New tastes for historically significant beverage drive flavor innovations at Applegate cidery
Plenty of craft ciders are brewed in Oregon. “Tree-to-bottle” ciders are in a class of their own.
The Apple Outlaw brand has grown far beyond the capacity of Blair Smith’s seven-acre orchard in the Applegate. But Smith’s higher-end Thompson Creek line keeps the connection to his land alive.
“It focuses on and highlights the organic, estate-grown fruit,” says Smith.
In his single-varietal ciders, Smith showcases McIntosh, Gravenstein and Wickson apples. Packaged like wines in 750-milliliter bottles, these ciders also have distinct flavor and aroma profiles that conjure rose petals and other florals, raspberries, grapes and pears; and cinnamon, cardamom and clove, to name a few. Thompson Creek’s barrel-aged dry and “heritage” blends also can be tasted, sipped and paired with foods in much the same way as wines.
“We do a lot of barrel-aging with the Thompson Creek,” says Smith.
Produced in just 10 percent of the quantity of Smith’s Apple Outlaw, Thompson Creek boasts an exclusive cider club with about 100 members. A few spots are available; see details at appleoutlaw.com/cider-club
“We try to keep it small, so we can make it super special,” says Smith.
Special flavors — seasonal, small-batch and “one-off” — have helped to drive Apple Outlaw’s rapid growth since the label’s 2013 debut. Selling fresh-pressed apple juice and whole fruit at farmers markets for his first decade in business, Smith devised adding value to his products by founding his Applegate cidery in 2014.
Hoping that Apple Outlaw would be “wanted in every state,” Smith and wife Marcey Kelley chose a raccoon as their mascot in homage to real masked bandits that forage around their property. Planning for cider, the couple had planted their orchard in specific apple varieties, and Smith had been experimenting with home brewing before working on his first commercial batches with Wandering Aengus Ciderworks in Salem.
Cider was on the rise around the country, coinciding with growing demand for gluten-free foods and beverages. Viewed as a hot trend in some circles, cider in fact was experiencing an American resurgence after languishing in obscurity for about a century.
“It’s fascinating seeing it make a comeback,” says Chris Dennett, co-owner of Beerworks in Medford and Jacksonville.
Cider’s heyday was the American Colonial era, when it was so popular that children commonly drank it diluted. The first apple trees planted in the New World were intended to yield fruit for an alcoholic beverage safer than water for the Pilgrims to drink. Indeed, Johnny Appleseed wasn’t traveling the country planting apples so the Colonists could eat fruit, but rather make cider, notes Dennett.
The Temperance Movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s spurred Americans to raze apple orchards, which hadn’t recovered by the advent of Prohibition, from 1920 to 1933. German settlers to the United States already had ushered in mammoth breweries, shifting the American palate to beer.
Reclaiming some of its status, perhaps in concert with craft beer’s popularity, cider has a designated tap at Dennett’s Elements restaurant in Medford. Over the summer, he says, Elements poured Apple Outlaw’s semisweet Siskiyou Gold.
The original flavor is augmented by Apple Outlaw’s ginger- and pineapple-infused ciders, as well as the unfiltered, dry style dubbed Jefferson Dry. Summer’s seasonal flavor is Oregon Blackberry; fall and winter brings Coastal Cranberry.
“People always want something new; they want something fun; they want something exciting,” says Smith. “It keeps it fun for us, too.”
Playing around with watermelon, raspberry, lavender and even cucumber-jalapeno, Apple Outlaw doesn’t bottle its “one-off” flavors, but rather kegs them for dispensing at special events and weekly farmers markets in Medford and Grants Pass.
“The growers market has been a really great way to engage with people,” says Smith. “That’s where we’ve seen the biggest growth — is in Southern Oregon.”
Sold around the Pacific Northwest through Portland and Washington distributors, Apple Outlaw also can be purchased in Northern California. It’s stocked in Safeway and Albertsons stores, locally, as well as Trader Joe’s and myriad independent grocers and retailers.
“Harry & David has been a big supporter,” says Smith. “It really all comes down to that local aspect.”
“Local always sells well,” agrees Dennett, whose Beerworks locations each have an entire cooler dedicated to ciders.
Apple Outlaw’s 500-milliliter bottle has a suggested retail price of $5.99. The same size in the Thompson Creek line has a suggested retail price of $8.99. Look for Apple Outlaw on tap at restaurants and bars throughout the region.