Driving up a long winding road with witty, rhyming signs asking you to drive slowly, you’re immediately struck by the scenic views of the Chimacum Valley on the northern Olympic Peninsula of Washington, views you may have missed if you hadn’t turned off of Highway 19. At the end of this snaking path is a small gravel parking lot next to the anticipated red barn, with signs pointing to a craft cider tasting room.
This is Finnriver Farm and Cidery, a Washington State certified organic farm on 33 acres of land along a restored and protected salmon stream. The farm itself, started in 2004 by Keith and Crystie Kisler along with their friends Kate Dean and Will O'Donnell, is an actual working farm, with organic blueberries, squash, and assorted vegetables. But that’s not what has begun to put them on the map. What has really set them apart is their hard apple cider – hard apple cider that is 100% juice.
My intrepid editor and I were able to sample many – if not all – of the ciders that Finnriver produces. Their stalwarts – Sparkling Black Currant Cider, Sparkling Pear Cider, and Dry Hopped Cider – were phenomenal. Not cloyingly sweet like those plastic-topped bottles grandma used to buy at New Years. Their limited release Farmstead Sparkling Cider, Habanero Cider, and Fire Barrel Cider were ridiculously tasty. The habanero was my favorite – the heat from the pepper caught up to you in the end while the next sip calmed the burn. And we would have been remiss if we hadn’t tried the Artisan Sparkling Cider, a brut champagne style cider that is crafted using the traditional, labor-intensive méthode champenoise.
Since Finnriver’s cider is treated like wine by the industry (their Artisan Sparkling Cider received a Double Gold Medal at the 2011 Seattle Wine Awards), the cider should also be considered certified organic. The only reason it isn’t is because of the low level of sulfites used to protect the cider and the drinker from potential bacteria. That being said, they use all organic apples, and are working on getting their Organic Processor certification, so you can feel good about what you are drinking. And did we mention that it is 100% juice?
With cider being one of the faster growing segments in the beverage market, Finnriver has their hands in something that could definitely become huge. “We were just farming and had apples out back,” Crystie told us, as we sat in the outdoor event pavilion.
Sourcing apples from the thousand-tree orchard that they manage 3 miles up the road, as well as from independent growers, organic apple farms in Eastern Washington, and backyards across the Olympic Peninsula (used to make their Farmstead Cider, with 10 cents of each bottle sold going to a local food bank), Finnriver has nearly tripled production in the last three years.
But their growth is organic (pun most definitely intended). With production estimated at 20,000 gallons this year, they aren’t trying to follow the crowd in an attempt to expand quickly. A fact that Crystie is proud of: “I guess we are constrained because we want to do everything here, and we want to press our own juice.”
An article in Bloomberg late last year mentioned that sales are projected to rise 10.6% between 2011 and 2016, as “…the sweeter taste of cider, with a similar alcohol level to beer, may appeal to…drinkers seeking novelty.” I would disagree with the term “novelty” and say that these ciders will appeal to anyone who tries them.
“Somebody just said to me: you’re 5 years ahead of the game,” said Crystie. “We started being ultra-crafty, the big guys have seen there’s a market, they’re going to blanket the world with cider, and then people are going to need a few years to understand how great the craft fringe is.”
What Crystie and the rest of the Finnriver family have is special, smooth, and great tasting. With their ciders only sweetened with the juices they put in the bottle, this is a crisp, refreshing drink you can enjoy any time of the year. Trust me – because this die-hard IPA fan left with 6 bottles.
For more information on where you can find Finnriver Cider near you, visit http://www.finnriver.com/cidery/vendors or take a trip to the farm and get it from the source.