs of hard cider that are now selling in about a dozen bars and restaurants in Portland, with plans to slowly expand distribution across the state.
Such is the birth of an artisan cider maker in Oregon, a phenomenon thats seen explosive growth in the past two years.
Alter Ego is the latest of 14 cider makers to sprout up in the state in 2013 and 2014, bringing Oregons total number of licensed cider makers to 30.
Yet thats just the Oregon Liquor Control Commissions best guess, because hard cider is classified as a fermented fruit juice, made under a winery license.
Unlike distillers, cider makers arent required to get any special permits before starting up.
Rule changes benefit makers
Like at Alter Ego, many of the cider makers are craft brewers or winemakers, getting in on the action to diversify their brand and meet customers demands.
Some liked the OLCC rule change in January that allowed for the sale of cider and wine in growlers.
From a makers perspective, cider allows them to use equipment that would have been sitting idle during the nonharvest months, and take full advantage of the bounty of the fruit in the region.
Besides, fermenting is really fun, says Hubatch, who started winemaking in Oregon 14 years ago. Cider gives you more chances to make something year-round. With wine, its just one shot.
Consider the explosive growth:
Pete Mulligan, vice president of the four-year-old Northwest Cider Association, says the growth has been a boon to all.
Theres a buzz about cider right now, says Mulligan, who helped launch Bull Run Cider four years ago after getting inspired at the Portland Fermentation Festival.
In Portlands food and drink scene, what people are doing is checking it out, starting to see it pairs well with different foods, Mulligan says.
With so many new players, the industry believes the growth is akin to craft beer 20 to 30 years ago.
If you dont know what makes a cider a cider, youre not alone. The industry is in the midst of trying to define and set national standards for the beverage, for marketing and sales as well as to educate consumers and protect its integrity.
Cider doesnt have a very strong definition, so it could be made out of glucose with apple essence, Mulligan says. We dont do that in the Northwest.
The Northwest Cider Association, in fact, just received a $50,000 grant from the Oregon Department of Agriculture to develop those standards.
That means consumers can expect a lot more buzz around cider, through road shows, tastings and other events intended to bring clarity to the different categories of cider.
For example, can cider be made with hops? (Yes.) Where does cider made from pears fit in? (Its in its own category, called perry.)
Apples to apples
If there are any challenges ahead for the cider industry, its the local availability of the two most desired types of cider apples: bittersweet and bittersharp.
Commercial cider labels like Angry Orchard, made by the Boston Beer Co. producer of Samuel Adams beer get around the apple problem by importing bittersweet concentrate from France, Mulligan says.
If local craft cider makers had the resources to do that, it would totally change the market, he says, but as far as he knows, its not being done locally.
As a result, Mulligan says competitive pricing for Hood River apples is on the rise.
There are more and more of us competing for the same apples. If we can talk to more orchardists about growing cider apples, itll help the cider industry out. Theres never too many apples.
Many companies are doing just that.
Alter Egos Hubatch says shes in talks with local orchardists to grow their own apples, to have more control over the types of apples used.
Sherwoods Finnegan Cider planted 3,000 cider apple trees in its orchard this summer to meet its growth.
At Bull Run Cider, Mulligan is adding acreage to his apple orchards every year.
The company has 4,500 trees on eight acres in Forest Grove, with 75 apple varieties. Next month it will add four acres, and then another four a year after that.
As a 16-acre nursery registered with the Oregon Department of Agriculture, well be there to support the industry, especially the smaller producers, Mulligan says. Of the 43 members in the Northwest Cider Association in Oregon, Washington, Montana and Canada, 30 of them are considered nanocideries, making fewer than 10,000 gallons per year.
Bull Run Cider is on the cusp, having produced 4,500 gallons last year, but on track to double that this year, thanks in part to its new sponsorship deal with the Hillsboro Hops.
Next month the company will quadruple its 400 square feet of operating space and open a tap room across from Pacific University.
Theres a lot of reason cider fans are passionate about the companys drink. Its naturally gluten-free. Its relatively new to the market, and with an average alcohol-by-volume range of 5 to 8 percent, its a counterpoint to the increasingly hoppy beer made in the Pacific Northwest.
Cider lovers also know its not just a sweet beverage it can be dry, crisp and complex like wine and beer, with infinite more flavor possibilities.
We can make more types of cider than wine and beer, since theres more genetic diversity in apples, Mulligan says.
Hes not surprised that the market is booming in fact itd be weird if it wasnt: Its not difficult to make. The craftsmen are also entrepreneurs. If its legal and they can do it and its not too much cost, theyre gonna try to do it.JW_DISQUS_ADD_A_COMMENT