In this 3-part series, Levi Danielson, a Portland Oregon cider enthusiast and apprentice cidermaker at Dragon’s Head Cider in Vashon WA, explores cider’s roots across the world and how it’s thriving in Portland, Oregon.
Read Part 1: The History of Cider
Read Part 2: Global Apple Varieties and Cider Regions
Cider in the United States has a long history. The old soggy cap that was put away for winter storage (prohibition) never really recovered the industry. Decades later, we finally have the beginning of a situation where the demand for cider is increasing, so people have been producing more and more. However, heritage apple varieties that produce good quality cider are in short supply.
There are large differences between the majority of cider you find in the US and Europe: taste and price points. With the lack of cider apples in quantity and variety, there are more additives in cider to get a variety of flavors. This is also falling in line with the cider hangover of sweet stuff with flowers and fruit in it that has been marketed in the US for too long.
In England, France, and Spain, the difference in flavors is largely directed by the apples, the soil they’re grown in, the local yeast, and methods of production. I often compare wine and cider, because they’re both naturally fermented fruit juice. With that in mind, imagine adding citrus, ginger, or lavender to your Cabernet. Maybe for brunch with some bubbles, otherwise it seems crazy. Adding and infusing herbs and citrus is cider-normal, which isn’t a bad thing either! Cider can be a great vector for other flavors, it’s usually light and can be done well. The downfall of this is there’s a further refinement of the apples that are lost with the additives that other cider regions have mastered.
Regionally in the US, cider can be broken up into a few general areas: the Pacific Northwest, the Northeast, and the Midwest. The Pacific Northwest, producing most of the apples in the US, is also home to a mix of larger cider producers and countless smaller producers. There has been a long heritage of cider production on the east coast; upstate New York produces a great number of apples and cider. In the Midwest, apples are commonplace and cider production has been bubbling for a while, but it wasn’t a popular beverage by any means. Michigan is an apple empire in the middle of the US and they’ve taken a deep dive and interest in cider production. The interest isn’t particularly new, but the heated demand provides more opportunity for cider makers with old orchards.
In the Pacific Northwest, Portland was home to the first cider bar in the United States. The bar recently went out of business, however, there’s now a long list of other cider houses in the city to visit. Within the city, Portland has over 10 cideries, a number which seems to increase monthly, including a handful of taphouses. Not all are created equal, but the overall quality is getting better year after year.
Now that you know all about the history of cider, where it comes from, how it’s made, and what it should taste like, visit these cideries and taphouses in Portland to put your new-found knowledge to the test!
Reverend Nat’s – Flagship Portland cider. Crazy concoctions, great standards, and some flavor compilations that are pure magic, like their seasonal “Passion.”
Woodbox Cider – “Unapologetically Bone Dry” Primarily focused on the apple expression using locally sourced apples and getting that right balance for an awesome dry cider.
Schilling Cider House – 50 taps of local and international cider. They have something you like and a bunch of things you didn’t know you liked.
Son of Man Sagardo – Dedicated to ciders of northern Spain. Seriously keep an eye open for these guys. I’m guessing they’ll blow the cap off of what PacNW thought ciders could be. Pucker up.
Cider Riot – a good mix of cider flavor blends along with some no-nonsense ciders made from great cider apples. They have a very nice and conveniently located taproom in SE Portland.
Avid Cider – All about the Northwest Cider. This cidery just opened up the first cider taphouse in NW Portland! Visit the new place and try their flagship ciders or amazing seasonal flavors.
Portland Cider House– With over 30 ciders on tap, you’ll definitely find one you like here. This is an awesome place to enjoy a flight of ciders, or come in and fill up your growler to-go.
The Place – Cider Bottle Shop and Bar- The newest spot for all things cider in Portland! Grab some bottles, have a pint there, talk to the knowledgeable staff about what you like. Visit this spot in the Brooklyn neighborhood to try some amazing cider from all over the world.
My advice? Try a dry cider, listen to the cider makers, and put preconceived notions in the back seat and listen with open ears. Taste with a blank palate and almost forget that what you’re drinking is coming from an apple.