75-14-7-1-1. Fruity numbers, each and every one of them. This past October the 2nd annual Vashon CiderFest was held on Vashon Island in Washington. The Vashon Ciderfest boasts fresh pressed cider, hard ciders and a fruit show. 75 different types of apples, including apple varieties destined for the cider press, 14 pear varietals, 7 grape cultivars, 1 lime and 1 kiwi, all grown on Vashon Island, were proudly presented for viewing and sampling. After recovering from the shock of discovering that lime and kiwi are grown on the island, I began to sample the fruit. The range of flavors and textures of these Vashon Island fruits was impressive.
Next I tasted apples in liquid form. The CiderFest featured ten different cideries with all but one pouring multiple ciders for a total of . . .well . . . I failed to get an accurate count, so I’ll guesstimate – 21 ciders.
The price of admission was $10 (which I paid myself) and included a souvenir glass, 5 pour tickets, and a ballot to vote for your top 3. If those 5 pour tickets were not enough, 5 more tickets could be purchased for another $5. Each pour was easily 2/3 of the glass, more than enough to thoroughly investigate the aroma and flavor. The cideries present included (in alphabetical order) —
- Aspall Ciders – Suffolk, England
- Blue Mountain Cider Co. – Milton-Freewater, Oregon
- Etienne Dupont – Pays d’Auge, Normandy, France
- Irvine’s Vintage Cider (under Vashon Winery) – Vashon Island, Washington
- Red Barn Cider – Mt. Vernon, Washington
- Samuel Smith’s Organic Cider – North Yorkshire, England
- Two Rivers Cider Co. – Sacramento, California
- Wandering Aengus Cider – Salem, Oregon
- Westcott Bay Cider – San Juan Island, Washington
- Wildfire Cider – Port Townsend, Washington
Without a cider buddy to help taste all the offerings, I had to prioritize and negotiate with those pouring. “Please only a 1/3 pour.” Thus, I negotiated smaller pours of multiple, different ciders in exchange for a single ticket. With my system I was able to taste 14 different ciders.
Printed on the ballot was a tasting guideline and a 5 point scoring system to evaluate sight, aroma and taste. Many of the characteristics to look for in cider are similar to wine – acid, tannin, and balance. Since this was my first time at this or any CiderFest I sidestepped the mental aerobics of scoring and just savored the experience. Every cider was tasty and I wished I had the fortitude to taste them all. My goal instead was to select 2 or 3 ciders to purchase and share with friends. Since my visit to the Vashon Island Ciderfest friends and family have enjoyed several Red Barn Ciders – Burro Loco made from apples AND crabapples; Sweetie Pie made from Gravenstein apples with some residual sugar; and Fire Barrel, a cider aged in bourbon barrels. In addition, we have enjoyed the Cherry Hard Cider from Blue Mountain Cider Co.
The trip to the Vashon CiderFest also had a wine component. Aside from the fact that both wine and cider rely on fruit and are concerned about the balance of tannin and acid, Ron Irvine is the owner and winemaker for Vashon Winery AND he produces Irvine’s Vintage Cider. That is not, however, the connection that had me all agog like a starry-eyed groupie. Irvine is the author of the seminal book on the history of Washington winemaking, The Wine Project: Washington State’s Winemaking History. I have read this book twice and refer to it often, so there was no chance that I would miss this opportunity. Before leaving home, I slipped the tome into my bag. At the CiderFest the first cidery I approached was his. After he poured the sample, I pulled my dog-eared copy out of my bag and asked for his signature. After the initial shock, a smile came to his face and he signed! “From wine to cider….”
The entire experience from the ferry ride to Vashon Island, the Fruit Show, the Vashon Saturday Market, the CiderFest, and the geeky moment added up to a great day! I plan to return next year and bring along a cider buddy or two. This event is sponsored by the Vashon Island Rotary Foundation & NW Cider Society. Hopefully, these organizations will make this event happen for years to come. Keep your eye out for this event next fall!