Wednesday, September 11, 2013

FoodTrek: Wasabi in Ciderland

When you happen upon a giant toadstool and a sample of cider in front of you, without the invitation of "Eat Me/Drink Me," the answer is clear: Drink the Cider. A few days of heavy rain produced some impressive, albeit deadly mycological delights in the South Lake Union Discovery Center Lawn, but the sun came out to shine at this year's Cider Summit Seattle. So follow the White Rabbit, we're heading to Ciderland.

Welcome to Ciderland - this year's Cider Summit Seattle - Photo by Wasabi Prime
Cider Summit is one of my favorite new-ish events. I've been going the last few years, doing posts about each Summit, and it continues to gain momentum with growing crowds. Maybe it's the rise in gluten-free awareness, maybe it's the fact that Washington is known for its apples, or maybe it's simply the perfect combination of specialty/craft potables combined with a welcome invite to bring your dog, but Cider Summit is the serious shiz-nit with Seattle crowds. A few years ago, it had primarily female attendees, but now it's a great mix of boys n' girls of all ages (21 and over, that is), attracting a diverse audience that seeks out tasty craft products.

Raise a glass to frosty beverages and dog-friendly events - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Cider Summit one of the last big summer events that reminds you summer is nearly departed. But inevitably, Cider Summit tends to be a chance for Summer's Last Hurrah. The day started cool and overcast, but after a few rounds of hide n' seek with the sun, it was blue skies for the rest of the day in South Lake Union, and everyone was reaching for their shades. 

How 'bout them apples - it's Cider Week! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
The summit also kicks off Washington Cider Week, where a wider range of events at local restaurants and bars are happening from the 5-15th of September. You can view all the events here, on the NW Cider Association's event page

Music, cider, fuzzy and non-fuzzy friends - what's not to love? - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I said before the event used to draw mostly women, which I think stems from a misconception that cider is a "girly" drink. First off, shame on you -- women can enjoy Manhattans as much as men can enjoy a Cosmopolitan, and we're all grown-ass adults enough to let a person enjoy what they want to enjoy. Second, and most importantly -- cider can pack as much of an alcoholic punch as your favorite microbrew beer, some in the 8% ABV range (some even higher), and just because it's made with apples, pears and sometimes berries, it doesn't always mean it's candy-sweet. That's like assuming all wines will taste like grape soda, and we don't doubt the skill of winemakers to create complex flavor combinations from a bunch of grapes. Dry ciders are as refreshing as a clean, crisp white wine -- especially nice on a day that left me with a bit of a sunburn. Ouch.

You are now under the spell of cider - Carry on! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
The potency of cider being established, for a day of cider-tasting, it's good to start off with a solid food base. You can't beat a hearty breakfast, and given the Cider Summit's location, I felt the hankering for a visit to Bravehorse Tavern. One of the many restaurants in Tom Douglas's restaurant utility belt that hugs the Seattle area with superpower strength, this place pairs perfectly with cider. Rustic with vintage shopworn charm, it's a tavern that serves familiar comforts that are elevated to Seattle expectations. I could say I just had a breakfast sandwich, but really, I had their Breakfast Pretzelwich, using their homemade crispy  pretzel bread in bun format, two fried eggs, chopped ham, mustard, peppers and caramelized onion. It's on their A Little Lighter breakfast menu, but it's a pretty hefty meal, made all the more filling with one of their Bloody Scotsman cocktails, which uses Scotch (of course) in place of vodka, mixed with tomato juice and their house Bloody Mary mix. 

Y'all better head to the Brave Horse Tavern for breakfast, ya hear? - Photos by Wasabi Prime
The second you break those egg yolks in the sandwich, it turns into a gorgeous, egg yolk-y mess. Nothing wrong with that. I tore pieces of the top part of the pretzel bun and dipped it into the broken yolks, a bit like toast with soft-boiled eggs. I used utensils to polish off the rest of the sandwich, just to keep from making a total mess of myself before Cider Summit. Filling and flavorful, the pretzelwich goes well with the spicy Bloody Scotsman. The spice is strong, they don't pull punches on this drink. But it puts you in a good place to start the day. Nothing like a little Hair of the Dog before you get to enjoy admiring everyone else's dog. I was also able to sample a few of the ciders they had on tap -- Schilling's ginger and chocolate (yes, chocolate) cider. The chocolate one just tasted sweet to me, although it opens up a little more when it warms to room temperature and you get subtle cocoa notes -- they source locally from Theo's Chocolates. Schilling's ginger cider was really nice -- not spicy-hot like candied ginger, a really pleasant herbal sweetness. I wound up back at Brave Horse after the Summit to get a full glass of their ginger cider -- didn't even need Cider Summit to make me a fan. 

Pre-func at the Brave Horse - good way to start the day - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Fortified for the morning, I headed to the park and became fully immersed in Ciderland. It was good to see a lot of familiar local cideries like Tieton Cider Works, Alpenfire, Eaglemount and Finnriver Farm. I wanted to make sure I tried new things, but was glad to see the local companies doing so well.

Tasting a bit of Washington - Photos by Wasabi Prime
It's not just Washington that's represented at the Summit - plenty of Oregon-based cideries, both established and new, were in attendance. The lines were especially long for Reverend Nat's Hard Cider - per their tagline, people were clearly interested in realizing the deeper purpose of apples!

Oregonian cideries hard at work - photos by Wasabi Prime
International ciders were also represented, like ones from Spain, France, Canada and the United Kingdom. I made sure to get a sip of the Dupont Cidre Bouche from last year -- clean and crisp, made with unpasteurized apple juice. And I sampled some of the vinegars from Aspall, whose apple cider vinegar was especially flavorful, no distracting tartness or acidity.

Ciders (and cider vinegar) from 'round the world - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I hopped around and tasted more domestic ciders from Vermont and California. It's nice to see that the interest in cider isn't exclusive to just the Pacific Northwest. Eden Ice Cider Company had blends that had a real concentrated apple sweetness that would make for interesting ingredients for cocktails. 

Ciders from coast to coast - Photos by Wasabi Prime
For all the sipping 'round the world, there's no place like home. I always found myself returning to the Washington-based ciders, making sure to sample new ones like Seattle Cider Company, who just made their debut this summer. Great dry flavors, capturing that fresh savoriness of the apple.

Washington ciders - old favorites and new ones - Photos by Wasabi Prime
There were definitely some trends afoot with cider -- canning and taking cues from microbrew beer flavors. Canning as a whole is a growing trend; it's more cost effective in material cost as well as shipping, it's got a sound seal -- moreso than a cork or even a cap, and the contents are protected from light. And drinks from a can are losing their stigma as being cheap or low-end, as the logic takes hold and people realize that the lower production cost leads towards the ultimate win-win: more product being produced and shipped out. Flavor trends that craft beers have been playing with for a while, like aging brews in whiskey barrels or giving it a pumpkin spice, seemed more apparent with the cideries this year. Where the use of hops to give cider a more beer-like bitterness was a trend, the barreled ciders were in full effect. Letting the ciders absorb the flavors of a whiskey barrel imparted that same smoky, rich flavor one would expect from a barrel-aged spirit, but with the brightness of the cider staying true. Pumpkin spice ciders were popular -- consider it the Early Fall Fever, as most coffee shops are rolling out their pumpkin-spice-everything, but the cinnamon/clove/nutmeg pair well with ciders, giving them a mulled wine-type flavor. 

Cider trends becoming more apparent - strong flavors and canning it up - Photos by Wasabi Prime
A local Washington cider I particularly enjoyed was the Northland Traditional Blend from Whitewood Cider Company. They've got three different ciders, and they range from clean, crisp sweetness to a more complex fruit flavor, like the Northland. It's a reminder of how multi-dimensional an apple's flavor is -- sweet, fresh, bitter, with notes of honey and an almost savory quality that the dryness of ciders pick up.

Home-grown Whitewood Ciders - it's a winner to my tastebuds - Photos by Wasabi Prime
One of the best things about the Cider Summit is that you can buy after you've tried. They set up their shopping tent again, offering most of the ciders being poured, as well as a book about the regional history and tradition of ciders. 

Drink 'n shop - Photos by Wasabi Prime
For all the sipping, there was time for a food break. The Mister joined me later that afternoon, and he went straight for the food tent. Whole Foods Market was serving up tacos and salads -- the tacos were a delicious choice. Capitol Cider was also cooking up food with kebab platters. There were a lot of one-handed food items, which is a smart must-have when you've got a sipping glass keeping your other hand occupied.

Food break! Cider-braised tacos from Whole Foods - Photos by Wasabi Prime
We pretty much exhausted our drink tickets, our livers and our threshold for sun absorption by the end of the afternoon. But it was a worthy trek to Seattle to sample so many ciders, meet up with friends and just celebrate the fact that winter hadn't yet cast its rainy/icy spell upon us yet. 

Cider, dogs and board games - Welcome to Seattleandia! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
The one regret I had was not bringing Miss Indy. Although to be honest, while the morning weather was fine, the heat of the afternoon would have made her pretty miserable. We've brought her to previous Cider Summits and it's a great adventure for her, but we find ourselves hunting for shade to make sure she doesn't boil alive in her ample fur coat. Once the sun is out, you're definitely hunting for shade in that park. While Indy would have loved meeting new people and seeing some familiar faces, we made it up to her over the weekend, having our own little at-home backyard party where she had plenty of excitement and ample shade. 

Indy, where you at?? Left at home to mope... Sad horns. - Photos by Wasabi Prime


  1. Replies
    1. "Wah-waaaahhhhhhhh...." Yeah, she was bummed to stay at home, but she got extra snuggles when we got home. And she was saved from heatstroke -- man, that afternoon got hot!!

  2. Hiya friend! Regarding the stereotypical girly-ness of cider: I think you're right. It's still hard to find a commercial cider at a store that isn't terribly sweet so it's usually drank by people who like a bit more sweet drinks (which, as you pointed out, is stereotypically associated with wimminz business).

    On top of that, it's a drink that's hard to pair with what is usually considered, let's say, game-day or housewarming party snacks: having a cider with chicken wings and chips just sounds terrible. Everyday snack culture would need to change to welcome cider to the status of beer.

    With that said, I really like the new boom in this area with craft cider. We had some locally made cider instead of white wine with our meal the other day, and it was perfect.

    Still, when I visited a cider bar and I ordered the most sour thing they could pour me, it was too sweet to my taste, although the flavor was otherwise fine. It may take some time to widen the palate in commercial spaces, but I'm looking forward to it!


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