Archive for the ‘apples’ Category

I think Washington State and the Northwest moreover is setting the stage to be a cider power house. This year in Washington we have not 1, not 2, but 3 brand spankin’ new cider makers. One based in the “Apple Capital of the World” Wenatchee WA., one working around Port Townsend WA., the last one and not-so coincidentally the topic of this post is located in a little place just outside Yakima Washington called Tieton.

The small town of Tieton is surrounded by some very large orchards and seems rife apple culture. Tieton Cider Works may be new but the primary stakeholders and partners are not new at all to the apple business. Tieton Cider Work’s origin stems from Harmony Orchards owned by Craig and Sharon Campbell. I was told Craig’s family had been in the area and the orchard business a long time. Craig is a third generation Yakima Valley farmer and trained horticulturist, and they’ve been at the forefront of organic agriculture producing organic apples and fruit for about 20 years now.

Craig and Sharon are only half of the equation in this story. The other half is made up of Cindy Richter and Fred Kasak. Cindy is Tieton Cider Works’ “chief cider maker” and also has a background in organic fruit and produce promotion. Gotta like that. As the story goes Cindy took cider class at Cornell in 2007, a discussion followed with Craig and Sharon and that seems to have been the main catylist and inspiration behind all these great folks to coming together to give the real cider business a try.

Read more on Tieton Cider’s story on their website.

I was classmates with Sharon and Cindy for Peter Mitchell’s “Principles & Practice of Cider Making” class held at the WSU Experimental Ag Station in Mount Vernon, WA. I remember them fairly clearly. There were no other “pairs” of people who knew each other in class, and they seemed down to business, diligent and dedicated to their notebooks. A little over year later Sharon, Cindy, and I ended up emailing quite a bit which eventually led to Heather and I being asked over for a visit their cider house to “help” with their last day of cider pressing.

We were up at 5:15 or so, very early for us, and headed out the door for our 3 hour drive at around 6AM… The drive over Highway 12 turned out to be absolutely gorgeous in all it’s Fall splendor. Once we crested the top of White Pass we found golden colored Lyall Larches dotting the mountainsides. I can’t say I recall ever seeing anything quite like it before. Absolutely gorgeous.

Golden Spruce on White Pass in Washington State.

Golden colored Lyall Larches on White Pass in Washington State.

We arrived at around 9:30 or so to find the Harmony/Tieton crew hard at work since 8. Our 3 hour drive turned into a 3 and a half our drive after a 20-30 minute construction delay on the East side of White Pass. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit a few cider makers over the past few years; 3 of which we visited during the cider class. Tieton pressed for the ’08 season and using their experiences commissioned a brand new apple sorting and cider production line to help streamline the ’09 season and increase output. Needless to say I was thoroughly excited to check it out.

Apple bin at Tieton Cider Works. I don't recall which variety this was. Dabinett?

Tieton Cider Work’s operation was smack dab in the middle of a giant working organic orchard in the heart of orchard country. Down the dirt road I could see the massive pressing area surrounded by double orchard bins filled to the brim with varying varieties of apples… Condemned and waiting their turn at the grinder and press. To put it simply I thought their processing line was amazing… Equipment envy!

It all starts with the bins of apples that are fork lifted into a hydraulic bin lift which ever so gently believe it or not moves apples onto a large white conveyor belt for sorting that is about 6 foot wide by 8 or so foot long, just wide enough to put a person or two on each side. From there the apples find themselves forced under a shower of water/so2 solution for sanitizing and onto a long line of roller brushes that brushing the sorted apples sparkling clean.

Apple on the sorting conveyor being funneled down, rinsed then brushed.

No looking back now as the apples are conveyed up a belt fitted with rubber fingers that grab and push the unsuspecting but clean apples up only to find themselves tossed down down the throat of an industrial apple grinder, shredded and pomaced into oblivion. And yeah it is pretty much as dismal as it sounds. Watch your hands!

Tieton Cider Work's future 2009 vintage cider headed to grinder. These are Winter Banana

From the grinder the apple pomace is pushed out in a never ending ribbon of shredded apple maybe an inch or two high onto and sandwiched between the two pressing belts of their Continuous Belt Press. I know I said it already but… Amazing! The whole thing was an exquisite sight of grandeur this gadgety cider guy.

Exiting the grinder and into the continuous belt press. Efficiency.

After the belt press extracts the all the juice the fairly dry remains of apple are scraped off the belt and fall into a waiting orchard bin. What do they do with the remains? Well there was a fairly steady stream of folks coming to shovel it into containers and haul it off to use as free and tasty feed for the farm stock or as compost. Nothing goes to waste and nothing hits the landfill. It’s been said before but done like Tieton does it cider has got to be one of the most environmentally friendly beverages to produce. It takes a community to help out, kudos to the person organizing and arranging the pick ups.

Cider maker Cinder Richter at Tieton Cider Works

Cider maker Cinder Richter hard at work in Tieton Cider Works cider house.

From the outside the must (apple juice) is whisked inside the cider house through an inlet piped straight through the wall into very large poly fermentation vessels, 500 Gallon I think. Amongst the giant tanks there was also a few carboys on racks and some larger scale experimental fermenting being started in 55 gallon stainless wine barrels. Cindy could be found in the cider house sterilizing barrels, monitoring levels in tanks, switching the hose from full tanks to empty, taking notes on apple varieties, testing batches for pH, starting gravity and acidity. If that weren’t enough she was starting and pitching yeast in tanks filled during the previous days pressing. More never ending busy work.

Heather sorting apples at Tieton Cider Works.

Heather sorting apples headed towards the press.

They put Heather and I on one side of the sorting table where we quickly took up sorting the good apples from the bad with some consult from Roy Harmony’s orchard manager. Soon enough we both had the details straight and were sorting like unseasoned amateurs. I don’t care what they say… 1 apple doesn’t necessarily spoil the whole barrel or even the bin for that mater. Actually there weren’t many bad ones to be found at all. The art of the sorting job as we found out was mostly in hands the apple bin operator’s control. The hydraulic bin dumper carefully finessed should keep a steady stream of apples traveling down the belt. Not too many, not too few. I know there were kinks worked out and all but the process seemed absolutely seamless from an outsider’s presepective. Always running, constantly grinding and forever pressing. Minus a minor belt adjustment and tightening come mid-afternoon the production seemed never ending.

If the experience weren’t enough we were treated to an awesome lunch outside next to the press set up. Among the many delicious things there was homemade Carnitas and Salsa, some of the best I have ever tasted I should add. After lunch we were able to sneak in a quick sampling, some tasting of their new line of ciders, not to mention a little cider talk with Cindy. I think there is never enough cider talk or tasting, however we tried to keep it as brief as humanly possible as to not abandon our quality control apple sorting posts for too long.

The Northwest cider making community is a small, warm, friendly and cooperative family. Heather and I had an excellent day with our friends at Tieton. The experience was great, we met lots of great folks like Orchard Manager Roy and family, and Orchard Mechanic/Handy Guy Kelly. Sharon, Craig, Cindy and Fred were generous enough to send us home with containers of juice to ferment. Thanks guys!

I hear Tieton’s limited run of first year cider, the ’08 vintage, sold out quick. Well they may have no more. I was glad that we picked up a case while we were there, but even that went quick. Between sampling out to our local bottle shop here in Oly, gifting to Megan – Heather’s sister and our chief dog watcher for the day, we ran out quick too.

Good things are going to come from these folks. I know I’ll be impatiently awaiting the bottles from ’09 to hit the shelves.

Additional Information:

If you’d like a taste of  Tieton Cider Works I hear they have stock at 99 Bottles in Federal Way, WA. and Full Throttle Bottle in Seattle, WA. Both excellent bottleshops and great supporters of and sources for the traditional ciders of Washington State. They stay on top of the game and seem to get carry them all old and new. Thanks for supporting cider Washington guys!

Tieton also ships cider in Washington State. The website says they can start to ship out of state starting February 2010.

Tieton Cider has a Facebook Fan Page here and you can find the Tieton Cider blog here.

My complete set of pictures from our trip to Tieton Cider Works is here on Flickr.

Tieton Cider Works 2009 Vintage Ciders: Dry, Semi-Dry, and Cherry.


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Albemarle Ciderworks ~ Albemarle County Virginia

Albemarle Ciderworks ~ Albemarle County Virginia

Vintage Virginia Apples, one of my favorite website sources for apple varieties and information put up an announcement last year publicizing their intent to make cider. Needless to say I was quite excited to read about the prospect. One would be hard pressed (no pun intended) to find a more better selection of vintage and heirloom apples in North America than at Vintage Virginia Apples. I absolutely convinced their knowledge, dedication, passion and artisanship will translate perfectly into a truly delectable craft cider.

Their time has come and the cidery has been named Albemarle CiderWorks. Their website claims they will be opening their tasting room to the public on July 15th. Being on the West Coast it’ll be hard to lay may hands on their cider but I’m betting it will be worth a visit. From their pictures the tasting room and patio looks to be coming together nicely. If you are anyone you know are in the Albemarle County region I highly suggest you make a stop and support their efforts. We need more craft ciders like I’m sure Albemarle CiderWorks will prove to be.

Press Published after post date:
Daily Progress – Charlottesville VA – Published: July 5, 2009

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Well it is that time of year again. The harvest season where you’ll find all of us involved in apples (or trying to be) running like mad. Picking, milling, pressing, sanitizing, storing, testing, adding nutrients, racking, worrying. I don’t have my own trees or an orchard yet but I’ve been beyond busy “hustling” and collecting early season apples and pressing them since about a month or more ago, and I don’t see any signs of it letting up. I’m actually starting to panic about my cider storage situation. I’ll probably end up a little shy of the legal home-brewing limit for the year. Good thing I haven’t done any cider making since pressing last year. I have the room I think, but what I don’t have is ample proper storage. But I’m working on it and welcome any and all inexpensive or reasonably priced solutions or suggestions. At least I’ll be able to justify having a full size oak barrel or two.

Red Barn Ciders award winning cider Burro Loco

Red Barn Cider's award winning cider "Burro Loco"

More Cider Press… The Red Barn Edition.
The Seattle Times has really been doing a great job covering the traditional and craft cider revolution happening here in the NW. They might just be trying to “predict” the next craft beverage dos to them for understanding what it is all about. I do my best with Google News Alerts to keep on top of cider news Worldwide but somehow I missed a great article featuring Drew Zimmerman at Red Barn Cider up in Mount Vernon.

Check out the Seattle Time’s newest cider article “Northwest artisans are crafting a renaissance in handmade hard ciders” here.

Drew was a mainstay at Cider School last June. He is an all around really great guy, a very knowledgeable cider maker not to mention lots of fun to talk apples and cider with. It was an honor and a privilege to have him participate in WSU’s Cider School. Red Barn’s Cider has become one of my favorites over the past couple years and it keeps getting better. Thanks again to both Drew and the kind folks Red Barn!

Irvines Vintage Blend Cider - Vashon Winery - Vashon Island, Washington

Irvines Vintage Blend Cider - Vashon Winery - Vashon Island, Washington

Vashon Cider Fest.
I’ve anxiously been awaiting Vashon Cider Fest coming up this weekend at home here in Washington State. Heather and I take off from tomorrow at around 8 AM to catch a ferry at around 9 AM to attend the whole event.

They’ve got a great line up of cider related activities planned.

  • Juice pressing and apple identification with the Vashon Fruit Club from 10 AM to 3 PM.
  • A cider making seminar with Dr. Bob Norton, Ron Irvine (Vashon Winery and Irivine’s Vintage Cider) and Drew Zimmerman (Tulip Valley Winery and Red Barn Cider) from 1 to 2 PM.
  • Cider tasting showing 8 different cideries and up to 15 ciders from 3 to 6 PM.
  • All followed up by a 4 course cider dinner at Vashon’s The Hardware Store Restaurant that will match ciders to each course at 6:30 PM sponsored by Vashon Island Rotary and the NW Cider Society.

Heather and I just recently signed up and paid dues with the NW Cider Society and this will be our first NW Cider Society event. Needless to say we are both pretty excited about the whole day’s events, and Heather is especially excited about the dinner.

Anyway I’m hoping for some great note and picture taking so I can blog the event when I get home… Stay Tuned.

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Samuel Smith's NEW Cider
For me the release of Samuel Smith’s Organic Cider comes completely out of left field. I’ve long enjoyed Sammy Smith beers and ales. Their Oatmeal Stout is one of my favorites, the Imperial Stout is tops, the Winter Warmer a Holiday favorite for sure and the Organic Lager and Ale always hits the spot. Let’s face it for a larger independent brewer they represent consistent quality, and you can buy it absolutely everywhere and drink it most any time.

Sammy Smith’s new cider holds true to standards set by it’s hopped and malted forefathers. They call it an “Organic” cider and the label boasts the tag line “Produced from Organically grown apples.”. That doesn’t mean this isn’t a cider produced from organically grown apples turned to concentrate. I haven’t found any information that states whether or not it is or isn’t. So who knows… The back label carries a USDA Organic logo up top. By Organic standards it looks legit.

I’d call Sammy’s new cider a real solid medium sweet cider. It possesses nicely fermented apple flavors and was a lot bigger on taste and quality than I had expected. The sweetness is pleasantly backed up and balanced with a wee bit of tartness and acidity which I find absolutely necessary in a drinkable cider.

To sum it all up Samuel Smith’s Organic Cider isn’t as dry as I would like (not much is), nor as complex as I’d like (ditto) and I’d love to see a bit of tannin zip and zing to it (amen). It is however a really great “Daily Driver” and for what it is, what it costs and who it is competing against it is a terrific addition to the growing number of quality ciders on the market. If you like the Strongbows, Blackthornes, and Magners out there or if you are even just starting to look into enjoying ciders you are sure to enjoy Samuel Smith’s new organic cider and I whole heartedly recommend it. This could be your “gateway” to real ciders.

Enjoy and if anybody out there is able to find it and give it a try, I’d love it if you would drop on back by and tell me what you think.

Got suggestions or even review requests? I’d be happy to oblige and/or add them to my list of “to-do’s”. In the not to distant future I hope to review 2 of my absolute Northwest favorites… Westcott Bay Ciders from San Juan Island Washington and Wandering Aengus from Oregon. Not to mention a couple bourbon recommendation.

Thanks for reading.

Update: Ran across a new post about Sammy Smith’s new cider here http://blogs.timesunion.com/dowdondrinks/?p=504

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Well late April early May brings us apple blossoms. It is fairly an eventful time of year for me as my birthday falls on April 30. When I was a kid we would often go to the Apple Blossom Festival in Wenatchee Washington where my Mom was born and raised.

Ever since my cider pressing days started the apple blossoms mean a little bit more to me. I’ve also found them usefu for locating abandoned or forgotten trees. We’ll see how that pans out next fall.

So as fate would have it my day job brings me to Minneapolis for the Specialty Coffee Association of America trade show. If any of you want to follow along with the adventure check out my Flickr feed.

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Done deal. 4 years in the waiting and I’m finally going to attend Peter Mitchell’s Cider Academy. The course I am taking is Cider Making – Principles & Practice course and it is held at the WSU Mount Vernon extension. Not too far away.

I’m pretty excited overall and the syllabus is a dream. I hope to really absorb a lot. I’ve never spoken with anyone who has attended these courses but I read great things. I’m hopeful as this isn’t a cheap class to attend. I’m confident it will meet my expectations and be a great experience to say the least.

It is hard to choose but I expect some of the course highlights to be;

Cider Orcharding.
An really interesting topic for me. My Mom’s side of the family is from Wenatchee here is Washington. The once self proclaimed “Apple Capitol of the World” is now host to a ailing apple industry and a virgining wine industry in neighboring Lake Chelan which is or was once equally apple heavy. Now orchards are being torn out to make way for vinyards. Other than just going organic can diversifying product by means of grafting cider varieties as well as other old time varieties be a viable answer? If you know apples you know apples… Why grapes? Anyway that is another blog post entirely.

Principles for Cider Production and Preparation for Fermenting.
Can you go over read about them enough times? When all is said and done this is the real reason behind going. It will be great to hear it all and take notes from a respected professional. Fruit selection, harvesting, processing, juice composition and preparation. Nice!

Commercial Cider Producer Visit
One of the days we’ll be headed North of the border to Vancouver Island to check out Merridale Estate Cider. I’ve had sought out and had their cider twice now while in Victoria. Heading out there for a tour was high on my list for Heather and my next trip up there. It isn’t harvest or anything but it should be a nice time of year to visit and for sure interesting to no end.

The Legislative Requirements, Assessment and Profiling of Cider, Blending, Lab Analysis and so-on. Honestly it all looks great and I’m pretty excited to finally be going.

On a side note some of my own pressed and blended batches are starting to take shape. Man oh man. Much much better than what I am using from the local cider mill. I don’t know what they did to their recipe but at one point I was pretty successful with their juice… I was beginning to think it was me. Well anyways fresh pressed and thoughtfully blended is key, my fermentation temperature re-revelation didn’t hurt either. Keep it cool brothers.

Sometimes apple picking/press partner, fellow fermenter and coffee colleague Michael Elvin wrote me up nice review of what I think will be one of the better batches yet. Surprisingly or not, it contains some great cider apples kicked down by a buddy on Whidbey. Thats trouble… How the hell am I suppose to get my hands on cider apples every year? Ideas offers and inquiries welcome…

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These days it isn’t often I find a regional cider I haven’t heard of or tasted. During my very recent trip to Vancouver BC seeing the Ross Family Orchards Cider on the very cool Six Acres’ massive beverage menu was a nice surprise.

Overall it was pretty good and I had no problem finishing it. It had a an unexplainable semi-predictable familiarity which I can only explain as what seems to be Western Canadian Cider style.

I don’t know why but even the family owned and micro cideries in British Columbia produce a real sweet product. It is like they are afraind to show people a real traditional cider. Sweet ciders may have had their day and kept cider making alive but their time is over and traditional dryer ciders are where it is at. This cider did have some great apple flavors and was sufficiently tart could have used a bit of “earthiness” and bite perhaps from some vintage cider apples or crab apples.

Another downside was the plastic bottle style cap that leaves the tamper proof lock ring behind. I was glad to find the bottle was glass although upon seeing the cap I did think it was plastic. Real farm made and fermented cider can be lots of hard work and time, and I don’t know why most folks take short cuts during bottling. In my opinion a presentation faux pas like a plastic cap (or plastic anything else for that matter) does not pay the proper homage and celebrate the fruits or fermentations of their labors.

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PS. Sorry for the blog neglect. I just didn’t have the energy with work, holidays and cider making/bottling. I’ll try not to let it happen again and I’ll get out some of the other cider critics and reviews ASAP.

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