Monday, September 10, 2012

Food Trek: Your Dose of Vitamin C(ider) at Cider Summit 2012

I was in college when I first had cider. I wasn't totally sold on beer yet, likely because the jaundiced bubbly ale-water was hardly what you'd call beer, certainly not for dollar pitcher nights at a joint called Dirtbags. I wanted something that had flavor, yet still appealed to that youthful Girl Drink Drunk that I was back in the day, so a friend suggested trying a hard cider. The details are fuzzy, as most of those college days were, but I likely had a bottle of Hornsby's, as that was one of the few largely distributed ciders at the time. I admit, my mindgrape was blown. Sweet, but not like a sugar-sick wine cooler, I was pleased with the recognizable flavor of fruit and pleasantly buzzed, since the alcohol content tends to be on the high side, compared to most beers. It's a wonder I ever left the college campus with any brain cells still kicking, but I'm thankful I saved a few left, at least for this year's Cider Summit in Seattle, 2012!

Cider Summit 2012 - The Meeting of the Cider-Minds to Work Toward Whirled Peas - Photo by Wasabi Prime
I attended last year's Cider Summit and was so pleased at the experience, I knew I couldn't miss this year's event. And apparently, all of Seattle felt the same -- the sun was out and the crowds came out in full force. It went from sleepy to crowded in no time, once they officially opened at 11am. It felt like this year's Summit drew even more crowds to the South Lake Union Discovery Center Lawn (same as last year), keeping nearly 20 different cidermaker tables busy with sample pouring. Over 80 different ciders were available between all the cideries. For the most part, they're Oregon or Washington based, with a few from beyond the Northwest, like California,Vermont, Michigan, Canada and England.

Try before you buy - one of the rare events where you can buy bottles of the good stuff - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Cider is basically fermented fruit juice, typically made from apples, but other fruit juices can be used, like pear. There were several cideries experimenting with seasonal fruit like marionberries, huckleberries and even cherries. 2 Towns Ciderhouse from Corvallis, OR had a cleverly-named Made Marion marionberry cider that had a jewel-like cranberry hue, but a very balanced flavor, respectful of summer berries' tart-sweetness. Woodchuck Cider eschewed their more familiar, largely-distributed ciders to showcase their specialty Private Reserves which included their Private Reserve Pumpkin. Unusual flavor combination and very seasonal, but you won't miss it in its bright orange label. When it comes to the more fruit-forward ciders, I personally like pear, for its complex flavors that range from sweet to almost a creamy citrus. Finnriver's Pear Wine with Apple Brandy was one of my sweet-treat tastings. It was a hot day, I didn't want to get too overwhelmed by the stronger-flavored ciders and fruit wines, but their pear wine is a definite dessert treat that tasted like honeyed pears, which would go great with a cheese platter.

From Washington to Vermont, the Summit brought all the ciders together for harmonious sipping - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Ciders' flavor range goes from dry (imagine a crisp, but lightly fruity Sauvignon Blanc), to sweet -- there are varieties of ciders that are like ice wines; almost syrupy from the high fruit sugar content, and they often pack a whammy of an alcohol content. Since I'm not a purist in one way or another when it comes to beer and wine, I'm comfortable with saying that cider is like a hybrid of beer and wine. There are a lot of methods that beer and winemakers use for aging and developing flavor for their respective sippables that cideries are adopting as well, to push the boundaries of what traditional cidermaking has done. Cideries like Tieton Cider Works and Wandering Aengus Ciderworks have introduced hops into some of their ciders: Tieton's Yakima Valley Dry Hopped Cider and the Anthem Hops from Aengus. Taking a cue from what some beer brewers have done, Traditions Ciderworks had a cider aged in a Bourbon barrel, absorbing a lot of that smoky, savory bite from the seasoned wood. Sea Cider had done something similar with their Rumrunner -- you can guess what kind of barrel their cider was seasoned with. While not traditional, the barrel aging adds a complex depth of flavor and nicely transitions its typical flavor into fall and winter weather.

2 Towns Ciderhouse and Traditions Ciderworks - keep an eye out for them in stores - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I noticed more of the sweeter ice wine-like ciders being poured this year. Bottled in the similar tall, narrow clear glass bottle that ice wines use, the ciders taste just like their winter grape counterparts -- intensely fragrant, almost like a liqueur. I went  Big Spender on my first taste, going to Tieton Cider Works to try their Tieton Frost Iced cider, an 11% ABV contender that took a whopping three tickets for a half pour (most tastes are just 1 ticket per half-pour), but I thought hey, why not -- dessert first. It's a blend of three different apples, with a sweet, floral flavor. Definitely a slow-sipper drink, something to savor like a cordial.

Winter wonderland with Tieton's Frost Ice Cider - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Speaking of sweet, did I mention there was chocolate at this year's Cider Summit? This was a clever thing, having Smitten Artisan Truffles offering rich taste "flights" of some of their signature truffle fillings. There was a special apricot truffle filling infused with cider, which was an appropriate flavor for the event. The kalamansi and creme honey was a really unique and elegant combination. Considering the Cider Summit tends to attract more female than male attendees, having confectioners in attendance is a genius idea.

Sweets from Smitten - Photos by Wasabi Prime
For all the specialty/experimental ciders, I mostly prefer dry ciders. Much like a brut champagne, they're light and easy to drink when you're starting out the day or evening. The flavor is subtle so it doesn't intrude on whatever food you're having, and as you've seen how I cook at home, Lord only knows what will wind up on the plate. And when all else fails, a dry cider makes a righteous pairing with a pizza.

In-cider look at what goes into the bottle - Photos by Wasabi Prime
For dry ciders, I'm a fan of Sea Cider's Pippins, Snowdrift Cider Co.'s Dry Cider and Alpenfire's Pirate's Plank Bone-Dry. Alpenfire showed off one of the rare bottles of their Glow, part of their Burnt Branch Reserve line of limited release ciders. The Glow gets its blushy hue from the skin of the apples, usually removed, but in this case, the color really adds to the presentation. Alpenfire mentioned they're working on a new line of barrel aged apple cider vinegars, which makes perfect sense for a cidery. Six different vinegars announced so far, including a horseradish/wasabi vinegar and a honey vinegar made with wild bee pollen. Something to keep an eye out for, or just a good reason to head out to their tasting room in Port Townsend.

Let your soul Glow, Alpenfire - Photos by Wasabi Prime
One of my new favorites from last year that I made sure to revisit this year is Wandering Aengus' Anthem Hops. I mentioned it before that they incorporate hops into the flavor, but it's more of a fresh, grapefruit flavor, not that strong bitterness that you get with typical Northwest IPAs. I got a full bottle at the Summit's handy cider shop area, and brought Anthem Hops to a barbecue later that afternoon of primarily beer drinkers. Diehard Northwest beer nerds probably won't be doing backflips, as they're probably wanting more hoppy bitterness, but there's plenty of non-IPA fans who would prefer a more subtle flavor, and they are a good fit for a bottle of Anthem Hops.

Admiring bold and clever packaging designs - love the box design! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
There's always more ciders being poured than I can conceivably sample. At least if I want to continue feeling my face for the rest of my days. But the Cider Summit is one of the best ways to try as many of the regional ciders as you can, as well as ones from afar. Portland has a Cider Summit as well, usually a couple of months before Seattle's, with many of the same cideries in attendance. I like the idea of an end-of-summer cider festival, it feels like we're getting ready to think about fall, harvest season, and all the things we love about autumn.

So many ciders... my sample cup runneth over! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
All this cider-sipping, you'd think no one would be left standing, but thankfully the Cider Summit has great food vendors on hand with tasty options that go perfect with a cider on a hot summer day. Brave Horse Tavern was serving up, just as they did the year before, with hearty bites like fennel spiced salmon or  their house made bratwurst, covered in a savoy cabbage and apple slaw.

Brave Horse, big appetite - delicious eats to go with cider tasting - Photo by Wasabi Prime
Whole Foods was there with smoked pork tacos, grilled savory apples, pork sausage and a root vegetable panzanella. They also had a ring-toss game going, where you could try your hand at winning prizes for getting little plastic rings around the necks of cider bottles. I waited a few samples in to loosen up before trying my hand at the ring toss -- no big winner, but I appreciate the handy wine/beer opener consolation prize. A lot of the ciders at the festival are being sold at Whole Foods, so I would check with your local store and see what they have, if any of these bottles caught your eye.
It's like the county fair! With booze! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Food and drink festivals get extra points with me when they're dog-friendly, I'm not gonna lie. I realize it's often up to the venue if they want to deal with doggy-business leftover, but the Cider Summit seems to have it down. Plenty of dogs in attendance this year. No drunken, angry dogfights, nor drunken owner-fights, at least that I saw. We brought Indy last year, but since I went solo this year, I didn't want to try and juggle an excited dog along with taking photos. But fear not, Indy was in Seattle, just being an Office Dog with Brock, while he was stuck working over the weekend (boo). I didn't feel too bad about not taking her because just like last year, it was hot. And it probably feels hotter than the sun's surface to a dog wearing an all-over black fur coat and limited shade. At the expense of Indy's jealousy, I did enjoy seeing everyone else's fuzzy friends in attendance at the Cider Festival.

Cider drinking with your fuzzy BFF - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I'm glad to see the appreciation for cider is growing, for consumers as well as the cideries coming up with new and interesting flavors. Along with widening awareness over cider, Cider Summit is the big kickoff event for Washington Cider Week, which goes from September 8-16th. There's multiple events going on, like cider specials in markets, food/cider pairings at restaurants, and more opportunities to try ciders as more go on tap throughout the week. See the full event list and details here, if you're wanting to go full-on La Vida Cider this week. The interest in cider only grows, as I chatted with folks about Seattle's first cider bar, Capitol Cider, aiming for an early 2013 opening, over on E. Pike Street. Word has it that its menu will focus on gluten free, as cider is just that, with as many as 20 taps, along with bottled ciders and meads. Sounds like something fantastic at work and I'm looking forward to when they open their doors!

Frosty beverages, tasty food, fuzzy dogs - what else do you need? - Photos by Wasabi Prime
As for me, I took advantage of the best thing about Cider Summit, which is the chance to purchase the ciders at the event. I got one of the handy NW Cider Association partitioned beverage bags and picked up a few goodies: Woodchuck's Farmhouse Select '91 Hard Cider, an unusual mead-like cyser from Eaglemount (they had a quince cider, but not for sale, dangit!), Sea Cider Pippins and Anthem Hops. I lugged the Precious back to Brock's office, where he was working and keeping Indy company, along with the rest of Team Runic who's working hard to get their game out the door. Maybe we can save one of the bottles to open in a couple of weeks when Torchlight II is released and I finally get my Mister back.

Cider souvenirs and Indy, who stayed cool with gamer dudes at the office - Photos by Wasabi Prime


  1. Great Post!!! Wish we would have gone and check it out... I'm putting it on my calendar for next year!


Commentary encouraged. Fresh baked cookies, super-encouraged. (hit the 'post comment' button twice, sometimes it's buggy)