Like the national census or U2's popularity, a cider boom recurs about once a decade. We're nearing the crest of a wave right now, according to Wandering Aengus co-owner James Kohn.
"The number of Oregon cideries pretty much tripled in the past five years," Kohn says. Though it's still a short list compared with craft breweries, there are almost 20 cideries in Oregon by our count. "I know of another 10 in the planning," Kohn says, "so our number could double in the next 18 months."
The boom is buoyed by growing masses of gluten-phobes and thirsty tap-trollers who are trying ciders to break up beverage monotony. "People are curious and they want diversity," Kohn says.
Variety abounds. Traditionally, cider was an alternative to contaminated well water on our founding fathers' agrarian homesteads, but today's ciders span from bone-dry to syrupy bourbon barrel-aged options and weird, fruity varieties like Hallelujah Hopricot made with apricots and hops.
So six WW staffers held a blind tasting of 18 apple-based ciders from the cideries within a one-hour drive of Portland. All were scored from 1 to 100. In the end, a very traditional classic won: Salem's Anthem Traditionally Fermented Cider. Here are the scores and our tasting notes.
Anthem Traditionally Fermented Cider (82.2 points)
The flagship cider from Anthem, Wandering Aengus' offshoot label, is semi-dry, medium tart and completely classic.
Bull Run Cider Gravenstein Single Varietal (80.2)
Gravenstein, a tart Danish apple variety, is normally used to make applesauce, but Bull Run makes splendid cider from it.
Anthem Hops (78.4)
Using Cascade hops, a local variety found in many Oregon craft beers, this cider has 10 International Bittering Units on top of its apple base. It's like a nicotine patch for beer drinkers abstaining from gluten.
Reverend Nat's Hallelujah Hopricot (77.8)
Nat's best settler, this Belgian-style cider base is finished with hops and apricot juice.
Notes: âThe creamy aftertaste floats back up your throat.â
Finnegan Semi-sweet (75)
The newest blend from Finnegan goes for sweeter and bubblier, but it has commitment issues.
Wandering Aengus Oaked Dry (74.6)
Exactly like its name, the Oaked Dry tastes barrel-aged and worthy of the founding fathers, with a mix of fruit from Oregon and New Hampshire.
Wandering Aengus Wickson Single Varietal (73.8)
The cidermaker aimed for a dry, tart and citrusy tipple to pair with goat cheese, but our Wickson tasted earthier.
Bull Run Cider Powerhouse Dry (71.8)
Bull Run's staple, pressed from heirloom and bittersharp apples grown within 100 miles of the cidery.
OutCider Dry (67.2)
The inaugural batch out of North Portland's newest cidery uses wild yeast and botanicals it says are "culture in a bottle."
Portland Cider Co. Kinda Dry (65.8)
Portland Cider Co. is part of the new wave, started in 2012 by an Oregon native and some Brits. They produce two indecisive ciders.
Wandering Aengus Wanderlust (64)
Its "warm ginger tone" apparently pairs well with barbecue, pork and cheddar—we found it far too bland.
E.Z. Orchards Hard Cider (62.4)
French-style cider âenlivened by a gentle sparkle,â according to the makers. Lackluster, in our opinion.
Finnegan Semi-dry (62)
Kinda sweet, kinda dry. Kinda unimpressive. The semi-dry is made with Finnegan's classic mix of apples, but some sweetness stays through the fermentation.
Finnegan Dry Cider (61.6)
A Sahara-dry and "lightly oaked" cider from a mix of American, French and English apples.
Reverend Nat's Deliverance Ginger (57.4)
White-wine yeasts, fresh ginger juice and cane sugar mix with a dessert-apple base. Off-dry, a bit off-putting.
Portland Cider Co. Sorta Sweet (54.2)
All Oregon-grown apples with sugar, yeast and sulfites. And extra sugar?
Wandering Aengus Golden Russet (48.2)
At almost 10 percent alcohol, it's supposed to be heavy on fruit flavorings. But it tasted more copper than golden to us.
Bushwhacker Dry (47.2)
This growler came from the keg at Southeast Powell Boulevard's Bushwhacker Cider Co. There's not much flavor here, but there is alcohol.