Inside Sherwood's first craft cidery
The Electric Sunset cider at Xylem Cider Works starts with a subtle jam taste, then leaves a big citrusy impression on my tongue.
Nick Fillis, co-owner of Sherwood's first craft cider company, had the idea to make the marionberry-clementine cider in honor of his infant daughter, who is named Clementine.
Xylem uses whole frozen berries, rather than relying on purees, as some hard cider companies do. They have plans to make a more marionberry-forward cider soon.
"We think there's a real difference between whole berry and puree," Fillis said. "I think, come next year, if you were to taste-test our product against other marionberry products, there'd be a difference."
The way Electric Sunset came into being — inspired by Fillis' love for his daughter, and made using whole local ingredients — is indicative of the passion Fillis and his cider maker, Jared Montanez, put into their product.
Which is why it might be surprising to learn that Xylem started as a Plan B. Fillis, a Portland-area native with familial ties to Sherwood, and a group of fellow fermentation enthusiasts were toying with the idea of starting a brewery, but were concerned that the Portland beer bubble might burst soon. Fillis suggested they pivot to cider, which has a younger and smaller local market, but most of his buddies weren't interested.
A month went by, and Fillis couldn't get cider off his brain. He connected with the one partner who was still interested, and who has a background in getting startups off the ground. Soon, they were looking at spaces all over Washington County, and eventually found their spot on Southwest Tualatin Sherwood Road. They named the cidery Xylem, after the vascular woody tissue in trees that transports water.
When I visited that spot on a blustery Monday afternoon in February, Fillis had the garage door to the brewing space open, and was wearing a short-sleeved green Xylem Cider T-shirt. He didn't realize how cold it was until we'd talked for about half an hour, probably because when he's at Xylem, he's constantly moving.
Almost everything at Xylem — the wooden chairs, the bar, the woodwork artistry on the wall — Fillis made with his own two hands in the year-long run-up to the grand opening in January. Now that the taproom is open, he tends bar when it's open on Fridays and Saturdays, and helps with cider-making and cleaning during the week.
He somehow also finds the time to work a full-time day job at a non-profit, and take care of Clementine.
"I forgot how much I missed working with my hands, sitting at a computer all day," said Fillis, who once worked for a general contractor. "So it didn't matter if I was here six to eight hours after I got off work. It was so invigorating to get to build and create."
Fillis uses the word "fun" a lot — "fun, fun, fun, fun, fun," he said at one point, mocking himself. Owning a craft cider company at 32 is fun. Bringing his daughter to the taproom is fun. Displaying local artwork on the walls and supporting local charities is fun. Coming up with far-fetched cider flavor possibilities, like black truffle or lactose-sweetened, is fun. Getting to know Sherwood regulars at the taproom is fun, especially when they hang around playing Cards Against Humanity past closing time. Even cleaning kegs is fun for him.
"There are people who probably hate keg washing. I'm sure it's a chore for them, like doing dishes at home," he said. "But I just get here, I grab a pint of cider, I turn some music on and I wash kegs until I get tired of it."
Speaking of kegs: The day I visited the taproom, Fillis had three ciders for me to try: the Snowplow, Honeysuckle, and Electric Sunset.
There's no cola in Xylem Cider Works' Snowplow cider. Technically there's no rum in it, either. But if you tasted it blindfolded, there's a very real chance you'd think you were drinking a rum and cola.
That's because Fillis and Montanez made the Snowplow by blending rum barrel-aged cider with spiced mulled cider. They thought it would yield a drink that tasted like apple pie, but it translated to a cola-like taste in the glass.
And it's delicious.
"I think there are people who would love to drink that product, because they're not a beer drinker, they're not a cider drinker," said Fillis. "They're a cocktail drinker. So they can try this Snowplow, and it's like, wow, cider can be this?"
If the Snowplow was the most "wow, cider can be like this?" of the group, then the Honeysuckle was most true to form. Its two ingredients are apple juice and white wine yeast, and it went through a second fermentation at 40 degrees. The bite of the yeast cuts through the apple's sweetness nicely.
"That white wine yeast, at that lower temperature, is what starts to impart that honey flavor," Fillis said. "There's two ingredients, but we're pulling out flavors that aren't there in the ingredients."
And they're sourcing those ingredients locally — like, really locally. Most Portland-area cider companies get their apple supply from Ryan's Juice Co. in Hood River. Xylem gets theirs from Oregon Heritage Farms, about 10 miles away in Hillsboro.
"When we say local, we mean it. We're really trying to stick to the 100-mile rule to source almost everything.
Though he's clearly proud of his cider, Fillis doesn't look at the craft beer and cider scene as a competition. He hopes to collaborate with nearby breweries like Two Kilts and Ancestry, and he's more interested in putting out imaginative cider than in producing mainstream top-sellers.
"It's still so new," he said. "Comparing ourselves to others might limit ourselves at this point. … We get to occupy the more creative middle space. We don't have to put out the same standard of flagship over and over to everyone, so that it tastes as similar as possible."
That said, Fillis and his partners do want to open a larger taproom eventually, possibly with a restaurant or food trucks. They'd look to closer-in West side communities like Tigard or Cedar Hills to house it.
"There's a strong case to be made that cider is getting neglected on the West side," he said, listing off cider companies based on the East side, like Portland Cider Co., Swift Cider, and Reverend Nat's. "Cider that's good on the East side is just as good on the West side, right?"