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Cider of the Year

7 Deadly Sins: Envy

Reverend Nat’s/Barley Brown’s

Unlike some cider makers, Nat West loves beer. Really loves beer. When he’s not downing ales after a cider festival—after a cider festival, he really needs a beer—he’ll drive down to Foster-Powell for a triple IPA fest. It was on that drive home from N.W.I.P.A. that he had the inspiration for our 2015 Cider of the Year.

“I’m driving home,” West says, “and mind you, I have a breathalyzer in my car. I’m going over in my head what draws me to triple IPAs. I could come up with three characteristics: high ABV, high hop levels, and some level of sweetness.”

So he got to thinking: Could he make a cider that was like an Imperial IPA, except with apple juice instead of wort?

He started by seeking some advice from brewmaster Tyler Brown at Barley Brown’s. The Baker City brewery’s Pallet Jack IPA won gold at the 2013 Great American Beer Festival, and the fresh-hop version of Pallet Jack won gold last year.

“I advised them on ways that we use the hops in big IPAs, such as wort-hopping, late kettle additions, whirlpool additions and dry-hopping,” says Tyler Brown, Barley Brown’s brewer. “They had to come up with a way to get the IBUs into the cider. It’s somewhat easy to get some aroma by dry-hopping a cider, but Nat wanted it to have the full IIPA hop bitterness, flavor and aroma.“

West ended up making the cider at Hopworks Urban Brewery, on a Sunday. “We treated it just like we were making beer,” West says. “We skipped the mash tun, put it into the kettle and threw the hops in, and added literally a ton of dark muscovado sugar.”

That molasses-colored sugar was meant to mimic the notes in caramel malt. But after that, the process went a little berserk. They boiled the hops in apple juice, then transferred it to the whirlpool, where they began hop-bursting—adding hops late in the boil, then running the mixture through a hop back full of whole-leaf Amarillo.

“When we were done,” West says, “we had this liquid, and it was extremely sweet and extremely bitter and very full of hop flavor. We brought this juice back to our place and fermented it.”

But they weren’t done. They did multiple rounds of dry-hopping, both during fermentation and in the bright tank. Then they aged it a few weeks. The resulting cider is unlike anything else we’ve tasted, a true hop bomb that’s remarkably balanced in earthy bitterness and apple-y sweetness, almost reminiscent of a cider barleywine.

Hopped ciders aren’t new to Portland, of course. The ubiquitous Anthem and Cider Riot’s Everybody Pogo are our go-to drops—an apple-based analog to IPA, the beer style that accounts for 50 percent of all Oregon craft beer. But, until Envy was released in August, we hadn’t tasted a cider that successfully channeled giant double IPAs like Pliny the Younger or Laurelwood’s Megafauna.

“We set the standard for whatever the hell that thing is that we made,” West says. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

2. Apple Outlaw Rabid Dry

Blair Smith didn’t plan to be a cider maker. Twelve years ago, Smith and his wife, Marcey Kelley, decided they wanted get away from the hustle of the Bay Area and buy a piece of rural land in Southern Oregon. The parcel they found in the Applegate Valley happened to have an apple orchard.

“We just wanted to live someplace really nice and pretty,” Smith says.

The trees were just an add-on.

“We thought, ‘How hard could it actually be to run it?’” he says. “Like a lot of things, maybe it’s best when you don’t actually know how hard it’s going to be when you start. It was just a massive learning curve, but we figured it out.”

Just last week, Smith finally quit his job as a software engineer, which he’d been doing remotely while tending his trees, to focus on making cider.

About the same time, we were getting the best and biggest surprise in a tasting of Oregon ciders, discovering that the bottle with a goofy cartoon raccoon on the front is a serious cider, made the right way and with complex flavors that caught our tasters off guard. Apple Outlaw’s Rabid Dry is a bright, acidic cider made mainly from dessert fruit that’s crisp but not bitingly dry, with a vivid straw color and a little spiciness from the skin.

We were late to the party: Apple Outlaw had already won Best of Show at last June’s Portland International Cider Cup.

The consistent quality is not borne of consistent ingredients. Most of Apple Outlaw’s fruit comes from its own orchard, with some being purchased from neighbors. That means several types of apples are used in the ciders. Smith isn’t sure what made it into the bottle we bought from Belmont Station.

“I can take a guess,” he says. “Very likely it could have some McIntosh, Golden Delicious…maybe some Granny Smith.”

While the blends of tart and sweet apples are done to taste and can vary, the rest of the process is carefully managed by Smith and Kelley and involves Champagne yeast and keeping a close watch on the thermometer.

“We’re really careful with our yeast; we really try to keep it happy,” Smith says. “A lot of those flavors come from the apple, and a lot of it comes from the fermenting and the esters you develop, and watching those.”

Ignore the goofy raccoon: This is among the most sophisticated ciders made in Oregon. Now that he’s got more time after quitting his day job, Smith hopes to expand the line. First up is a new hop cider. The first allotments shipped to Whole Foods in Oregon and Washington. MARTIN CIZMAR.

3. Cider Riot 1763

Abram Goldman-Armstrong spent a long time on 1763.

Not 250 years, but close.

“It was the first cider we pressed, but those tannins take a lot longer to age,” says Goldman-Armstrong, who opened Cider Riot last February but didn’t release the cider we were most excited about until August. “It’s got to mature throughout the year, much more like a wine. The ciders made with dessert apples, we ferment with an ale yeast. But with those proper cider apples, you need to let it age seven, eight months, and we use a wine yeast for that.”

It was well worth the wait. While Cider Riot makes a fine hopped cider and a very nice Burncider draft cider with the local dessert crop mixed with the tart wilds and bitter cider apples, 1763’s Somerset-style English cider is the hidden heart of the lineup.

This batch was made with Yamhill County-grown Yarlington Mill, Harry Masters Jersey, Dabinett, and Kingston Black apples, traditional English cider varieties that are high in tannins. The apples’ provenance is signaled by the cider’s name, the year of the great cider tax revolts in the English West Country.

The apples came from White Oak orchards, one of Oregon’s first cider orchards, where Goldman-Armstrong worked planting trees and sorting apples 20 years ago, when he was 16. The blend was seven years in the making, something Goldman-Armstrong experimented with while other local makers were focused on turning readily available dessert fruit into something that’s not intolerably sweet.

“Once a year it’ll come out,” he says of 1763. “It’s a vintage cider.” And for now, the amount of cider he’ll make will be limited by the number of apples produced by Alan Foster’s White Oaks orchard.

There are only about 25 cases of last year’s bottling left, but expect to see a larger release from the 2014 harvest next August—it was a bumper year for Yamhill County cider apples. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

4. Atlas Apricot

If you want to make a great apricot cider, you’re going to need some peaches.

That’s what Atlas Cider’s Dan McCoy learned after blending a few batches of apricot cider that didn’t have the punch he wanted. It was a little too tart, and not a lot of the apricots were shining through.

So, last summer, Atlas added a touch of fresh Yakima peach juice—Eureka!

The newer, improved Atlas Apricot is a relatively dry blend, with the added sweetness of the apricot/peach aroma hiding the tartness of the Hood River apples. It is a strong, semi-sweet perfume of a beverage, and at 6.2 percent ABV, it’s equally suited for a snifter or pint glass. It has the comforting aroma of a morning hug from grandma, and the bite of the cocktail grandpa would sneak you sips of as he drank it with breakfast.

In fact, Joe Leineweber, who wears production, sales and promotion hats at Atlas says, “We jokingly refer to Apricot here as our mimosa—it goes very well with brunch.” 

Blending is the name of the game when it comes to adjusting non-apple fruits to make cider that rolls on the tongue, McCoy says, and he sees new blends as an extension of the rabid craft beer exploration in the United States. “You are seeing everyone getting more creative; I think of cider as another extension of that,” he says. “One thing that excited me most about cider when we started two years ago was playing around with some of the other fruit varieties that grow in the Northwest.” PARKER HALL.

5. Rack & Cloth Stony Pig

Stony Pig isn’t a showstopper. It won’t wow you with hops or odd fruits. There are no esters of exotic yeasts, and there’s just a touch of vanilla borne of barrel-aging in oak.

No, the flagship cider from Mosier’s Rack & Cloth is an admirably dry and quaffable drop. It’s a straightforward but remarkably clean-lined cider that’s well-suited to the bare-bones menu at this little pizza and salad spot outside Hood River.

Stony Pig is made with organic Jonagold, Winesap and wild crabapples from the fruit loop, some of which are aged on oak while others ferment in stainless steel.

At 6.9 percent ABV, it’s relatively strong—and dangerous given the smoothness. Stony Pig won the People’s Choice award at last year’s Hood River Hard-Pressed Cider Fest, and it’s easy to see why. This is a crisp, acidic cider that draws from Old World ideas without mimicking them in any obvious way. We just wish we could get it everyday—sadly, there’s a very limited production that’s mostly sold directly from a tiny house overlooking the Columbia Gorge. MARTIN CIZMAR. 

 The Big Apple: Portland's Cider Boom | Top 5 New Oregon Ciders | Portland Cider Pubs 

  English, French, and Spanish Cider Primer | New World Old World Ciders |Cider Calendar