Apples are at the core of what we do and we want to keep the love going. This is our second installment in a series of articles focused on single varietal apples and cideries bringing these to the forefront. Our latest focus comes from the Pacific Northwest Alma Cider team. Dave Klawer the owner brings award-winning, small-batch ciders via their family-owned orchard. This hands-on approach to both the land and product offers interesting insights into apple varieties.
Apples are native to Kazakhstan. If one were to hike through the hills and forests of Kazakhstan one would be among the native trees and be able to taste the wild apples that have grown in the region for millennia.
“Alma” is the original word for the apple in Kazakhstan. In Spanish, “Alma” means soul, and in Latin, it means nurturing spirit. What does Alma mean to us? It means we put our soul and our spirit into knowing and respecting the land, growing the best possible fruit, and making the highest quality Cider.
Here on the Westside of the Cascade mountain range in Washington, we are fortunate enough to live in a microclimate that is extremely well suited for growing cider fruit. Combined with rich native soils formed by our resident volcanoes, glaciers, and rivers we can deliver the gold standard for cider fruit and hope to be able to make world-class cider.
Alma Cider was born from a dream to spend the days working outside in nature and grow the highest quality cider apple crop possible. We began grafting our own cider apple trees a few years back with the intention of selling the highly sought-after fruit to cideries within the region. Making cider was a hobby and friends often said, “This is as good as the stuff in the stores”. Our batches grew in volume year after year. We incorporated more focus where it was needed through scientific methodology and we also allowed for creativity and playfulness with experimentation. Alma Cider is a family-owned/operated orchard and boutique fermented cider company.
Since 2019, we have grafted over 3,000 trees. This year we will be grafting another 3,600 proper cider and heirloom trees. We own 36 acres and also lease land nearby where we are installing our orchards. We have an orcharding business called Bitters & Sharps. We also provide custom grafting, orchard planning, and consultation services. I will complete my Master’s in Science of Agriculture at Washington State University this year!
This year we produced 3 single varietals. Our Wood Aged Cider that won best in class at GLINTCAP in 2021 is made from just Gravenstein apples.
This year we also produced our Rosé using only Airlie Redflesh apples. Lastly, we made a 100% Quince using Van Deman quince. We try to grow what we can, otherwise sourced hyper-local. Our trees are still small and growing, but we are lucky to have so much wonderful fruit very nearby.
We pick and press fruit when it is fresh.
Each pomme fruit has its own characteristics in regard to flavor and aromas. Some can stand alone as they are balanced just right with sweetness, acidity, and tannins such as Golden Russet. There are many that come to mind for specific characteristics such as aroma like Akane, or color from Pink Pearl. Acids from Gravensteins or sweetness from a Jonagold or Bosc pear. I think many apples can make a fine cider on their own. Blends may offer more complexity as specific characteristics can be added to each fruit. However, some stand-alone and do not need anything else added.
Gravensteins are one of my favorite apples. The apple may have originated in Denmark in the 1600s. Gravensteins means “grey stone” in Danish and was first planted at Greyston castle. When you first bite into a Gravenstein apple it is bright, crisp, juicy, and crunchy. Saliva immediately flows as the acids hit you followed by a short burst of sweetness. Sensations in the cider are much the same. Bright acid upfront pricks the tip of your tongue resulting in immediate salvation under the back corner of the tongue. that washes down a subtle short burst of sweet apple. Heavy Green apple aromas along with white flower blossoms, perhaps some stone fruit- nectarine make this a very fragrant cider.
Pink Pearl is a fantastic Redflesh Apple. When you give the light green oblong fruit to an unsuspecting person to try they may often squeal after they have bitten into the apple and look at the surprising bright bubble gum pink color of the flesh. Albert Etter, bred the Pink Pearl apple in Nothern California along with at least 80 other named varieties including Wickson crab, in the early-mid 1900s. Like most Redflesh apples I have tried the apple is high acid meaning low pH. This is great for cidermaking as the low pH protects the juice from many spoilage organisms and requires fewer sulfites. The juice is bright pink and if one is careful through the end you may end up with a beautiful Rosé cider. If the juice becomes oxidized during the process it is easy to lose the color and have an amber-colored cider. It may still taste wonderful but just not be pink. Flavors of small red fruits- currents, cantaloupe, red cane fruit, green apple, grapefruit all come out to play.
Muscadet de Dieppe apples originally from France in the late 1700s are true bittersweet cider apples like many from the region in Normandy. The apples are sort of small but strong with aroma, flavor, and tannin. The fresh-pressed juice is amber and darkens through the cider making and aging process ending in a beautiful dark amber color. The tannins provide body and weight and the cider seems a little thicker than many other ciders and is satisfying to swallow. This bittersweet cider is very aromatic and flavorful. Scents of dried red apple, honey, roasted tree nuts. Flavors of red apple peel, dried apricot, and some tropical notes of banana and guava.
Gravenstein – bright acid, great apple flavor, mouth-watering finish.
Pink Pearl – great acids, complex flavors, playful Rosé color
Muscadet de Dieppe – thick-bodied, dark color bittersweet cider, rich in aroma, flavor, and tannins.