As the usually dramatic peak of Mount Rainier is masked by gray clouds and the tourists begin to struggle with their umbrellas, I am reminded that summer is officially over in Washington State. Despite this gloomy, stereotypical scenery that has descended upon us, there is a silver lining: cider season.
Having lived in Washington for a decade now, I’ve been surround by cider season (that is, hard cider), but never participated in one of the events. They always seemed interesting, but every year I tended to take my six-pack home and drink it while wrapped in warm blankets rather than socializing. This year, however, a friend was determined that we go to a Cider Week event featuring our favorite cidery in Bellingham. When Brie convinced me to make the 2.5-hour drive to Bellingham, I became interested in getting a glimpse of the larger cider community behind this renewed trend.
Washington state produces roughly 60% of the United States’ apples and has been swept into the cider revolution. In the past decade, over 60 cider companies have sprouted up around Washington State, making them the state with the fourth most cideries. To publicize the local companies and the overall growing industry, many festivals are held throughout the state such as Washington Cider Week, Ciderfest, Cider Summit, and Cider Swig.
This is not the first-time cider was trending. In the 18th and 19th century, cider was a common drink, however, Prohibition effectively killed the cider industry while easier made beer and spirits recovered. After, cider did not regain mass popularity in Washington State until 2008. There are many theories on why this industry has suddenly been revived. Part could be due to local connections to the mass number of orchards in the Pacific Northwest. Others argue that the popularity of gluten-free diets have made a market niche for this low-alcohol content drink. I hoped that participating in Cider Week could provide insight on if the community connections or the gluten-free market-niche had more of an influence over this trend.
The cider trend is extremely evident in Bellingham; more than 10 cider companies dot the county competing for the mix of college students, retirees, and outdoor enthusiasts who make up the general population. Bellingham felt like the best place to figure out the driving force of the increased popularity of cider.
Only tourists risk an umbrella with Washington’s unpredictable winds, so we arrived damp in typical fall fashion to the rustic, red-walled Irish pub. Uisce (Ish-kah) is one of the many bars dotting the small downtown area. It is not my typical haunt, but it does have a relaxing atmosphere. A larger group of older men and women seemingly just off work took up the couches near the fireplace, while others clustered around the booths, chatting enthusiastically, and a rowdier group of men threw darts towards the back of the bar.
For Cider Week, Uisce’s bartenders created a cocktail that incorporated the tart flavors of both Elderberry and Raspberry Lost Giants’ ciders. The Bee’s Knees they created mixed with these ciders were… well, the Bee’s Knees. They were tart and sweet with the lemon, gin, and elderberry cider flavors blending together. From our table, we could see the Lost Giants’ owners and staff enjoying the event while drinking their own cider mixed into cocktails, tying in the local business feeling. The owners, much like the logo on the cider we were drinking, were a mix of chill, bearded locals looking for a way to connect with others during the dreary fall season.
It was still too early in the day for the bar to be swamped by college students and other night owls, so we’re not sure how packed it could have been. Exhausted from the drive and general fall grayness, we decided to leave early after our third round. Even though we didn’t stay long and our introverted selves sipped cider in a corner booth waiting for our notoriously tardy friends, it was still a great night. The dark bar, gray clouds, and small clusters of people enjoying locally sourced drinks reminded me of why I visit Bellingham so often.
From this quick look, I feel that local connections are more responsible for this cider craze than gluten-free diets. While it does offer an alternative to those who either cannot or chose not to consume gluten, it’s not a simple “I drink this because I cannot have beer.” Most people who spot me with cider will talk excitedly of their favorite local cidery or flavor. The bartender at Uisce gushed about Lost Giants while pouring our drinks and pointing us towards the owners. The local pride is evident in cider drinkers, I could feel it in myself as made the 2.5-hour drive, bypassing many other cideries to get to my favorite.
While I wait for the mountains to show their faces again, I will be enjoying my cider, researching growlers to become a fully-fledged member of the cider community, and keeping a tally of how many tourists I see with snapped umbrellas.