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)

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.

Alpenfire – glow

Alpenfire "glow"

The color looked much more striking and unique on the shelf, I must admit.

I’d be remiss in not stating right up front: this is a pricey cider ($28 for a 750mL bottle). The idea of a “rosé” cider intrigued me, especially given how much I loved Snowdrift’s beautiful pink Nebula Red, and I figured, well, it’s only one bottle. And if it turned out to not be worth the price, all the more reason to review it — so I could warn folks away.

While I was at the liquor store, I helped one of the guys finish off a couple of bottles of Finnriver from a tasting earlier in the evening, and when he saw I was planning to buy this cider he absolutely raved about it.

Given that the last cider this guy raved about to me was the disastrously vinegary Troy, the tang of acidity I got from Glow’s aroma had me alarmed at first — but it’s not too strong, and accompanied by a lush dessert-apple smell.

Glow is a moderate 6.8% ABV and though it definitely looks pinkish in the bottle — in fact it had quite a lovely gradation of sunset colors, which my camera and lighting have utterly failed to catch — it comes out more orange in the glass.

Happily, this cider holds up well to its price tag and to the hype. There’s a fresh sweetness to the flavor, bright and sugary but not in an artificial way. Like apple cotton candy (and there’s a product I could really get behind, come to think of it). The tart acidity I picked up in the aroma follows through behind the sweetness, keeping it from getting too syrupy and giving it a great balance.

So all in all, while I wouldn’t be inclined to purchase Glow frequently, I find myself agreeing with how it was described to me in the store — think about what you’re getting for your money in comparison to wine.

For $30 in the wine world, you can generally count on getting a solid, respectable wine (though I’ve had plenty of cheap good wines and expensive bad wines), but not necessarily anything spectacular. For $30 in the cider world, on the other hand, you’re getting some damn fine cider.

Locate some Alpenfire for yourself here!

Alpenfire – Pirate’s Plank Bone Dry

Alpenfire Pirate's Plank Bone Dry

I *never* get the wax to come off so clean like that!

Pirate’s Plank is a scrumpy-style cider, meaning it’s made with “traditional methods” (to wit: raw and unfiltered in this case) usually in smaller batches, and often tannic whether dry or sweet.

Living up to its name and scrumpy style, it does actually taste a bit like drinking a plank of wood, if one could achieve such a feat without splinters in really unfortunate places.

I’m not complaining; it’s pretty much the cider that comes to mind in a positive way when I think of very dry ciders. It’s a cloudy gold and really fizzy — pours several inches or so of head out of the bottle. The flavor and aroma are consistent with each other: slightly musty, lightly spicy, definitely bone dry and woody but not too bitter, lingering in the nooks and crannies of your mouth.

Pirate’s Plank uses mainly cider apples — Kingston Black, Vilberie, Dabinett, Yarlington Mill — with only Granny Smith represented from the dessert apple category, and it comes in at a respectable 6.9% ABV.

Alpenfire has pretty solidly positioned themselves as a higher-end brand, running more expensive than many other ciders but with a higher quality expectation to match. I imagine in part it’s simply because most (all?) of their stuff is organic.

I’ve never had a bad cider from them, though, and their packaging is always classy, with bottles wax-dipped or given other design treatments that manage not to cross over into being ostentatious.

Locate some Pirate’s Plank or another Alpenfire product to try for yourself here!