Beer Guide 2014: Top 5 Ciders of the Year

Cider of the Year: Carry Nation (Carlton Cyderworks)

arrie Nation was a wretched old hag. With a hatchet in one hand and a Bible in the other, she chopped up bars in the name of temperance.

The Prohibition era that followed set back American alcohol for generations, but the cider industry was perhaps hardest hit. Unlike brewers, who made soda or a hopped medicinal tonic of barley that tasted a lot like beer, and distillers who made gin in bathtubs, cider makers switched over to dessert apples and neglected alcohol entirely.

It's fitting that a cider named after this self-proclaimed "bulldog running along at the feet of Jesus, barking at what He doesn't like" is Willamette Week's inaugural Cider of the Year. This Carlton Cyderworks offering is a symbol of the current cider comeback, and a reminder of why we're working to catch up to the excellent ciders of Spain, England and France.

"She was a strong woman" says Carlton Cyderworks president Mark Bailey, wearing a fedora and houndstooth jacket as he sips from a champagne glass. "She and the temperance movement were just on the wrong side of history."

This self-styled "Northwest cider" is the paragon of simplicity. The ingredients are fermented apple juice—Jonathan, Jonagolds and more—and cane sugar.

"It's easy to say, 'Our cider includes fresh-pressed apple juice.' It's another to say, 'no concentrate added,'" says Bailey. "None of our ciders come from concentrate."

Carry Nation is an excellent example of the basic all-organic, gluten-free ciders that have grown so popular in Portland in the past few years. It's smooth. It's sweet but not overly so, with a mildly tart finish. It's balanced and approachable, with enough nuance to keep you sipping It's a gateway for the neophyte accustomed to Hornsby's or Angry Orchard—or to Widmer Hefeweizen or Black Butte Porter—that will likewise satisfy more experienced fans.

"We made Carry Nation as an American take on a good English pub cider as opposed to our Citizen cider, which is a more traditional English farmhouse cider," says Bailey, taking a bite of cheddar, the suggested cheese pairing.

But Carry Nation carries none of the anger and bitterness of its namesake—rather, it's a sweet revenge. "It's part of our irreverent nature that we chose a woman who helped cripple the American cider industry for our cider," says Bailey. JOHN LOCANTHI.

Best of the Rest

2. Anthem Hops (Anthem)

Think of hopped cider as gateway cider: It's a drug for beer drinkers just learning to dip their toes in a big, sticky pool of that fruity quaff. And, in fact, it was beer drinkers who provided the suggestion for Anthem Hops Cider. According to James Kohn, co-owner of Wandering Aengus—Anthem is an offshoot of that Salem cidery—the idea came when he was pouring a drink for brewers and sales reps in Seattle. Half Wandering Aengus Bloom and half Caldera IPA, Kohn called it "Hop Blossom."

"One of them said, 'Why don't you just put hops in the cider, straight up?'" Kohn says. "I went home and started playing around with a French press, and it actually tasted pretty good."

Four years and some recipe tweaks later, Anthem Hops still tastes pretty good. Damn good, really. It's a bright, easygoing cider that smells like an IPA, drinks with hardly any bitterness and finishes with a lingering sweetness. The base is Anthem's flagship cider, a blend of dessert apples, including Honeycrisp, Pink Lady and Braeburn. A nearby farmer in Silverton provides the pelletized Cascade hops that add the vital citrusy notes.

The winning combination caught on quickly. Since Anthem released Hops in 2010, Kohn estimates a dozen cider makers have produced their own hopped ciders. He encourages the competition. Says Kohn: "You can't play baseball if you're only one team." REBECCA JACOBSON.

3. Wilde Appel (Logsdon Farmhouse Ales)

It took more than a year for Dave Logsdon to bring his Wilde Appel cider to market.

It started in October 2012, when he bought the juice of fresh-pressed organic Jonagold apples from a farm near his brewery in Hood River. Logsdon then set to work on this unique creation, which uses saison yeast, brettanomyces and oak staves to offer a nuanced, slightly tannic flavor. He wasn't in any hurry.

"It was pretty rough originally," he says. "The fruit had wild yeast on it, there was some wild brett on the apples—and we inoculated it with saison yeast and brettanomyces, and for that to settle down and marry into the composition just took a little time."

Hood River's Logsdon Farmhouse Ales, which brewed WW's Beer of the Year in 2011, pays special attention to the nuances of yeast. That makes sense given that Logsdon is considered one of the industry's masters, having founded Wyeast Labs, one of the country's premier strain sellers, in 1986.

Finally, Wilde Appel got a dose of pear juice to fuel final in-bottle fermentation of this tipple, of which there are only 80 cases of 12 bottles each.

"We wanted Champagne levels of CO2," Logsdon says. "And we finally got there." Now, there's a reason to pop it and celebrate. MARTIN CIZMAR.

4. Lorrie's Gold (Reverend Nat's Hard Cider)

Oregon grows a lot of apples. But few of those are European cider apples, small and fibrous fruits that taste nothing like your standard Granny Smith or Pink Lady. Back in the '90s, a lawyer for Washington County named Lorrie Skurdahl traveled to England and fell in love with European-style cider. Thus enamored, she planted English and French cider-apple trees in the front yard of her family's hazelnut farm outside Sherwood and started producing gallons of fresh juice. For most people, those plastic jugs were all they could get. Not so for Nat West, owner of Reverend Nat's, who six years ago struck up a relationship with the notoriously stubborn Skurdahl, persuading her to sell him the fruit for his Revival Dry.

Skurdahl died of cancer in March 2013 at age 57, and West decided to make a libation in her memory. He used exclusively English and French cider apples from her trees, today some of Oregon's oldest such stock. The list of 12 apple varieties reads like pastoral poetry: Skyrme's Kernel, Hereford Redstreak, Harry Master's Jersey, Porter's Perfection, Medaille d'Or. The result is an intensely dry and tannic cider that is, in the English tradition, not carbonated and meant to be served at room temperature. It's a bit peppery and earthy, and West notes it's the most "austere" in his lineup.

Reverend Nat's made only 80 cases of Lorrie's Gold, but it's not a fast mover, in part because the dignified black bottle costs $22, with all proceeds benefiting Oregon's Friends of Family Farmers. West expects the 50-odd cases he still had in early 2014 to stick around for a while.

Lorrie's Gold is not a starter cider—it's not supposed to be. But such a challenging beverage is a fitting tribute to a woman whose family, West says, would describe her as loving but bullheaded. "She never dressed up, never wore makeup, had no desire to appease people," West says. "She would love the fact that a lot of people don't like it." REBECCA JACOBSON.

5. Nice and Naughty/Auld Lang Spice (2 Towns/Carlton Cyderworks)

Holiday ciders are a tricky thing. One one hand, there's a whole rack of wintery spices that blend well with apples. On the other hand, it's easy to go overboard and end up with an unpleasantly medicinal bottle of liquid pie.

We found two spiced winter ciders that impressed us this year. So much so we couldn't collectively decide between 2 Towns' Nice and Naughty and Carlton Cyderworks' Auld Lang Spice.

"We were going for Christmas," says 2 Towns head cider maker Dave Takush. "We wanted that big holiday aroma and for the taste to be rich, in-depth and balanced. Sometimes people go overboard on the taste profile—we wanted a nice, rich apple character backed by oak and that honey profile with big aromatics."

Big and rich this 10.5-percent ABV monster is indeed. And good. So good it once took third place in the people's choice category at a beer festival and also won a silver medal at the Great Lakes International Cider and Perry Festival, one of the larger cider festivals in the world.

That all comes thanks to an ingredient bill that includes cinnamon, nutmeg and clove, plus Oregon white oak and local Meadowfoam honey.

"Meadowfoam honey is very different from the orange-blossom honey you get at the grocery store," Takush says. "It's a short, white flower that looks like snow on a field, which they grow for flower oil. They send in bees to pollinate the fields, and the honey those bees make is very dark, very rich and very flavorful—it offers lots of vanilla and toasted marshmallow aromas."

Auld Lang Spice, which came from the same cidery that made our Cider of the Year, starts with Northwest dessert fruit. "There's no cider fruit. We found it to be a little too much competition—the cider fruit added a little too much bitterness," says Carlton president Mark Bailey. 

Instead, they used fresh spices rather than commercial extracts. "We played with fresh spices and made our own blend, then cooked that down until we had a nice cinnamony blend—the exact blend is a bit of a secret, but we were really happy with how it turned out." MARTIN CIZMAR.

Portland-Area Breweries from A to Z
 | Beer of the Year | Favorite Beers #2-10

Portland-Area Cideries | Top 5 Ciders of the Year Beer Bars and Bottle Shops

Local Growler Makers | Surprising Growler Fills | Homebrew Shops

Restaurants With Great Beer | Local Beer and Liquor Pairings

An Oral History of BridgePort IPA | Beer Events Calendar | Beer Tours

Day Sips: North Oregon CoastHood RiverEugeneSeattle

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