Other than people who didn't like or were allergic to beer, it used to be that the only people who ordered cider at a bar were college students just back from studying abroad in England, eager to show how much more worldly they were than Coors Light. Likely, the only cider offered was Strongbow, and that student would then natter on relentlessly about how much better it would taste if it were on tap.
Luckily, those dark days are over, and a few smart individuals have realized that the Northwest's apple bounty, combined with a population eager for small-batch, well-produced beverages, make the region a perfect place to open a cidery. This weekend, at the first ever Pacific Northwest Cider Awards, judges chose their favorite ciders from twenty of those cideries, while cider fans tasted them at the accompanying Cider Festival.
Gone are the days of just ordering a cider at a bar. Now it helps to know if you like yours dry or sweet, hopped or fruity, wood-aged or wild-fermented. At this weekend's Cider Festival, all of these were on tap, and we've chosen a few favorites that we recommend starting with as you begin your cider journeyand a few ideas of what to eat with it.
Schilling Cider Company - Ginger:
Our favorite was also the judges' winner for Best in Show. Clean, mild apple flavors are a backdrop for the strong ginger. The cider stops short of the sharpness of a ginger beer, the sweetness of apples muting any potential bite. The fruit and ginger together make for big flavor, but the balance keeps it incredibly easy to drink. Reach for it on the porch on a sunny day.
Wandering Aengus - Oaked Dry:
Winning the silver from the judges in the "Old World" category, we loved this for its simple, mild flavors. A light cider, with a tartness that refreshes, it's perfect for drinking with strong or spicy foods.
Tieton Cider Works - Cherry:
Unlike fruit-infused beers, where the sweetness of the fruit competes with the bitterness of the beer, a good fruit cider allows the second fruit to enhance the sweetness or tartness of the underlying apple. Tieton's Cherry keeps an even keel on the sugars, the high acid keeping this far from dessert territory. Pair it with a creamy cheese like Brie, or a simple pork dish.
Methow Valley Ciderhouse - Howling Wolf:
A good entry cider for beer drinkers, the Howling Wolf won gold in the "Hopped" category from the judges. It uses the same Cascade hops that are pervasive in the typical Northwest IPA, but here they loan their moderate bitterness and bit of floral and citrus flavors to a cider. Much like an IPA, it works well with un-complex foods that don't interfere with the subtle hops infusion, such as burgers or fish.
Ready to learn more about cider? Capitol Cider on Pike has twenty ciders on tap and knowledgeable staff. The Seattle Cider Company shares The Woods, a Sodo tasting room, with its sister company, Two Beers Brewing company, and offers a great space for trying their ciders and peeking into their production rooms. The Northwest Cider Association offers Cider Summit Seattle, coming September 5th and 6th, as part of the third annual Washington Cider Week, September 4th-14th.