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On the Scene: Bushwhacker Cidery

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On the Scene
Monday, January 10, 2011

By Emma Hall

A longtime staple of pubs in England, alcoholic cider also has a long tradition in the U.S. That is why Johnny Appleseed planted his seeds, afterall. And now the nation's first modern ciderhouse has landed smack dab in brewery-centric Portland.

Jeff Smith opened Bushwhacker Cidery on 12th and SE Powell Boulevard in Southeast Portland in September 2010. He hopes to teach hop-loving Portlanders that cider is much more than simply alcoholic applejuice. Ciders are actually quite diverse and complex, and many are produced locally in Oregon.

Not only is Bushwhacker a cidery (yes, that is the word for cider brewery), but it also features a tasting room and bottle shop. The bottle shop has about 85 bottles from local and international sources, and the tasting room features 7 rotating taps-6 ciders and 1 beer.

Smith felt that Portland was open to new alcohol ventures with its ubiquitous breweries and distilleries, yet cider was still hard to find. There are quite a few cideries in the Pacific Northwest, because Oregon and Washington produce more apples than anywhere in the world. The top-notch school to learn about the art of cider making is even located in Mount Vernon, Washington, which feeds a cluster of Port Townsend cideries. It is there, through a Washington State University extension, that Smith studied the science of cider making under cider guru Peter Mitchell.

Before opening Bushwhacker, Smith had barrels of experience making cider at home, but no experience in owning a bar. The closest he got was chronicling his adventures playing darts and trying local beers on his blog.  Now, he spends 7 days a week at the cidery, "more than a full time job." His wife Erin even has to bring him his dinner at the bar (when she's not bartending right alongside him).

Smith tapped his first housemade cider at Bushwhacker on Friday, a small five-gallon batch. The next batch will be produced at a much higher scale, 75 gallons that will be ready in late February or March. Last week, Smith pressed 2,500 pounds of apples over 4 days. "My arms haven't hurt that bad since I had growing pains as an adolescent," he joked.

Some cider makers prefer to use unpasteurized apple juice rather than pressing their own apples, because proper cider apples (small, bitter, practically inedible fruits with more tannins than the ones you'd find at your grocery store) can be hard to come by. However, Smith prefers to focus on local Oregon fruit instead of worrying whether the apples he is pressing were intended for cider or not. "We use dessert fruit, or whatever we can get locally," Smith said.

Cider is actually closer to a wine than a beer, and therefore Bushwhacker's OLCC license is the same as for a winery. Beer contains more ingredients, while cider is simply apples and yeast. However, cider is closer to beer in alcohol content, with most ciders ringing in between 4.5% and 8%.

For those who've never tried hard cider before, Smith has some recommendations. If you're more of a wine person, try a sweeter cider like Salem-based Wandering Aengus's Blue.  If you're typically a beer drinker, go for a dry cider, like Milton-Freewater's Blue Mountain Dry Creek. Or try a cider from Smith's current favorite cidery, EZ Orchards in Salem. They make a French-style cider with wild yeast.

French is just one of the four cider styles, along with American, Spanish and English. French cider has a low (4-5%) alcohol content, and is light and fruity, with small champagne-like bubbles. American cider tends to have a higher alcohol content and taste sweeter. Spanish cider is still (i.e., uncarbonated) and is often aged in Chestnut barrels. The "funky" taste garners fans from those who choose Belgian-style beers. English cider is dry, aged in oak barrels, and tends to come in between 5% and 7% alcohol content.

The ciders that Smith plans to make don't really fall into any of the 4 styles. "I like to think of it as a new style, using what I can get locally, and having a smaller carbon footprint," he said.

Emma Hall is web editor for Oregon Business.

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