Great cider starts from the source, a spectacular apple with the potential locked within every fiber of its being. Picking and harvesting the right apples, itself, is an art. And those that manage this fruit, well, they are magicians, careful watchers, and caretakers of the earthly bounty. The grounds on which apples are born and bread are also very sacred. We are starting a series called the “Orchard Series” in appreciation of the orchards that are paramount in making quality hard ciders while staying as true to the roots as possible.
Our first feature is Finnriver Cidery & Farm. Founded in 2008 by partners Eric Jorgensen & Keith and Crystie Kisler, this 80-acre estate contains thousands of traditional and heirloom cider trees in Chimacum Valley soils on the north Olympic Peninsula of Washington. The name, Finnriver, is derived from friends & skilled farmer’s Kate and Will’s son, Finn, and the Kisler’s first son, River. Finnriver’s business consists of a range of traditional, contemporary and seasonal ciders made primarily from organic Washington fruit, along with a line-up of spirited fruit wines. They also grow an organic orchard of traditional cider apples in Chimacum Valley.
Having tasted Finnriver’s cider, we had to know more about their products and really dig into the culture of the farm. With great products comes great responsibility, and we knew they were tending to a special farm in one of the most supple environments for cidermaking apples. This interest led our team to Andrew Byers, the Production Manager and Duke of Tanks at Finnriver. He was kind enough to speak with us, in great detail, about the orchard, cidermaking, and how they strive to keep traditions, and flavors, alive.
To avoid paraphrasing Andrew and to preserve the verse, we decided to keep it as rich as it was spoken.
From Andrew Byers:
“At Finnriver, we gather and ferment the flavors of the land to offer you farm-crafted hard ciders and spirited fruit wines. We are inspired by the allure of the fruit, the ancient history of the craft of fermentation and the lively traditions we now seek to revive. Our mission is to inspire a deeper connection to the land that sustains us.
Cider-making in our barn is a process of discovery – a combination of chemistry, ecology, alchemy, engineering, wishful thinking, traditions based wisdom, farm ingenuity and adventurous experimentation.Some of these ciders are small-batch, seasonal and labor-intensive. As the orchards mature, our estate fruit ciders also grow, representing the fruit that grows well here, and representing the application of traditional cider knowledge on the Olympic Peninsula. Others are produced with contemporary methods and more readily available year-round. Our sumptuous fruit wines blend with custom-distilled apple brandy to capture the sweet warmth and generosity of the fruit. Our spirited fruit wines are aged, more refined, relying on quiet time spent in the barrel to find themselves. We also craft a Northwestern Pommeau which is a robust blend of bittersweet apples from our Orchard here in Chimacum aged with our custom distilled brandy for 2 years.
Finnriver grows over twenty varieties of traditional and heirloom apples in our organic orchard, to feature in our Orchard Series and specialty ciders. We source organic WA dessert apples for our contemporary ciders. And we also glean wild apples from our neighbors and local homesteads for our community harvested “Farmstead” cider. We are just learning which apples on which roots want to live here with us. Our valley bottom is unique, so we must learn and adapt our agriculture to harmonize with our location. It is an inspiring process. The 80-acre farm is a collaborative effort with multiple partners like the Organic Seed Alliance, Essential Blooms (spectacular organic flowers), Jefferson County Land Trust, The Remediators (a local environmental remediation co.), Friends of the Trees NFP, and the North Olympic Salmon Coalition. Together we strive to connect people with the land they live on.
There are always more facets to speak to like Cameron in the orchard working with “weeder geese” to minimize the mowing, Keith growing grains in the adjacent fields to keep the farmland and soil in good health, and our goal to grow real food for real people on real farmland.”
We started to understand the true scope of their operations, the number of tasks Finnriver faces on a day-to-day basis, and how truly in love they are with the work (and oh, how much work it is!). Their process seems to be focused on understanding the beauty of this region’s land and pairing with it the fruits of their labors, truly homegrown products with a conscious heart. But outside of the work and the passion in their hearts, there is a special place in our heart that we NEED to visit, Finnriver’s Cider Garden.
“The Cider Garden is a most wonderful family-friendly, farm-based cider tap room and restaurant (ish); with wood-fired pizza made with locally sourced ingredients (and Keith’s wheat) on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, locally sourced bratwursts on Saturday, a local Creperie (using Keith’s buckwheat for traditional Breton style crepes) on Friday and Sunday, Local oysters on the ½ shell on Sundays as well. It becomes a family friendly, farm-crafted, local food, and agrarian experience. Add a super list of live music and the sensory experience is complete. This is how we approach farm-crafting cider on the Olympic Peninsula. Our work is holistic, and as a community, we grow.”
In always intrigues our team to see how invested these cidermakers are in the process of making the cider, but it was truly rewarding to see the passion behind the fruit & into the orchard, the breeding grounds of these delicious products. In a final moment of wonderment, we discovered Andrew’s favorite apple of choice, an always intriguing question for the keepers of the crop.
“As for the apple of choice, [we] both favor the Belle de Boskoop. This high acid apple is beautiful and large, with a bright red blush (a light russeting down by the calyx). It contributes both aromatics, acidity, and a touch of astringency to our Orchard Series ciders. Also, a pleasure to eat, and reasonable for apple crumble.”