written and photographed by Brian Yaeger
Along the south bank of the Columbia River Gorge—generally perceived as a kiteboarder’s, hiker’s and wine-lover’s dream come true—we are witnessing a new farm-fresh industry take root. Whether you’re gluten-free, an adventurous beer drinker looking for the “Next Big Thing” or simply a devotee of full-flavored liquid artistry, the Hood River Valley’s newest craze is in the pomme of your hand. Following the late summer harvest and accounting for fermentation times, count on cider season in early autumn.
What starts as Highway 35 in Hood River is a scenic journey through orchards and U-pick farms known as the Fruit Loop. Before long, travelers discover Fox Tail Cider (2965 Ehrck Hill Drive, Hood River) and its family-friendly tasting room with its own adjacent produce stand. They serve several interesting products, each made in the production facility visible through portrait windows, from the all-apple Sir Isaac that’s juicy and tart, yet fairly dry, to the all-pear Pyrus Perry that’s subtler and drier still. The peach-blended Fuzzy Haven is the customer favorite. No reason to rush your samples or pints when lawn games such as cornhole and ladder ball outside.
Spoke and Sail (1021 12th Street, Hood River) is the new cider joint from local cider veteran duo John Metta and Stefan Guemperlein. Although the focus is on Old World cider styles, don’t miss Spoke and Sail’s honey cider (technically called a cyser) that tastes as good as a beeswax candle smells. The dry-hopped Knee Dropped Hops is a good gateway cider for beer enthusiasts, as it features the grassy and floral flavors they prefer. A recent visit yielded a special sample of a cider featuring locally grown cherries and whole cinnamon bark. Full disclosure: Next summer, I’m organizing an event called Kriekfest that will feature some thirty beers and ciders all made with cherries and Spoke and Sail’s creation, after another year of aging in an oak cask, will be among them.
Also new to town is The Barrel Room, the exclusive tasting room for Logsdon Farmhouse Ales and Ciderworks (101 4th Street, Hood River). David Logsdon is famous on a couple of accounts. He was Full Sail Brewery’s original brewer in 1987. Now, he is the co-founder of Wyeast Yeast Labs and is running Logsdon Farmhouse Ales in his red barn, just outside downtown. Ciderworks carries on his love of all things funky and rural by creating ciders such as Wilde Appel that will have fans of Normandy-style ciders heading straight to the new tasting room and bottle shop.
It’s worth noting that all of the above cidermakers use some of their own fruit but also buy apples from other farmers in the area to keep up with production demand for their lovely drink. Rack and Cloth (1104 First Avenue, Mosier), however, uses only estate-grown apples for their limited offerings. Located five miles east of Hood River, visitors to their tasting room, the Mercantile, keep their fingers crossed that they’ll be able to choose from at least two ciders: the clean, dry Stony Pig and the tart, rustic PommePomme. Rounding out the farm-to-bottle experience are their wood-fired pizzas and other culinary treats. The patio is one of the most leisurely ways to spend a lazy afternoon (Thursdays through Sundays only) imaginable.