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Pickin' Apples

A massive blind taste test of Portland-area apple ciders.

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.


“Nice, round, drinkable.”
“The appliest!”
“It actually feels like an apple in my mouth.”
“Super-balanced—the bees spent a little extra time pollinating these blossoms.”

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.


“A solid standard.”
“Balanced and refreshing.”
“Actually smells and tastes like an apple.”

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. 


“Sweet and boring. Smooth and inoffensive.”
“This is a good beer.”
“Hoppy with a sweet aftertaste.”

Reverend Nat's Hallelujah Hopricot (77.8)
Nat's best settler, this Belgian-style cider base is finished with hops and apricot juice.

Notes: “The creamy aftertaste floats back up your throat.” 

“A saison beer with extra apples in it.” 
“Mmm, hops. Nice yeast.” 
“The aftertaste is like a buttered popcorn jellybean.”

Finnegan Semi-sweet (75)
The newest blend from Finnegan goes for sweeter and bubblier, but it has commitment issues.


“No opinion.”

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. 


“Very molasses-y.”
“It’s oaky, apple-y and sweet.”
“Bold and balanced, but thick as an oak.”

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. 


“Do apples ever grow on oak trees? ’Cuz this is oaky. Nice balance, though.”
“I think Winnie-the-Pooh would dig it.”
“Tastes like fir bark and honey.”

Bull Run Cider Powerhouse Dry (71.8)
Bull Run's staple, pressed from heirloom and bittersharp apples grown within 100 miles of the cidery.


“It has Warhead-like tartness.” 
“Tastes green and sharp. Not overly carbonated.” 
“Just like Granny Smith.”
“The tang really gets you at the back of the tongue.”

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."


“A Champagne of ciders.”
“Definitely a session cider.”
“You didn’t accidentally open the chardonnay, did you?”
“Sweet, with a little vanilla. I want to keep drinking this.”

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.


“I feel like we should be pouring this on pancakes.”
“Flowery but bland.”
“Sweet but it has body. Anise.”
“Concord grape juice.”

Wandering Aengus Wanderlust (64)
Its "warm ginger tone" apparently pairs well with barbecue, pork and cheddar—we found it far too bland.


“I taste nothing, and then suddenly it blooms like a flower.”
“Tastes just like everything else.”
“Watery and too sweet, like simple syrup.”

E.Z. Orchards Hard Cider (62.4)
French-style cider “enlivened by a gentle sparkle,” according to the makers. Lackluster, in our opinion. 


“Tree bark with a bit of cinnamon on it.”
“Instead of coring the apple, they cored the apple flavor.”
“Tastes dirty...not in a good way.”
“Aggressively dry. Not so much taste.”

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. 


“Los Angeles tap water?”
“Dirty, dirty water.”
“Cider-soaked dirt.”

Finnegan Dry Cider (61.6)
A Sahara-dry and "lightly oaked" cider from a mix of American, French and English apples.


“Like a banana that’s been bruised totally black.”
“So dry it hurts!”
“My throat just had a seizure.”

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.


“It has a medicinal smell.”
“Whoa there, ginger!”
“Tastes like gross cough drops. Weak flavor—not sweet but not fresh either.”

Portland Cider Co. Sorta Sweet (54.2)
All Oregon-grown apples with sugar, yeast and sulfites. And extra sugar?


“Jesus, there it is: sweet”
“Would you put maple syrup on an apple? Then why did you?”
“Thick, overly syrupy and unappealing.”
“Very, very sweet.”

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.


“Lame! Suck a penny.”
“This is actually offensive.”
“Tastes like licking a phone pole.”
“Mmmm, copper.”

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.


“I want to put it in the microwave and see if it will do anything interesting.”
“Like water with an apple wedge in, not that much apple. A lemon wedge, maybe.”
“Not even interesting enough to be well water. On the plus side, they’ve invented alcoholic water.”