By Kaitlin Ohlinger, Foodable Contributor
What alcoholic beverage tripled its production between 2011 and 2013? Cider. And what city has been proclaimed the “worldwide epicenter for cider?” Portland.
To be more specific, Bushwhacker Cider co-owner Jeff Smith spoke those very words to the Oregonian in April of 2014. For a fermented beverage that falls somewhere in a grey area between wine and beer, cider’s success is incredible to watch. The nuances in style and techniques pique the interest of even experienced drinkers. So what exactly makes cider tick in Portland?
Cider has an interesting, if somewhat overlooked, history. A preferred drink of early English colonial settlers, cider’s popularity didn’t begin to wane until the early 1900’s when beer took a foothold. Its deathblow was dealt by Prohibition. The astringent, bitter types of apples used for cider production were replaced with sweet apples meant for eating so American farmers could maintain their livelihood. Post-prohibition, cider limped along in relative obscurity. Food and beverage people are a nostalgic bunch, so perhaps it was meant to be rediscovered all along.
The Cider Scene
Cider’s range of flavors are astonishing. Cider maker Nat West's website states, “I would cook a dish, eat at a restaurant, drink a beer or a cocktail, or peruse the farmer’s market, and be unable to contain my excitement for flavors. After making cider for nearly a decade, I concluded that, while apple-only ciders define cider for most of my fellow countrymen, my passion was in creative flavor combinations making cider in the spirit of craft beer geeks.”
The first cider he ever tasted was his own, in 2006. The Portland cider landscape was fairly barren. West was the eleventh member of the Northwest Cider Association, which currently packs over 70 members. After a few years of making cider out of his garage, in 2013 he upped his game to an abandoned warehouse in Northeast Portland, and opened a Tap Room, joining other Portland cideries like Bushwhacker (opened in 2010) and the Portland Cider House (2012). Clearly, cider was a thing. “I’m definitely a fan of the so-called competition because it raises the awareness of all ciders," says West. "Only in the last few years, with the proliferation of cider makers, have Portland consumers seen the diversity of offerings and demanded that stores and bars showcase that diversity.”
Where Does Cider Belong?
West, who is from Virginia, mentions an interesting dichotomy in US cider; “The culture developing in Virginia is completely different than here in Portland. Out here, cider is aligning with craft beer: being available in bars in kegs, being available in multi-pack bottles and cans, and being showcased in beer festivals. Most of the cider makers in Virginia (and New England) are making and marketing their ciders like wine, but consumers aren’t buying it in the same volumes that they’re buying the beer-style ciders we make in the Pacific Northwest.”
If we take him at his word and accept that cider is more welcomed by beer-drinkers, the question for beverage directors still might be where to place it on a list. Throw it in with the beer? Give it its own section? Cider is still somewhat new, and figuring out how to sell it takes some thought. When in doubt- make them try it! “I think on draft is the best way to present cider in a restaurant. Automatically you’re going to get people who want to drink something in a beer state of mind (with friends, on draft, without pretension). But beyond that, you’re starting to see the wide range of ciders rotate into restaurants and open people up to the possibilities.”
Cider & Food: A Match Made in Heaven
Take it up a notch and plan a paired dinner. Consumers will gladly tell you about the “aha!” moments they have had at a well-paired beer or wine dinner. Why exclude cider? West agrees. “I do a lot of cider-paired dinners, which I love to do, because cider pairs so incredibly well with food. And a lot of chefs I know think that cider pairs the best with food - better than wine or beer - because of its diversity. We have acidity, we have sweetness/dryness, and we have some really compelling flavors that can be missing in wines.”
Have we reached the pinnacle of the cider movement, or is this just the tip of the iceberg? With buzzwords like native yeasts, wild ferments and aromatic hops showing up in cider press left and right, this may be just the beginning, if the craft beer industry is any indicator.