If you think craft brewing in Oregon is all about beer, it’s time to visit Central Oregon. Five top-notch craft cider breweries are serving up hard cider, a bubbly drink fermented from local and regional ingredients, including apples and berries.

The traditional beverage, which was popular in America since the colonial days but struggled to gain momentum after Prohibition, is making a strong comeback in the 21st Century. In fact, the production of hard cider has more than tripled in America over the past few years. Check out the self-guided tour map below. 

Wildcraft Cider Works Spruce Tip Cider

Wildcraft Cider Works Spruce Tip, a small batch cider.

At the CiderCon event held in in Portland last February, Jon London, head of marketing for Angry Orchard (Boston Beer Co.’s cider product), told attendees that there were about 18 million total cider drinkers in the U.S. in 2015, compared with about 5 million in 2011. These hard cider drinkers generated $1 billion worth of retail sales last year. Additionally, grocery stores are carrying 65 percent more cider than just two years ago.

Already known for its craft beers, Central Oregon is well suited for hard cider breweries. In fact, as Dan McCoy, owner of Avid Cider, said in an interview with The Bulletin, Bend’s newspaper, “Most people that enjoy craft beer are going to be the same people that are going to love craft cider.”

Avid Cider Co., 550 SW Industrial Way in Bend, makes hard cider fermented from fresh pressed fruit from the Pacific Northwest. According to the Avid Cider website, Avid ciders are naturally gluten-free, contain no artificial flavors or colorings and are back sweetened with ZERO Sugar. Their tasting room is  open seven days a week for tasting right at the source.

The family-run company produces apple, pomegranate-cherry, blackberry and apricot ciders. Avid Cider is available in 22-ounce bottles, six-packs of 12-ounce cans and kegs.

Aaron Dave Lee 2 Towns

L and R, Co-founders Aaron Sarnoff-Wood and Lee Larsen, with head cidermaker, Dave Takush, center.

In Corvallis, 2 Towns Ciderhouse, 33930 SE Eastgate Circle uses whole, fresh-pressed Northwest sourced fruit, including some heirloom heritage varieties, like Newtown Pippin, to achieve depth and character in its ciders.

“We go out of our way to work directly with local farmers and processors to source whole specialty ingredients like Marion blackberries, black currants, and rhubarb,” says Dave Takush, head cider maker. “As a craft producer you have to treat your cider fermentations with care in order to let the high quality fruit speak for itself. At 2 Towns, it takes months of long, slow, cold fermentation in order to let the fruit character shine through in the final product.”

Takush points out that many people who are new to drinking hard cider expect the beverage to be sweet tasting. “True craft cider should be well balanced, complex, and have nuanced fruit characters that occur naturally, and are not added from an injection tube,” he explains.

You may be wondering what distinguishes the cider from these establishments from what you can buy in the supermarket. It is the freshness of the fruit that gives these local brews their deep distinctive character. Additionally, supermarket brands usually have additional ingredients such as sugar, water malic acid and even an aroma essence.

Additionally, ciders you find on your supermarket shelves are often made from fruit juice concentrate rather than fresh pressed juice.

It is fairly easy to pair great food with hard cider. Hard cider’s low alcohol content and low carbonation make it a great addition to many cuisines. Its natural fruity flavor pairs well with anything from pork chops to salad.

Dave Takush of 2 Towns enjoys pairing locally raised pork belly with vintage heirloom cider. “It is such a traditional, classic pairing, and the flavors just work,” he says. “Each sip of cider cuts through all the fat in the pork, and each bite of salty, tender pork makes you want another glass of cider.

“It is an easy and comforting dish and a pairing that will make anyone happy.”

Red Tank Cider Company, 840 SE Woodland Blvd., Bend, uses only apples, yeast and natural sulfites to make its hard cider. Flavor varieties include apple, pear, cherry, mixed berry and special seasonal varieties.

Red Tank’s Twitter page boasts this philosophy, “A serious passion for making cider. Everything is process. Nothing ever finished. Nothing ever perfect. Everything is process. “

Far Afield Cider located in the Bend Makers’ District, produces a premium hard cider made from Pacific Northwest ingredients. Owners John and Brenda Gessner, who left the corporate world to start their cider business, currently offer three products: Valiant Cider, a traditional European dry hard cider; Temptation Cider, a cider with hints of vanilla and honey; and Far Afield Apple Cider Vinegar, a non-alcoholic raw apple cider vinegar aged for three months and containing no added flavors.

Wildcraft Cider Works, 390 Lincoln St. in Eugene, creates artisanal dry ciders with local whole fruit and botanicals. Cidermaker Matt Silva (top picture), brews all the ciders without artificial flavorings, sulfites or added sweeteners.

Wildcraft just-picked apples

Unique to WildCraft Cider Works is that their apples are hand-picked from local orchards. In some cases, the apples they pick would have just fallen off the tree and  gone to waste. Instead, they’re used to make some of the finest hard cider around.

Flavor varieties include apple, pear, blueberry, cherry, peach, mixed fruits, nettle and wild rose. In addition to ciders on tap and imported ciders, the CiderHouse at WildCraft Cider Wors offers a menu of locally-sourced cuisine from different food vendors.

If you haven’t tried hard cider yet, the upcoming warmer months are the perfect time to give it a try. As Oregon’s delicious fruit comes into season this year, you will be sure to enjoy Oregon’s “other brew.”

Images: Wildcraft Cider Works via Facebook