National standards in works; wineries jump in the market

Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Southeast Portland winemaker Anne Hubatch pours a sample of her first batch of Alter Ego cider made at Coopers Hall this summer. Anyone with a winery license in Oregon can make cider; breweries, too, are also getting in on the action as the market grows.   Two 500-gallon, stainless steel tanks nicknamed Geraldine and Boris made the temporary switch this summer from grape juice to apple juice.

The tanks had been used to chill and produce wine for the past six years.

But in June, Helioterra Wines owner Anne Hubatch repurposed the tanks to make hard cider under a new label, Alter Ego.

She and her partners Nate and Kris Wall moved the tanks, a “chiller” and other equipment to Coopers Hall, the Southeast Portland wine bar and restaurant that opened in April.

They ordered a 1,000-gallon batch of juice from the Hood River Juice Co., let it ferment and then carbonate in a separate tank, tasting and perfecting as they went along.

Within four short weeks, they had their first 200 kegs of hard cider that are now selling in about a dozen bars and restaurants in Portland, with plans to slowly expand distribution across the state.

Such is the birth of an artisan cider maker in Oregon, a phenomenon that’s seen explosive growth in the past two years.

Alter Ego is the latest of 14 cider makers to sprout up in the state in 2013 and 2014, bringing Oregon’s total number of licensed cider makers to 30.

Yet that’s just the Oregon Liquor Control Commission’s best guess, because hard cider is classified as a fermented fruit juice, made under a winery license.

Unlike distillers, cider makers aren’t required to get any special permits before starting up.

Rule changes benefit makers

Like at Alter Ego, many of the cider makers are craft brewers or winemakers, getting in on the action to diversify their brand and meet customers’ demands.

Some liked the OLCC rule change in January that allowed for the sale of cider and wine in growlers.

From a maker’s perspective, cider allows them to use equipment that would have been sitting idle during the nonharvest months, and take full advantage of the bounty of the fruit in the region.

Besides, “fermenting is really fun,” says Hubatch, who started winemaking in Oregon 14 years ago. “Cider gives you more chances to make something year-round. With wine, it’s just one shot.”

Consider the explosive growth:

• Four years ago, cider was still a fringe drink, as Bushwacker Cider opened in Southeast Portland as the nation’s first “cider pub” to a niche market. Bushwacker just announced that they’ll be opening a second location, on Northeast Dekum Street across from Breakside Brewing, next month.

• Two years ago there were just a couple of Portland cider labels to choose from. Now at least seven are made within city limits: Bushwacker (2011), Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider (2012), Widmer’s Square Mile (2013), Outcider (2013), Swift Cider (2013), Cider Riot (2014) and Alter Ego (2014).

Many more are just on the outskirts — Bull Run Cider is made in Forest Grove; Carlton Cyderworks is in McMinnville; Forest Edge Vineyard in Lake Oswego; Portland Cider Co. in Oregon City; Hood Valley Hard Cider Co. in Parkdale; and Edgefield Winery in Troutdale, among others. Other cider-making hotspots

are Salem, Bend, Corvallis and eastern Oregon.

• Oregon is one of six states to celebrate an official cider week. In June, Oregon Cider Week included dozens of tastings, festivals and other events including the second annual Portland International Cider Cup. The contest drew 53 cider entries among 16 local producers.

Pete Mulligan, vice president of the four-year-old Northwest Cider Association, says the growth has been a boon to all.

“There’s a buzz about cider right now,” says Mulligan, who helped launch Bull Run Cider four years ago after getting inspired at the Portland Fermentation Festival.

In Portland’s food and drink scene, “what people are doing is checking it out, starting to see it pairs well with different foods,” Mulligan says.

With so many new players, the industry believes the growth is akin to craft beer 20 to 30 years ago.

If you don’t know what makes a cider a cider, you’re not alone. The industry is in the midst of trying to define and set national standards for the beverage, for marketing and sales as well as to educate consumers and protect its integrity.

“Cider doesn’t have a very strong definition, so it could be made out of glucose with apple essence,” Mulligan says. “We don’t do that in the Northwest.”

The Northwest Cider Association, in fact, just received a $50,000 grant from the Oregon Department of Agriculture to develop those standards.

That means consumers can expect a lot more buzz around cider, through road shows, tastings and other events intended to bring clarity to the different categories of cider.

For example, can cider be made with hops? (Yes.) Where does cider made from pears fit in? (It’s in its own category, called “perry.”)

Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Anne Hubatch and Kris Wall, along with Kris husband Nate Wall (not pictured) launched Alter Ego in late June. Artisan beverage makers in Portland and across the state are experimenting with apples and other fruit; consumers are drinking it up.

Apples to apples

If there are any challenges ahead for the cider industry, it’s the local availability of the two most desired types of cider apples: bittersweet and bittersharp.

Commercial cider labels like Angry Orchard, made by the Boston Beer Co. — producer of Samuel Adams beer — get around the apple problem by importing bittersweet concentrate from France, Mulligan says.

If local craft cider makers had the resources to do that, it “would totally change the market,” he says, but as far as he knows, it’s not being done locally.

As a result, Mulligan says competitive pricing for Hood River apples is on the rise.

“There are more and more of us competing for the same apples. If we can talk to more orchardists about growing cider apples, it’ll help the cider industry out. There’s never too many apples.”

Many companies are doing just that.

Alter Ego’s Hubatch says she’s in talks with local orchardists to grow their own apples, to have more control over the types of apples used.

Sherwood’s Finnegan Cider planted 3,000 cider apple trees in its orchard this summer to meet its growth.

At Bull Run Cider, Mulligan is adding acreage to his apple orchards every year.

The company has 4,500 trees on eight acres in Forest Grove, with 75 apple varieties. Next month it will add four acres, and then another four a year after that.

As a 16-acre nursery registered with the Oregon Department of Agriculture, “we’ll be there to support the industry, especially the smaller producers,” Mulligan says. Of the 43 members in the Northwest Cider Association in Oregon, Washington, Montana and Canada, 30 of them are considered nanocideries, making fewer than 10,000

gallons per year.

Bull Run Cider is on the cusp, having produced 4,500 gallons last year, but on track to double that this year, thanks in part to its new sponsorship deal with the Hillsboro Hops.

Next month the company will quadruple its 400 square feet of operating space and open a tap room across from Pacific


There’s a lot of reason cider fans are passionate about the company’s drink. It’s naturally gluten-free. It’s relatively new to the market, and with an average alcohol-by-volume range of 5 to 8 percent, it’s a counterpoint to the increasingly hoppy beer made in the Pacific Northwest.

Cider lovers also know it’s not just a sweet beverage — it can be dry, crisp and complex like wine and beer, with

infinite more flavor possibilities.

“We can make more types of cider than wine and beer, since there’s more genetic diversity in apples,” Mulligan says.

He’s not surprised that the market is booming — in fact it’d be weird if it wasn’t: “It’s not difficult to make. The craftsmen are also entrepreneurs. If it’s legal and they can do it and it’s not too much cost, they’re gonna try to do it.”

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