The Eastside may be a wine hub, but it’s also bustling with a lot of delicious cider. Washington is the No. 1 producer of apples in the country, and these local cider producers work hard to make crisp, clean, and delicious drinks out of one of the state’s biggest trademarks.
Off the Branch Farm
Let’s throw it back to something simple, pure, and timeless: nonalcoholic apple cider. Off the Branch Farm specializes in fresh-pressed apple cider made from organic or naturally grown apples. The farm has about 100 of its own trees and sources other apples from across Washington state to create raw cider from different apple varieties — like an apple cider made exclusively with Honeycrisps. Each of these pure batches requires about 120 pounds of one apple variety; if this amount isn’t available, a blend is made instead.
Although the farm has yet to jump through the necessary hoops to start fermenting its ciders, owners Pamela and Greg Goff are in the midst of making a recipe book of their different ciders as bases for creative libations.
“The Granny Smith apple cider is actually a great margarita mix. And it’s so much better for you than what you can buy in a store, because it doesn’t have chemicals.”
— Pamela Goff, Off the Branch Farm
“The Granny Smith apple cider is actually a great margarita mix,” said Pamela Goff, who bought the farm, which has been making apple cider for 30 years, two and a half years ago with her husband. “And it’s so much better for you than what you can buy in a store, because it doesn’t have any chemicals in it.”
Another favorite drink of hers is made by adding some bourbon to the Pink Lady cider, which is one of the most popular cider types they sell. People also love the Honeycrisp and Fuji ciders, she said.
If you stop by for fresh-pressed cider — which is increasingly rare to find — keep in mind that the Woodinville farm also sells spiced cider, aged vinegar, raw honey, and other local and organic farm goodies.
Locust Cider, which started producing cider in Woodinville in April 2015, has become a community fixture that focuses on innovative production and building connections with customers. Founder Jason Spears, who has had a handful of other entrepreneurial gigs throughout his life, wanted to try something different and fun with his brother, Patrick, as a business partner.
“I ended up finding smart people who knew what they were talking about, taking classes, asking for help from everyone I possibly could,” said Spears. “We also invent things as we go. We came in as semi-outsiders, which can sometimes be a good thing because we’re not tied to the traditional way of doing things. We have room to innovate.”
This lack of attachment to any one way of making the cider, Spears said, means they can focus on making a product that people genuinely love to drink. Locust Cider uses real ingredients — most from Washington — without added artificial flavoring or essences. They also use small-batch techniques and approaches, even when producing in larger quantities. Other than that, production is pretty open-ended.
“I like the mentality because it lets us be more open to any random idea that drops into our laps,” said Spears.
“We came in as semi-outsiders, which can sometimes be a good thing because we’re not tied to the traditional way of doing things. We have room to innovate.”
— Jason Spears, Locust Cider
Locust Cider’s three taprooms in Woodinville, Ballard, and Tacoma debut new flavors daily that might never make it to the can — meaning there’s plenty of room for experimenting.
Customers also seem to enjoy the creative flavors and nontraditional approach of Locust Cider, so much so that they have formed a community around the cidery. This community is made official through a cider club — The Swarm — that offers a free flight or pint for each member and their guest every time they come to one of the taprooms, as well as other exclusive perks, for $125 a year.
“We made the cider club because I have this family feeling with our customers; we know so many of them, and it’s a way for us to be generous with them,” said Spears. “Most people make out 20 times over in value for a year’s worth of cider.”
Included in the price of the membership is a $25 donation to the Hydrocephalus Association, which promotes a cure for people with hydrocephalus, a condition where fluid accumulates in the brain. Spears’ 3-year-old daughter, Lucy, was diagnosed with it as a baby. Hundreds of club members have allowed him to both raise money for people like his daughter and to build the family-like community that is so important to him in his business.
Not to miss at Locust Cider this season is Spears’ fall favorite, the New England Amber, which is made with brown sugar and dates for a full-bodied, deep flavor. For those seeking something a bit off the beaten path (or, should we say, less mainstream than pumpkin spice), this new flavor at Locust Cider might make for the perfect fall libation.
Elemental Hard Cider
When Brian and Christina Callahan started making wine in 2011, they thought they wanted to start a winery. In the first year of their new business venture, however, they started experimenting with hard cider, and realized that the cider industry might be a better fit for them.
“It’s a little bit more like the beer industry,” said Brian Callahan, who enjoyed the product they were producing as well as the customers — and excitement — it attracted.
Though the atmosphere around making cider may have seemed more in line with the one around brewing beer, Brian pointed out that wine-making and cider-making are very similar — both involve the process of fermentation and filtration. Brian and Christina’s transition from wine to cider was not a difficult one, then: They were already familiar with the principles of balance and complexity that make both beverages tasty.
Four and a half years ago, Elemental Cider was officially born, and since has grown slowly and steadily, keeping its product local and its footprint compact. Their ciders are sold in Washington and Oregon, and their apple juice concentrate comes exclusively from the Yakima Valley. The Woodinville taproom, open on Saturdays and Sundays, doubles as a production facility throughout the week, an operation that is run by seven full-time and two-part time employees, including Brian and Christina.
Because of the small nature of the company, 95 percent of Elemental Cider’s sales are made to distributors like Haggen and Total Wine across Washington and Oregon. In the next few years, the Callahans hope to extend their reach to several other Pacific Northwest regions, like Idaho and Northern California, and to increase their sales to large distributors like Safeway.
The fall seasonal this year is an Apple Cobbler cider, which was released as a draft in early September. It’s like pie in a can, flavored with cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg. With residual sugar at just 3.5 percent, though, the cider isn’t too sweet — it comes through almost dry, according to Brian.
“It’s full-flavored, well-rounded, and well-balanced,” he said. “It’s pretty easy to knock back a couple pints.”