Central Oregon Cider Scene Bears Fruit
Around the United States, cider is big business: According to the American Cider Association, more than 1,000 cideries now dot the country, and sales have grown a whopping 500% since 2011.
Oregon produces more than 3 million bushels annually, according to Fruit Growers News—so, with a growing consumer base and a regional affinity for all things apple, a handful of craft cider makers have brought the celebrated beverage to Central Oregon.
For some, that means experimenting with ingredients foreign to most cider fans; for others, that means creating eye-catching flavor profiles.
However they do it, Central Oregon cider makers are having an impact and planting the seeds for a thriving scene. We talked with a handful of the region’s best-known cider makers to find out how they’ve grown, how they’re thriving, and how the cider scene has evolved in a region best known for craft beer.
Note: With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing the closures of sit-down restaurants and bars, reach out to these cider makers before visiting; some cider makers keep limited hours for to-go orders, while other ciders can be found at grocery stores and bottle shops throughout Central Oregon. And if you’d rather stay home, some offer home deliveries.
The Pacific Northwest cider scene has come a long way over the past decade, and few understand that better than Dan McCoy.
In the early 2010s, McCoy traveled to Ireland and the United Kingdom, where he fell in love with cider. The drink is a big part of the region’s drinking culture—and has been for centuries—and McCoy found it on draft at every pub he visited.
But back in the United States, McCoy—then a middle school teacher—found it near impossible to indulge his affinity for cider. “I couldn’t find any good ciders,” he says. “I’d go to restaurants and bars, and they weren’t on draft.”
So, in 2013, McCoy opened AVID Cider Co. in Bend—“Being from the Pacific Northwest, with the availability of fruits, I thought ‘What a perfect place to introduce a craft hard cider,’” he says—and immediately put his own spin on the classic drink.
That meant blending apple ciders with apricots, blackberries, pomegranates, and other fruits—always trying to balance each fruit’s characteristics with the clean, crisp apple flavor. “Out of the gate, we really focused on ‘Let’s get some unique fruits that grow in the Northwest, let’s focus on fruit ciders,’” he says.
Those first few years, McCoy says he spent a lot of time educating customers about what cider actually is—but that’s changing as more people discover the intricacies and complexities of a good cider. “Most people out there drink a variety of beverages,” McCoy says. “It might be wine with dinner, or a hard cider that tastes good at any time. I think most people are mixing it up, and it’s a really unique drink to throw into the mix.”
Kelly Roark started making cider in 2008, in the midst of the Great Recession, for an admittedly compelling reason: Lacking money to visit the bar, Roark figured he’d bring the bar to him. Armed with a background in biology and chemistry, Roark experimented with cider making, fell in love with the craft, and—soon after—relocated from the Willamette Valley to Central Oregon to pursue his passion.
Today, Kelly Roark co-owns Bend Cider Company with his wife, Tammy. The duo opened Bend Cider Company in late 2019 with a nod toward dryer flavors and unusual ingredients—zigging where other successful cider makers have zagged all over the Pacific Northwest.
Bend Cider’s flagship dry cider features notes of apple and citrus, but the rest of the lineup offers one surprise after another: One cider is made with 100% açaí berry juice, for instance, while a collaboration chai cider with Bend’s Metolius Tea sports notes of cardamom, cinnamon, clove, and ginger.
There may be no clearer example of Bend Cider Company’s love affair with botanicals than in its Mandarin Juniper cider, which uses Oregon juniper berries for a dry, earthy flavor. “A juniper berry, on its own, is not going to be delicious, but it has a flavor profile that complements cider,” Roark says. “It has a tannin that adds a little astringency to a cider, so it kind of doubles down on the dryness. It also gives a pleasant piney, resinous nose to it that I really enjoy. And then, outside of that, I’m inspired by our local flora and fauna.”
Tammy says those flavor profiles reflect more than just their own personal tastes; they create a connection with the region. “When we started Bend Cider, we wanted it to reflect everything we love about Bend,” she says.
When Legend Cider opened a taproom last summer in La Pine, it inspired a rare feat: In beer-crazy Central Oregon, La Pine was the region’s first city to host a cider maker … before its first brewery.
But Tyler and Adrianne Baumann, the husband-and-wife team behind Legend Cider, figure that most of their customers won’t mind.
That’s because the Baumanns have crafted a range of ciders that eschew some of the industry’s more traditional techniques for a daring, innovative approach.
For starters: Legend uses beer yeast, rather than cider yeast, to create more complex flavors and deliver a mellower finish than what most cider drinkers expect. “It feels like you’re drinking beer more than a wine,” Adrianne Baumann says.
Legend also bypasses artificial sweeteners, flavors, and fruit concentrate altogether, opting for real fruit juices that lead to a cleaner, crispier finish. “We’ve made a commitment never to use any ingredients that incorporate corn syrup or dyes; we don’t color our cider, there are no artificial ingredients,” Adrianne Baumann says.
That’s led to some truly unique flavors, like the PCT (Pineapple, Coconut, and Tiki) Punch—a piña colada-like cider that evokes lazy days on warm beaches. And Legend Cider’s most popular offering is its Pacific POG—featuring unfiltered pineapple, orange, and guava juices for a slightly sweet, yet tropical taste.
We’ve all had one of those ciders, whether from a grocery store six-pack or at our favorite taproom, that’s just a bit too sweet—the kind that tastes more like the sugary juice drinks we all grew up with than a crisp, clean cider.
Jeff Bennett understands that frustration—and, since opening Tumalo Cider Company in 2014, has made a point to steer clear of the cloying ciders that can give the drink a bad name. “There’s this perception out there that all ciders are sweet,” he says. “And we have to break through that barrier, have people try it, and see if they like it.”
That calling card—dry ciders that eschew sweetness for a more balanced approach—wasn’t always the case. Soon after Tumalo Cider Co. opened in 2014, Bennett recalls experimenting with recipes, ingredients, and flavor profiles to find a cider that complements the kind of sunny days Central Oregon is known for—well-balanced, sessionable, low in alcohol by volume. “I want somebody to try our cider and say, ‘I can drink two or three pints of this, no problem,’” he says.
The experimentation led to the lineup Tumalo Cider Co. fans know and love today: Some of Bennett’s most popular flavors include huckleberry lemon, raspberry, and pomegranate pear—each offering dry fruity notes that don’t put strong apple flavors front and center. “In my book, it’s about balance—sweetness, acidity, flavor,” Bennett says. “That’s really the main goal.”