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The Best Ciders We Tried at Washington Cider Week 2013

[Photographs: Christopher Lehault]

It's 10 p.m. and we're all sitting around the table at Seattle's Capitol Cider Bar. There are fifteen ciders available on draft and fifty more by the bottle. The long table is littered with luminaries from well beyond the Pacific Northwest's cider scene, who have gathered organically to share a glass and discuss the state of Washington cider. Meanwhile, what feels like a few hundred casual weekend patrons scuttle about. They're enjoying pours from Snowdrift, Tieton, and Seattle Cider Co., and are oblivious that, for that brief moment, they are in the nexus of America's hottest and fastest growing cider community.

Though the scene feels notable to me, this is just another night of Washington Cider Week and, probably, it's not that different than any weekend in Seattle— a place that is quickly becoming the capital of American cider making.

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Rows of English and French cider apples grow organically at Port Townsend's Alpenfire Cider

Cider in Washington state is as diverse as its landscape. Within the city's borders, the young Seattle Cider Co. is turning out cider at a feverish pace. In a few weeks, this upstart cidery can go from unfermented juice into a pint can and onto the market shelf. That cider is leaving the shelf just as fast: cider is on the rise.

Over on the Olympic peninsula to the west, a handful of cider makers are planting fields of traditional English and French cider fruit and utilizing more traditional wine-inspired fermentation techniques to produce complex, earthy ciders that evoke the region's dense greenery. Head east beyond the Cascade Mountains, and you have a few of the state's larger cideries, who grow pristine fruit on farmland held by their families for generations.

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A tradition of apple growing pervades the fields at Eaglemount Winery and Cidery

But there is another force expanding the Washington cider scene that was ever-present during Washington Cider Week: the spirit of America's craft beer movement. Many Washington cider makers are following in the footsteps of their adventurous brewery counterparts and infusing ciders with botanicals, spices, fruit, and local hops. The result is a range of ciders unlike those in any other part of the world.

Is all this experimentation and expansion too much? We know that good eating fruit does not always make good cider fruit. And the American craft beer scene is already seeing a backlash to their expanding cache of ingredients. If Washington Cider Week is any example of the deft hand with which these techniques are being used, then the answer is a resounding "no." As dozens of new producers and entrepreneurs enter the scene looking for the next hot thing, it will be interesting to see what the next few years will bring. For now, however, this adventurous spirit and connection to some of the country's best farming land is a beautiful sight to behold... and to hold in a glass.

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We spent the last few days touring the state from glass to glass to find the best ciders this hotbed has to offer. Head to the slideshow for a peek at the drinking highlights of this year's Washington Cider Week »

About the author: Christopher Lehault is a New Jersey-based cider journalist, craft beer documentarian, and home brewer. Follow his cider adventures on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter.

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