Thursday, February 17, 2011

My quest for a local drinking cider

The other day I was drinking drinking Granny Smith varietal from Woodchuck Hard Cider. The front label said "Made in Vermont." The back label said "Made from 100% Granny Smith apples. The tree ripened fruit is grown in the beautiful Yakima Valley of WA state." I live in Seattle and the Yakima Valley is on the road to Mom's house. I got to know it quite well when she was still alive. According to Google maps, the apple warehouses at Wapato are 161 miles from the store where I bought this bottle of cider. However, for me to get this cider, the apples had to travel 2,873 miles east to Middlebury, Vermont to be squished and fermented and then sent 3,121 miles west to my grocery store, a total of 5,994 miles. "OMG!" I thought, "WTF?" and even "AYFK?"

Don't get me wrong, Woodchuck makes a tasty and refreshing cider. But six thousand miles to get from Wapato to Seattle? It is this kind of shameless waste that is going to lead to peak oil, the collapse of Western Civilization, cannibalism, feudalism, and the eventual rise of our robot overlords. Why was I drinking a cider that had traveled farther than my Scots ancestors did when coming to this country? This is so wrong.

Research was required. I went to the two the grocery stores closest to my house to find out my cider options. These are the ciders I found:
  • Aspall - Imported from England
  • Blackthorn - Imported from England, made from apples grown "within a 50 miles of the mill"
  • Crispin - Minnesota/Indiana "using west coast apples"
  • Fox Barrel Black Currant Cider - California
  • HardCore - Made by Sam Adams in Massachusetts
  • Hornsby - California
  • JK's Scrumpy - Michigan
  • Magner's - Imported (Woodpecker, another brand owned by the same mother company, Bulmers, is under license in Middlebury, VT)
  • Spire - Washington
  • Strongbow - Ireland, but made Under license in Middlebury, VT
  • Wyder's Pear Cider - Middlebury, VT

There are two things worth noting about this list. First, only one of the ciders is made in Washington. Second, what's going on in Middlebury, VT? Let me take the second of those first.

Middlebury, Vermont is the home of Green Mountain Beverage. GMB is the mother company of Woodchuck Hard Cider, but that's not all they do. GMB is the comapny that makes Strongbow and Woodpecker for their British and Irish owners. Until 2009, it made Cider Jack for the American Hard Cider Co. It currently makes Wyder's Ciders. GMB manufactures 60% of the cider in the US. According to the most recent information I could find (2009), 54% of the apples in the United States are grown in Washington. All of the states of New England plus New York produce about 16% of our apples. So, it's a safe bet that many of the GMB ciders are also are made of apples from my neighborhood. The late Cider Jack specifically advertised itself as being made from Washington apples.

Speaking of apples from my neighborhood, Why can't I get a good cider made in my neighborhood made out of apples also from my neighborhood. Turns out I can get good Washington ciders. Unfortunately, most of them are too good. And by "too good" I mean "too expensive." Looking around online, I was able to find only eleven cideries in Washington. One appeared to be out of business and one only sold their cider at the cidery. Eight of the remaining nine appear to be producing high-end products aimed at a dinner wine niche. I say that because their cider only comes in large bottles that cost ten dollars or more. I should also point out that I have only ever seen two of them on store shelves in town. So, expensive and hard to find.

If you've been counting along, you know that that leaves one cider. Washington state, with over half the apples in the United States has only one cidery producing a drinking cider in six-pack bottles at a price comparable to micro-brew beer. Spire Mountain Cider is made in Olympia, less than a hundred miles from me and my grocery store. Spire Mountain Cider also has great distribution and is available all over town. Best of all, it's tasty and drinkable.

And now there is a six pack of Spire chilling in the fridge for my later enjoyment. But this shouldn't be the end of the story. There shouldn't only be one drinking cider in Washington. We have the apples. We have the know-how. We were practically the Tahrir Square of the micro-brew revolution (the sainted Bert Grant's brewery was in the aforementioned Yakima). We need a half dozen drinking ciders competing with one another for hard-earned beverage dollars. We need them undercutting each other on price until they're practically giving their ciders away.

Can someone get on that?

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