2015 Pacific Northwest Cider Awards Roundup

Congrats to all the winners at the 2nd annual Pacific Northwest Cider Awards!

It turns out Bad Rider has already covered a number of them, so I’ve collected up the relevant reviews below for your perusal. To my regret, I couldn’t make it to the Awards Festival this past Saturday, but I’m especially glad to see some personal favorites like Spur & Vine, Prohibition, and Fire Barrel take home awards.

Modern Dry

Silver: Cascadia Ciderworkers United Dry

Bronze: Grizzly Ciderworks The Ridge

Traditional Dry

Bronze: Sea Cider Ciderhouse Kings & Spies


Gold: Apple Outlaw Ginger Bite

Wood Aged

Gold: Finnriver Farm & Ciderhouse Fire Barrel

Gold: Sea Cider Ciderhouse Prohibition


Gold: Blue Mountain Cider Company Peach Hard Apple Cider


Silver: Seattle Cider Company Three Pepper


Gold: Square Mile Cider Co. Spur and Vine Hopped


Gold: Spire Mountain Ciders Dark and Dry Apple



Dispatches From the Orchard, Issue #1

With the summer coming in and the weather becoming more reliably nice, I’ve started on my quest to visit local cideries in person, to get a feel for what they’re like beyond just the bottles on the shelf. Bad Rider’s very first road trip report covers three cideries in the Port Townsend area: Alpenfire Cider, Finnriver Farm & Cidery, and Eaglemount Wine and Cider. My road trip companion was my mom, who recently got a new car and has correspondingly called dibs on any and all road tripping that needs to be done for the foreseeable future.

All three of these cideries are out in the boonies, an hour-long ferry ride and another hour of driving from the civilization of my Seattle condo. Each at the end of a dirt road, surrounded by forest and bucolic farmland, quiet and peaceful in the sunshine. Each has a tasting room: Alpenfire’s and Eaglemount’s are open Friday through Sunday 12-5 and Finnriver’s is open daily 12-5.



Our gracious and knowledgable host Melanie

Our gracious and knowledgable host Melanie

Moving generally north to south, farthest to nearest, we visited Alpenfire first. At the time, they had a 7-cider tasting flight for $5, with ciders, vinegars, jams and jellies also available for sale.

The Alpenfire ciders we tasted were Dungeness, Spark, Ember, Pirate’s Plank, Glow, Calypso, and Smoke, in that order. Our host for the tasting, Melanie, said the first four were offered in order from sweetest to driest, but perhaps their Dungeness of prior years was much sweeter than this year’s, as I would have placed the bottle we tried somewhere between Ember and Pirate’s Plank rather than on the sweet end of the scale.

Glow and Smoke I’ve already reviewed, but it was a pleasure to introduce someone else to them firsthand, and Calypso is an interesting blackberry cider aged in rum barrels — I got the blackberry in the taste, my mom got the rum.

To sum up Alpenfire: traditional and European
The highlight: the exquisite Glow


Finnriver's barn-red tasting room stands out against the blue sky

Finnriver’s barn-red tasting room stands out against the blue sky

Finnriver was the busiest of the three, and they apparently have pizza and live music on Sundays, starting later in the summer. Their tasting was the most bountiful — tragically, I’ve misplaced my notebook with almost all the notes I took from the trip so I’m working entirely off my faulty memory, but I think we must have tried 8-9 of their offerings (artisanal sparkling, golden, black currant, honey meadow, cyser crew select, blackberry apple brandy, raspberry apple brandy). Their normal tasting fee is $5 per person, but Rick at Finnriver was very kind and waived it for us given Bad Rider’s “pro” status (yes, I was charmed).

In addition to ciders, Finnriver offers a number of fruit-based dessert wines and port-style spirited wines. There’s really nowhere to go wrong with Finnriver ciders in general, though I discovered my mom is really not one for meads, cysers, or honey-flavored ciders, and I am really not one for the raspberry dessert wine despite its incredible, ambrosial smell.

To sum up Finnriver: bustling, successful working farm with a wide variety of ciders and apple brandies
The highlight: The pear wine with apple brandy and cacao. Does that not sound amazing? Whatever you’re imagining, it’s better than that.


Eaglemount's tasting room, feat. cider notebook (RIP) in the hands of yours truly.

Eaglemount’s tasting room, feat. cider notebook (RIP) in the hands of yours truly.

Eaglemount was the most quiet and withdrawn of the cideries — its narrow access road winding through a stand of trees and tall grasses to an isolated tasting room. It’s smaller than Finnriver’s, technically a bit larger than Alpenfire’s but enclosed in a building where Alpenfire had an open patio area.

Eaglemount had 11 ciders and 5 wines available on their tasting menu when we visited, with a tasting fee of $5 per 5 selections. In addition to cider and wine, they also have some local cheeses for sale.

Having already reviewed their Homestead Semi-Sweet, I went for the Homestead Dry, Cyser, Raspberry Hopped, Apple Mead, and Quince Mead. Everything was interesting, and I got a similar sort of cool, foggy, stony sense from several of them despite the individual variations in flavor. Eaglemount has trees on their homestead from the late 1800s, which makes me think that common thread in the taste of the various ciders is perhaps reflecting the specific terroir of the area.

To sum up Eaglemount: serious cider (and wine) from seriously old trees
The highlight: if you ask my mom, the Syrah, but I think the quince mead and raspeberry hopped were both really interesting (and picked up a bottle of each for a later review)

Sonoma Cider – The Washboard

Sonoma Cider, The Washboard

Sonoma Cider, The Washboard

I was so excited when I saw this on the shelf. Sarsaparilla! Vanilla! Cider! So many things I love all in one bottle! Having picked it up at the same time as Crispin’s Venus Reigns, I couldn’t decide which of the two looked more promising.

All of which is by way of saying: this was not the life-changing experience I’d built up in my head. Much like ciders I’ve had with maple, there’s something about certain flavors that I expect to be at least a little sweet, and dry ciders like this one which disconnect the flavor from the sweetness are somehow disorienting.

As you might expect, the aroma has that characteristic root beer aspect, though it’s quite light, and it pours the kind of tall, foamy head you get from root beers.

The Washboard does have an easy smoothness to it from the vanilla, alongside the spice of the sarsaparilla, and at 5.5% ABV it’s mild as ciders go. I’m sure that this is right up the alley of some folks, and I still think the idea of a sarsaparilla vanilla cider holds promise — this just isn’t the execution that works for me.

You can locate some Sonoma Cider for yourself on their website.

Crispin – Venus Reigns

Crispin Cider Venus Reigns

Crispin Cider Venus Reigns

Y’all, Crispin is killing me with these limited releases and fancy pear ciders. I can’t even feel guilty that they’re a big operation owned by MillerCoors, their stuff is just too good. Venus Reigns is a 6.9% ABV pear cider aged in red wine casks and finished with honey — if there exists a cider that is more my jam, I certainly cannot think of it at the moment.

The aroma strikes me as more like an apple cider than a perry, but it’s also got a distinct sense of red wine to it. I couldn’t possibly put a specific varietal name to it, but it tastes like a fairly young wine, not something that’s aged for very long.

I was halfway expecting a cider aged in red wine casks to turn out more or less pinkish, especially given the name and the lovely purple hues of the label, but Venus Reigns is a cloudy straw-amber color with perhaps a tiny hint of peach blush.

The flavor seems like it’s almost on separate levels — on the ground level, the pear cider mingling with red wine notes; on the mezzanine, the sweetness of the honey. It’s a party I could spend a lot of time at.

Overall it’s a fairly sweet cider, but though the honey doesn’t have distinct a profile as, say, Methow Valley’s Honey Bear, it’s still more than enough to keep Venus Reigns out of the “generic syrupy sweetness” category. I wouldn’t pair this with anything particularly bitter, but I think it could go well with savory dishes, or perhaps sweet-and-sour.

You can locate yourself some Venus Reigns on Crispin’s website, and I definitely recommend it. Crispin, please never stop with these weird limited editions and artisanal releases. Even if I am sad when they go away (RIP Steel Town).

Finnriver – Fire Barrel Cider

Finnriver Fire Barrel Cider

Finnriver Fire Barrel Cider

Finnriver’s Fire Barrel comes in a cute little stout, round, brown bottle — barrel-like, one might even call it. I’m sure it’s a complete coincidence.

Fire Barrel is made from bittersweet apples and aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels, which add a deep amber-orange hue to the cider’s color and a woody aspect to the aroma, with hints of the high-proof fire of the bourbon in the background.

In flavor, it’s an interesting mix of mellow and brash. On the one hand the bourbon shows up right from the start with oak notes and a sense of whisky aromatics filling your mouth; on the other hand, the initial aggressiveness soon eases off into something milder, burnt sugar and vanilla accompanying the sweetness of the cider apples.

At 6.5% ABV, this is a lot less dangerous than some other barrel-aged ciders such as Alpenfire’s Smoke or Sea Cider’s Prohibition, and it inherits a more unique personality from the barrel-aging than my beloved (but much milder) standby, Schilling Oak-Aged.

I think Fire Barrel would go great with a steak dinner — in fact, I’m looking sadly at my now-empty bottle and thinking about how well it would go with the “whiskey steak” recipe that’s one of my personal specialties.

Finnriver doesn’t have a locator function, but they do have an online store (including the perpetually tempting cider club). Check out their offerings! I’m eager to get my hands on some of that Cacao Wine with Apple Brandy sometime.

Schilling Cider – Berry

Schilling Berry Cider

Schilling Cider & Bad Rider Reviews: two great tastes that taste great together.

One of these days I’m going to write a whole review from Schilling’s Cider House, because they get a fair amount of stuff on tap that you can’t buy bottled or in a growler, but today I just wanted to pick up a couple things to review (and a bottle of Honey Bear because I had a craving), so here we are with today’s subject: Schilling’s Berry Cider.

It’s a mild 5.5% ABV and a clear ruby in color — not a dark ruby like red wine, more like a rosé. It smells kind of like breakfast:  a slice of buttered toast slathered with raspberry jam in your hand, a glass of apple juice beyond, on the table waiting for you to take a sip.

As you might expect from any cider with berry fruit, the taste is sour, tart, sharp with acid but also sweet. It’s a fruity, cheerful, summertime sort of flavor to me, and it gives an edge of eager enjoyment to days like today, when the sun is bright and the sky is clear and it’s not quite summer yet but you can tell we’ve turned the corner.

I’ve never seen this stuff bottled or canned, so unless you can come by the Cider House here in Seattle, I think you’re more or less on your own if you want to find some. (I’m just gonna say, though: it’s a beautiful day in the Emerald City.)

Apple Outlaw – Ginger Bite

Apple Outlaw Ginger Bite

Apple Outlaw Ginger Bite

This cider was a surprise when I showed up to my local liquor store expecting the tail end of Sonoma Cider’s “The Hatchet” (which I meant to get around to reviewing but just kept drinking instead). Apparently my streak of being the one to kill off their cider kegs has ended; someone else did the honors for the Hatchet.

Ginger ciders seem to be all the rage these days — Angry Orchard’s got one, Schilling’s got one, Finnriver’s got one, Number 6 Cider’s got one, Reverend Nat’s got one, and I’m sure I’m even missing a few — but they’ve never particularly been to my liking, as I’m not a big fan of ginger in general. Still, it’s a pretty common segment of the cider market so I figure I’d better knock one or two out of the way here on Bad Rider for the sake of comprehensive coverage.

(I may even consider trying a ginger beer, a trend picking up steam here in Seattle in particular, for comparison.)

Of course, not all ginger ciders are created equal. Some are mild, but Ginger Bite goes hard from the start; the aroma reaches out and grabs you from the glass.

The flavor is fairly sweet under the sharp fire of the ginger, but there’s not much in the way of subtlety to it. You want a ginger cider, with lots of ginger? Here you go. If you’re pairing it, make sure it’s something that’s definitely going to go with lots of ginger. Several varieties of Asian food would probably do.

You can look up a retailer that carries Apple Outlaw here.

Alpenfire – Smoke

Alpenfire Smoke

Alpenfire Smoke

Smoke was recommended to me a while back at the same time as Alpenfire’s Glow rose, and between the two of them and the Pirate’s Plank Bone Dry I think you can really get a good picture of how broad Alpenfire’s repertory is. They’ve got a good thing going on over there, though their pricing does tend to set the expectation that they would.

Smoke is a clear amber and a whopping 16% ABV – for as smooth as it drinks, I was expecting something more in the 7-9% range. It’s a surprise for me because Smoke is considerably less brash and aggressive than Sea Cider’s Prohibition, which clocks in at “only” 12.5%.

Its aroma is rich with the booze-soaked smoky wood of the barrels and thick, syrupy apples. It is a bit… much, and not up everyone’s alley, but I certainly like it well enough.

The heaviness carries through to the flavor, which is intense and sweet, with a sharp, aromatic undertone like harder liquor, a little fiery, that could come either from the barrel-aging or from the high alcohol content. This is absolutely a sipping cider, not a chugging cider, and if you’re going to pair it with food, make it something that’s really going to hold its own.

You can locate some Alpenfire for yourself here — or consider stopping by their farm! It’s definitely on my list of road trip destinations.

Bull Run – Powerhouse Dry

I'm still tickled by Bull Run's logo.

I’m still tickled by Bull Run’s logo.

It’s been a few months since I last reviewed Bull Run (their Gravenstein Single Varietal). I wish I’d thought to pick up another bottle of that cider to try next to the Powerhouse Dry, as there are definite similarities when I look back over that review. Does the Powerhouse Dry feature some Gravensteins? Is it just a family resemblance between Bull Run ciders? Hard to say. (Sure, I could ask, but that takes all the fun out of it.)

Powerhouse Dry is a clear gold in color and clocks in at a respectable 7.4%. Right off the bat, it smells dry — a cheesy, farmyard sort of smell. The bark is worse than the bite, though; it’s not as aggressively wood-like as, say, Alpenfire’s Pirate’s Plank Bone Dry.

It’s dry, no doubt of that, but it’s a much milder dry cider. I’m a fan of the Pirate’s Plank, don’t get me wrong, but a lighter, more unobtrusive dry cider — that still carries a distinct personality — like this is more likely to be a good pairing with a wide variety of foods. Though with that musty aspect to it it’s definitely not going to go with everything. Probably a charcuterie spread would work well.

Bull Run has a cider locator here, though as I mentioned last time, it only covers the Portland area, and clearly they’ve at least made it up to Seattle, so don’t lost hope if they don’t have any locations listed near you.

Eaglemount Cidery – Homestead Semi-Sweet

Eaglemount Homestead Semi-Sweet

Eaglemount Homestead Semi-Sweet

For a couple of months I’ve been collecting up a) resealable bottles for my own experiments in homebrewing, and b) cideries that have tasting rooms or visiting hours — be on the lookout for reports from the field, coming this summer to Bad Rider Reviews. Eaglemount is a case of catching two birds with one stone, and I’ve added them to my prospective list of places to visit as the weather improves.

The Eaglemount Semi-Sweet is a respectable 8% ABV and cloudy amber in color; it came with a positive recommendation by the fellow working at Schilling Cider House when I bought it, but when I first poured it I got worried — it smells deep and tangy, like the overly-vinegary Troy and Cascadia Dry. However, the overlay of funky cheese and white sugar was a reassuring distraction, and I forged ahead.

Happily, the flavor doesn’t deliver on the threat of vinegar that had me worried; it’s a little tart, but more than balanced by a musty sort of sweetness, just enough acidity to keep it from getting heavy, and a juicy, fruity aspect. I saw a review that described it as having strawberry notes, and while I wouldn’t quite go that far, it’s definitely reflective of some sweet dessert apples in the cider blend.

Eaglemount doesn’t have a locator on their site, but you can check out their offerings and order online. Personally, I’m really looking forward to trying their apple mead and cyser at some point.