Cider Rite of Spring Event Recap
Pick Your Apple
With most of my road trips, I planned to leave around 6 am. Leaving that early gives us an extra hour and a half to check into our room and get settled before the cider extravaganza begins. This time, however, we ended up leaving around 7:30 am. Now, for those of you who have never experienced the drive from Seattle to Portland during the weekend, you may not understand why this hour and a half can be crucial. It means that the usual four and a half hour drive from my house, 2 hours north of Seattle, can quickly – I mean slowly – turn into a 7-hour drive on I-5.
Thankfully, I have been blessed with a great man who is also a great driver and navigator. I think if Bryan, my husband, had a superpower, he would be “The Navigator”. Majestic, isn’t it? He always knows the best routes, streets, and lanes to take, and I am constantly truly in awe of his superb driving skills.
The weather had cleared up by the time we entered Portland’s city limits, and the sun was ablaze. As this was something we hadn’t seen much this past winter in the Pacific Northwest, it was a pleasant surprise!
You know what else was a pleasant surprise? Our fabulous stay at the Hotel Rose. Our room wasn’t quite ready when we arrived, but we were able to valet our car and use the hotel’s car service to take us to our event. Our driver, Amanda, was very informative and, in the greatest of fashions, opening us up with a little Harry Potter discussion on the short 10-minute drive. We arrived swiftly, thanked the driver, and arrived where the truest of fun began.
Cider Rite of Spring: The Beginning
We arrived at the beautiful brick event space: The Evergreen. It’s in the southeast portion of Portland, within a great neighborhood full of restaurants, businesses, and bars. The line to get into the event was so impressive that I had to snap a quick shot of it.
Cider Rite was already at capacity by the time we arrived, which was shortly after the doors opened, so I took this as a good sign for what was inside. While patiently waiting in line, we were able to go inside the tiny house that Square Mile Cider is giving away. It’s an exceptional tiny house, and whoever the lucky guy or gal is that wins it will definitely be happy! You can still enter here for a small chance (funny?) to win: SquareMileTinyHouseSweeps.com
Once inside the event, we were greeted by three friendly people all dressed in Portland Cider Co. t-shirts. Right off, I was able to meet Deron, the head cidermaker at Portland Cider Co., and the lovely Helen who is Portland Cider’s marketing director, with whom I had been in contact before the event. Both were welcoming and kind, and happy to accommodate my request for photos. After saying, “Hi, bye, and I will see you later on…”, we made our way up to the second floor, the main floor for the event. Directly to the top right of the staircase was a setup for Wasabi Sushi PDX. Cider fans were in line and delighted for the option of Sushi to pair with their cider. Tasty!
As we stepped into the main room at The Evergreen, the sun was shining through the charming white windows at the top of the brick and shiplap-constructed walls, while sounds of conversations, laughter, and general enjoyment reigned. We saw smiles of pleasure all around as the cider seekers sampled the delicious offerings. Some were eager learners, some were teaching others, and some were looking at the detailed pamphlet while deciding where to begin their cider adventure. Side note: I missed the floral- print memo. I would say that 50% of the ladies there were extremely trendy, and wore those floral print dresses, blouses and leggings very well. Next time, I will be sure to dress accordingly!
The VIP area was found up the staircase, on the third floor, in a smaller, but equally beautiful, space. We decided to save that for later, and stuck to our usual plan of starting in the back of the room.
The Land of Tasting
Our first stop was at a cidery we had never heard of, yet was only an hour and half from my hometown: Steelhead Cider. They are based out of Lake Chelan, Washington. We met the owner, Ben Barnes, who was sampling three of their ciders. One was their medal-winning pear cider, cleverly named “Peargatory”. I opted to try their ginger cider while my husband, Bryan, went for the Peargatory. My experience with their ginger cider was a delight of freshness, lightness, and newness. Afterward, I tasted the Peargatory and instantly understood why it is an award-winning cider. The pear, with its excellent balance of sweet and dry, is the star in this bottle; Mr. Barnes clearly understands his craft.
A happy coincidence occurred later when we found ourselves standing next to Morgan at Snowdrift cider. I had been very much looking forward to meeting her after my last article, as Tim (the owner at Snowdrift) mentioned she would be here today. She opened the conversation with a tasting of their Cornice and Perry ciders, both as exceptional as the Red. Top-tier cider, in my opinion.
Looking through the sea of tasters, we noticed a small passage and made our way up the stairs to the VIP area. Atop the staircase, we saw a schedule to our left that displayed a list of cideries, and the times at which they were having featured pourings. Within the room, a few tall tables were set out with lovely cheeses, meats, fruits, and almonds. Unfortunately for me, almonds are a bummer because I am allergic to them, but I enjoyed the other delicious snacks.
We began our tastings with Valley Processing, which had a tap set up in the VIP area and happened to be the VIP lounge sponsor. There we met Terry and Jennifer Bliesner. Terry is VP of sales at Valley Processing, which is in Sunnyside, Washington. As we chatted we learned how they provide the juice for many cideries in and around the Pacific Northwest. On tap they had three different ciders which showcased the unique juices available from Valley Processing.
As the line behind us stacked up, we said our goodbyes and moved on to our next VIP tasting. Finnriver’s Stephani Stalcup was pouring their version of an old fashioned cocktail which they cleverly named “Apply Ol’ Fashion”. It contained Finnriver’s Oak and Apple Cider, Finnriver’s “Spirited” Apple Wine, a cherry, a slice of orange, bitters, and ice. It looked gorgeous with blood orange on the rim of the glass and a rich, deep honey amber color. This cider cocktail was amazing! Smooth and velvety – it had just the right amount of orange. One of my favorite things about cider is its versatility and the way it can be used as a special ingredient in just about any cocktail imaginable.
This old soul in a glass made for easy conversation with Stephani. She began to explain her role at Finnriver, which led me to Jana, the woman standing next to her. Jana, I learned, is a founding member of Pomme Boots Society, which is an organization for women working in the cider industry. She and the two other founders, Gemma Fanelli Schmit and Jennie Dorsey, had put Cider Rite of Spring together.
Thanking Stephani the best I could while she continued to pour, I was able to pull Jana aside and ask a few questions – one being, “when do you start planning and organizing an event such as this?” She replied, “as soon as last year’s event ended, we were already planning the 2017 event. This is our 4th year and our biggest year yet.” She continued explaining that this year they moved to a larger venue to allow more people to come and enjoy the cider tastings. She went on to answer my questions about the Pomme Boots Society (you will find additional info on them here at pommeboots.com) and a bit about her role at FinnRiver where, in addition to her role at Pomme Boots Society, she is the National Cider Rep. and Ambassador. She was whisked away to another part of the event, so I told her I would catch up with her later.
After slowly sipping and finishing my glass of FinnRiver, we thanked Stephani, again, who told us to come and see her in about an hour so that I could try their champagne hard cider. As I love champagne, I knew this was going to be magnificent!
Oh, the Treasures you Find!
At events like this, you frequently find that the same cider goers are making the exact rounds that you are, just like when you are grocery shopping and constantly see the same person in every aisle, because they’ve chosen the same route as you! This was the case with the Patterson sisters. We had our ‘meet cute’ with the Patterson right after our tasting with Stephani, while I was trying to snap a photo of the VIP tasting list. I asked them what they thought Bryan and I should taste next, and what they had liked already. Not having a great deal of cider experience, both girls decided to attend this event to educate themselves about cider and to discover a cider that they hadn’t tasted before. It was intriguing to learn what they liked and didn’t like and what they thought about ciders in general. We buddied-up and they joined us for the rest of the event, which made it even more fun. Who doesn’t love new cider friends?
2Towns Cider has always been one of our go-to places, and they have yet to let us down, which is why we were eager to try their kiwi-berry cider. I am usually not a kiwi-flavor fan unless it is fresh kiwi, so I was hesitant, but our pourer Kelsey assured me this was different and I would be pleased. Well, she was right! The kiwi is subtle, not overpowering and left a nice soft finish.
We then made our way to Locust Cider, out of Woodinville, Washington, where they have a vanilla bean cider which I can see being very successful. We tried Reverend Nat’s Cider, where I sampled their New Moon Mandarin. Brad, who was pouring, informed us it was like a mimosa cider. He also told us that the following day we should visit Pine State Biscuits, which is near Reverend Nat’s taproom, order some biscuits to go and take our order to Reverend Nat’s taproom to enjoy a nice brunch. Unfortunately, that wasn’t in the cards this trip, but hopefully the next.
Okay, are you with me? I hope so. Lots of cider with lots to share! Halfway through the event, the room was full. Elbows were bumping, cider was spilling, and all the while people were still flowing in.
Next, we met with Rob McCurdy from Tieton Cider Works. Being from Eastern Washington, we are familiar with the Tieton River and this cidery. Rob and I talked a little bit about rafting the Tieton as Bryan has guided that river. Bryan and I also started dating there in our younger years, so the Tieton name has a soft spot in my heart for sure. Rob gave us a taste of their apricot cider, which didn’t let me down. I can imagine having a can while floating down the river in our raft during the upcoming (fingers crossed) hot summer months.
We quickly headed back upstairs because Seattle Cider Company was pouring their Gravenstein Rose. I have been waiting to try this cider as it is a part of their “Harvest Series,” which includes Perry, City Fruit and Washington Heirloom. Jordan Presley, who handles regional sales in Oregon, was a delight and asked me if I had tried the basil mint yet, which I had not. I made a date with her to meet at the end of the event to get a taste.
The last VIP cider was nothing that we were prepared for, Moulton Falls Raspberry Cider. This cider had a wonderful balance of sweet, tart and raspberry. It also had something familiar about it which I could not put my finger on until I spoke with owner and cider maker, Joe Millea. He said he had some help making this cider with none other than Tim Larsen, owner and cider maker at Snowdrift. AHA! We knew there was something familiar about this! I am learning how small this cider world can be…
Saying farewell to the VIP area, we then found Jordan and tried Seattle Cider’s new Basil Mint, which will be perfectly paired with an afternoon of relaxation. It was something new and flavorful and is bound to be popular.
We ended at Portland Cider Company. They were pouring three of their newer ciders: Sangria, Pineapple, and Passionfruit. All were noteworthy, but I found Pineapple to be my favorite. You think pineapple and you think sweet, but not in this case. It had all of the notes of pineapple and apple, but none of the sweetness that one would expect. I highly recommend this cider.
As the event wound down and cideries were beginning to pack up and head home, I was able to get a few photos with the entire Pomme Boots Society group of women. Jennie, Jana, and Gemma were so knowledgeable and inspiring that I wish that I had more time to chat and even share a cider with them. But, with them, as with many other cideries and people that I met today, I am hopeful for a chance at exactly that… in the future. We had to pack up and get back to the hotel.
All in All
Cider Rite of Spring is worth it, people! The conversations you can have with strangers, the individuality, not only of the ciders, but of the cider seekers, will bring me back next year. At any event like this with 100 different ciders, one cannot enjoy every single one, so, on behalf of my liver, I must apologize to those ciders that I have yet to meet and experience. I look forward to tasting you soon!
The hotel really rounded out the great event & weekend in Portland. The next time you find yourself heading to Portland for Cider Rite, a wedding, or just quick trip, be sure to check out Hotel Rose. It is a fun, hip, and distinctly decorated place full of friendly staff. They house the best linens and in-room amenities. I’m serious, even their lotions were amazing. I also purchased their adorable coffee mugs! Make sure to get a bite to eat at Bottle & Kitchen, a fantastic restaurant with an outstanding menu, there within the hotel. I am optimistic that, the next time we return, they will have taken some of our cider suggestions and have added them to their drink menu.