Port Townsend, WA’s Alpenfire Cider earned recognition as one of the top Cidermakers in the world by winning best overall cider at the 2016 Dan Berger International Cider competition. They didn’t get to the top overnight. Their high quality European influenced ciders are the result of years of preparation and a lifelong dream. It took them blood, sweat and... ciders.
Blood - Alpenfire is a family company: a mother, father and son team that use heirloom-grade apples and old world techniques to make heritage style ciders that speak to long traditions.
Sweat - In terms of hard work, it took 4 years planting their own orchard of bittersweet apples before they released any ciders. “Sweating” is also is the historical method Alpenfire uses to age their apples to peak sweetness and flavor before they’re turned into cider.
Ciders - They focus on making traditional cider styles from all over Europe. Still cider, slightly funky Spanish style ciders, dry ciders from France and England. This stuff is way more complex than just fermented apple juice.
Because they focus on quality over sticking to one theme, Alpenfire doesn’t fit easily into any one category. They don’t just make still Spanish ciders or bone-dry French ciders. They’re not afraid to innovate by adding champagne yeast to the mix, or berries, or experiment by packing their cider in a bag. The best way to understand what they’re about is to try one of their tannic and dry, flavorful masterworks.
Pirate’s Plank Bone Dry Old World Bittersharp is the cider that shows off what Alpenfire is all about. Unfiltered, partially wild fermented, then aged in 20-year-old neutral white oak barrels, this brew is loaded with funky banana and dry floral tannins. 100% of the apples come from the estate, so it puts the spotlight on the special bittersweet apple varieties Alpenfire uses.
Tempest is a highly unusual, 10% ABV, big and sweet, yet balanced traditional-style cider that originated in New England. It has a heavy focus on the character-filled bittersweet apples, and also has boozy rum-like qualities since it is refermented on raisins and brown sugar. At 10% ABV, it will make your head spin, yet it’s so masterfully made and is not overly sweet or cloying.
Rosy Pommeau is a single apple varietal, fortified dessert cider made in the Pommeau French tradition -- and it reaches 18% ABV with the addition of eau de vie apple brandy. The sweet juiciness of Aerie red apples contrasts with the boozy warmth of the brandy, yet both come together in harmonious smoothness due to 15 months of oak aging.
Alpenfire goes to great lengths, using every tool at their disposal to make these ciders have the highest quality and deepest flavor:
Like winemakers, they give their ciders extra substance by making cider with estate-grown bittersweet apples. Whereas most ciders use apples that give their ciders simple one-note acidity, these apples add bitter tannins that give rise to a host of different flavors on the tongue.
They coax out extra banana and apricot fruity qualities in their ciders by letting their apples’ natural wild yeast complexity grow as the apples ripen, in the sweating process, and also sometimes at the start of cider fermentation.
They take their time fermenting their cider instead of rushing it to market, always giving it at least 4-6 weeks to develop flavor before bottling.
As a organic farm, Alpenfire avoids spraying chemicals in their orchard at all costs. Instead, they smoke the bugs out by using a flamethrower to roast the grass at the base of their apple trees!
They avoid shortcuts like adding Malic Acid to balance acidity, instead seeking balance by choosing the right varieties of apples. Also, in some ciders, they forgo using the preservative powers of sulfides. This non-chemical, traditional focus leads to heightened quality and reflects centuries of cider making tradition.
After tasting a few of Alpenfire’s creations, many people will be forced to re-examine everything they think they know about ciders. No longer can ciders fit into simple terms such as “dry” and “sweet.” Centuries of tradition will inspire a new appreciation of how choice of apple variety and brewing techniques can lead to radically varied, flavorfully deep ciders.
Written by Neal Yurick
Featured image from Alpenfire Cider Facebook page