Honey, rosemary, hops, cinnamon, cardamom, clove, maple syrup and more — they may sound like ingredients for a mouthwatering pie, but they’re also flavor notes of some of the thirst-quenching ciders being produced nowadays in the Mt. Hood and Columbia River Gorge region.
Following a long tradition of craft-beverage pioneers in Oregon, the craft-cider scene has been booming in the past decade. Now, thanks to a 2017 state law, small orchards that meet certain criteria are allowed to operate cider businesses as Oregon wineries have since 1987, just with apples and pears instead of grapes. This cracks the door wide open for orchards in this region. (It’s not called the Fruit Loop for nothing.)
Tasting cider on an orchard, just like sipping wine on a vineyard, is “giving people an opportunity to see where the fruit is grown, at places where they control the process from tree to bottle,” says Dan Lawrence, cider maker at Stone Circle Cider in Estacada. “With some of the more mass-produced ciders, that simple aspect can get lost.”
Lawrence worked to initiate and rally for the 2017 legislative change on behalf of cider makers across the state, which, he says, has already sparked a handful of new cideries to open in Hood River and elsewhere. “Cider’s very similar to wine,” he adds. “You can make wine from table grapes, but it’s not necessarily the best.” There are 300 or more varietals of apples cultivated exclusively for cider making, which are higher in tannins — which give body and flavor to the cider. “It can have all the depth and flavor and character and diversity of any of the finest wines,” Lawrence says, “but lower alcohol content, so you can drink it like beer.”
While most cideries are open year-round for tasting, fall is considered cider season because it’s harvest time — when fruit is at its peak. Makers are innovating, expanding and putting down roots. Here’s where to go on your next cider-seeking adventure.
Heading east toward Hood River, you’ll reach Slopeswell Cider Co. in Hood River — a space designed not just as a taproom but also as a music venue and hangout, with regular live music and inspired snacks like empanadas perfect for pairing. Eight ciders on tap feature their own pours and others from nearby.
If you think you’ve tasted it all, you’ll surely find something new at Crush Cider Cafe, just a mile away. Sip a colorful flight of creative flavors — some in-house, others by local cideries — and nosh on a flatbread in the kid-friendly space.
Leaving the urban center of Hood River, head south on Highway 35 for about 4 miles and you’ll reach The Gorge White House — a 1908 home converted into a cozy tasting room, with 100-year-old oak trees and a food cart outside in the summer. Sample from a rainbow of nine ciders on tap, including cranberry, tart cherry, blueberry, raspberry, lemon pear, honey lavender and mixed berry. Just over a mile south, the family-owned Fox Tail Cider & Distillery welcomes visitors to its historic property, growing apples, pears and cherries in the Hood River Valley since the 1890s. Grab a seat indoors or outdoors, order a snack, and linger over a pint of refreshing strawberry rhubarb or take a growler to go.
Bring a picnic to the new Runcible Cider stand, part of the East Gorge Food Trail, open May to October in Mosier, 10 miles east of Hood River. Named for the nonsense word used by poet Edward Lear in “The Owl and the Pussycat” — to describe something of whimsy, necessity and spontaneity — the cider here comes from the small surrounding orchard and neighboring ones as well, as the 1,000 cider-apple trees on the property continue to mature.
Mt. Hood Territory
Cider makers west of Mt. Hood have a bounty of sippable libations as well. Stone Circle Cider in Estacada overlooks a little pond, adding a charming element to the hand-pressed English-style cider. Look for seasonal events and cider-related workshops in the space.
Fifteen miles south in Sandy, Boring Cider Company — sharing space with Boring Brewing Co. — offers five lip-smacking ciders on tap, including a smooth and slightly tart peach cider that tastes just like a slice of peach pie.