Seattle Cider Company Gin Botanical
Washington's newest cidery might just be its fastest growing one. After barely a month in business, Seattle Cider Company's pint cans and kegs of dry and semi-dry cider have been selling out all over the city. But their real star during Washington Cider Week was a preview batch of their spring seasonal, Gin Botanical Cider. Infused with spent herbs, spices, and citrus peels from Seattle's Batch 206 Distillery, the apples in Gin Botanical are intensified by prominent citrus flavors and complimented by slight notions of juniper berry.
Whitewood Cider Co. Northland Traditional
We've had our eye on Olympia's Whitewood Cider Co. since they started making cider last fall. They even made our list of 2013 Cider Makers to Watch. So we were excited to find that David and Heather's ciders exceeded our expectations. Of their three inaugural ciders, our favorite was the Northland Traditional Blend. The Northland's fuller blend of traditional cider apples combines all the complexity, acidity, and tannins of a traditional English cider with enough body to attract a diverse range of drinkers. This may be our new choice to convert the uninitiated into the world of cider.
By far the most complex cider we tried during cider week came from organic producer Alpenfire, based in Port Townsend. Smoke is an ultra-limited blend of traditional English cider apples (Kingston Black, Dabinette, and Vilberie) aged in whisky and mead barrels. It's an uncarbonated, still cider, with a smoky flavor and an impressive 16% ABV—a sipping cider with plenty of oak for Scotch and bourbon lovers alike and a long, tannic finish that'll impress cider fanatics. Smoke was produced as a fundraiser for victims of Washington's tragic 2013 fire season.
Finnriver Spirited Apple Wine
The ciders from Chimacum's Finnriver are always impressive but this year's standout was their Spirited Apple Wine. This mischievous apple wine is fortified with a custom-distilled apple brandy to reach an approachable 18.5% ABV. Still and slightly sweet, its slight warmth is balanced by rich apple aromas and caramel flavors to enjoy well into the winter.
Dragon's Head Manchurian Cider
With only two vintages in bottle, Vashon Island's Dragon's Head Cider is the Olympic Peninsula's youngest cider maker. But each of their ciders shows craftsmanship well beyond their years. Our favorite, the Manchurian Crab Cider, draws its bold, tannic flavor from the often-overlooked crab apples commonly used for pollination of neighboring trees. Dry and effervescent, with luscious fruit flavors, this cider will find favor among sparkling wine and cider drinkers alike.
Snowdrift Cider Cornice
Snowdrift Cider's Lars Ringsrud was one of the first cider makers that I talked with on Serious Eats. And in 2013 he is just as excited about Washington cider as he was back in 2011. You won't find a cherry cider or a hopped one in Snowdrift's portfolio. All of the Snowdrift ciders are pure representations of the apples grown on his family farm. The closest thing to an exception is Cornice, a draft only cider aged in Dry Fly Distillery Washington Wheat Whisky barrels. We were lucky enough to find a glass during one of our long nights at Capitol Cider, Seattle's premier cider bar and a required visit for anyone interested in cider. Cornice is hard to pin down and the favor changes throughout the glass. Apricots, vanilla, caramel, and bittersweet apple are all here along with a bit of tartness and added tannins from the oak. Find a glass, slide into a booth, and enjoy.
Tieton Cider Works Wild Washington Cider
A classic is a classic. And, to me, Wild Washington is the classic Washington cider. This mainstay from Yakima's Tieton Cider Works is straightforward and easy drinking but exhibits all the qualities of an artisan cider. Wild Washington blends the flavor of tart apple with a pronounced minerality and lemony aromas. There's nothing overly fussy here, but it's usually the first cider I drink on the West coast.
Everything at the Bittersharp Cider and Cheese Pairing
At the event I hosted at The Pantry at Delancey, I cheated a bit, asking for help from a few of my favorite Washington cider makers, who shared their personal favorite cider pairings with local cheeses. The result was a culinary tour of the state's finer fermentation. All the ciders—from Whitewood Cider Co, Alpenfire, Finnriver, Tieton Cider Works, and Snowdrift—were hits with the class. And if that enthusiasm is indicative of Washington's cider scene, then we can only expect great things in the coming years.