It’s one of those things they never taught us in elementary school. Actually, it’s more like our teachers failed to tell us the whole story. We all learned about the legend of Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman), an American pioneer who wandered the countryside planting apple trees. They never told us that the trees Johnny Appleseed planted as he roamed the countryside did not produce sweet, dessert apples. His trees yielded bitter apples for making hard cider. In colonial and pioneer America, hard cider was a very important beverage. Perhaps, dare I say, more important than beer.
It’s been a long time coming, but hard cider is once again becoming an important beverage in America as its popularity skyrockets. Seattle is one of the markets leading the resurgence, especially in the consumption of artisan, high quality cider. One problem: the city does not have a cider producer. In fact, it’s been 90-something years since the city had a cider producer. Some companies have managed to print the word Seattle on the label, but no company has actually produced hard cider within the city limits since before Prohibition. That’s about to change.
Meet Seattle Cider Company, the city’s first post-Prohibition cider producer. The company intends to deliver cider to the market as soon as August of this year. As he waits for the last bits of ink to dry on permits and licenses from state and federal authorities, Joel Vandenbrink (founder of Seattle Cider Company) sat down to talk with me about his new venture.
“There are times when I can’t drink beer and there may come a time when I have to quit drinking beer altogether,” Joel said. “When and if that happens, I still want to be able to enjoy something that I’ve crafted myself.”
Local beer geeks will recognize Joel Vandenbrink as the head honcho behind Seattle’s Two Beers Brewing Company (blog sponsor). In creating Seattle Cider Company, Joel is moving in another direction. By no stretch of the imagination is he abandoning Two Beer Brewing: Seattle Cider Company is an additional venture and a completely separate company.
State law requires that cider producers operate under a winery license. Short version, a company licensed as a brewery cannot produce wine or cider. Seattle Cider Company’s operation will be right next door to Two Beers Brewing Company, occupying an adjacent but completely separate space. You will be able to drink Seattle Cider Company products at The Woods – the Two Beers Brewing tasting room. Still, understand that this is not a cider produced by Two Beers Brewing. It is produced next door by a different company. For production, Seattle Cider Company will use four 60-barrel, stainless steel conical fermenters—the kind of fermenters more typically seen in a brewery.
So how does a beer lover, brewmaster and brewery owner end up opening a cidery? Joel is not shy about sharing the fact that he has Crohn’s disease, a condition that demands he lead a gluten-reduced lifestyle. Beer is far from gluten-free and there are times when he must remove it from his diet.
“I have Crohn’s Disease so cider has always been an option as an alternative to beer,” he says. “Last year one of my employees discovered that he was gluten-intolerant. He came to me and asked about the cider plan. That’s when we decided to move forward with it.”
That employee is Brent Miles, who works at Two Beers Brewing as a cellarhand and in a number of other roles (typical at Two Beers Brewing). A lover of craft beer, when he learned of his gluten-intolerance Brent turned his attentions to cider, quickly immersing himself and becoming an expert. After more than a year of research and study, Brent now steps into his new role as the Operations Manager for Seattle Cider Company.
Another key player in the Seattle Cider Company plan is Eric Willard, who you can currently find working at Two Beer Brewing as well. He will act as Seattle Cider Company’s Director of Sales and Distribution. Eric previously worked as the General Manager of Tiny’s Organic, a Wenatchee-based farm and local purveyor of fresh, organic fruit and produce. With access to an abundance of farm-fresh fruit, Eric made some small-batch ciders and shared them with his friends at Two Beers Brewing. The rest is history.
Seattle Cider Company will have two flagship offerings: Dry Cider and Semi-Sweet Cider. Both will be available in 16-ounce aluminum cans. Craft cider in cans? Yep. That’s just one of the ways Seattle Cider Company hopes to differentiate itself. The flagship ciders, as well as the other ciders, will also be available on draft and in large format bottles.
Everyone on the team shares the opinion that many of today’s craft ciders focus too much on the sweet and not enough on the dry. Another way Seattle Cider hopes to differentiate itself is by displaying a Brix scale on each can. Degrees Brix (BX) is a measure—often used by winemakers—of the sugar content in an aqueous liquid. Many beer geeks are familiar with the IBU (International Bitterness Units) scale. Brix is similar to IBU but measures sweetness instead of bitterness.
“When a cider label says semi-sweet or dry you really have no idea what to expect,” says Joel. “It’s usually about the cidermaker’s personal interpretation. We want to make sure people know exactly what they’re getting.”
In addition to its regular offering, Seattle Cider Company will produce seasonal and one-off ciders. For example, they are already talking about making a fall seasonal cider with pumpkin. Anyone familiar with Two Beers Brewing knows that Joel is not short on imagination when it comes to flavor. It’s safe to assume that he’ll bring the same kind of creativity to Seattle Cider Company.
“Cider is like beer in that you can enjoy a variety of flavors, the same kind of nuances and complexities from one product to the next,” says Joel. “I’m really excited to see what we can come up with.”
When Seattle Cider Company products his the streets, look for it at bottleshops and select restaurants and pubs. The initial plan is to distribute to Washington, Oregon and Idaho. The company intends to expand distribution in 2014 to include Alaska, British Columbia, Alberta, and Michigan.
Alcohol by volume (ABV): 6.5%
Apples: Granny Smith, Fuji, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Gala
Tasing Notes: One of the driest ciders on the market. The golden orange glow of this unique unfiltered cider lends way to notes of lilac, blood orange, and green apples on the nose. Dry and pleasantly acidic, flavors of nectarine, under-ripe peach and tart cherry hit the palate with now residual sweetness.
Food Pairings: Blue/Muenster chees, rib eye steak, pork belly, prime rib, and caramelized pear.
Availability: 16-lounce aluminum cans. Draft.
Alcohol by volume (ABV): 6.5%
Apples: Granny Smith, Fuji, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Gala.
Tasting Notes: A light, crisp cider with just a touch of sweetness. Honey in color with notes of bergamot orange, lemon and apple, this refreshing cider reveals hints of citrus and cinnamon on the palate.
Food Pairings: Cedar-plank salmon, fettuccine alfredo, and cheeses including: Dubliner, Asiago, Parmesan, and aged sharp cheddar.
Availability: 16-ounce aluminum cans, draft