Artisan Cidery Pops the Top

November 2009

By Yvette Saarinen

The subtle aroma of apples welcomes visitors to Carlton Cyderworks, which recently opened at 909 S.E. 10th St. in McMinnville.

The name is an homage to the hometown of two of the owners, Mark Bailey and his son, Keenan, who founded the business in partnership with McMinnville resident Allen Gould. The unusual spelling of cider is meant to harken back to the days when it was a mainstay beverage in America.

The trio just pitched the yeast into their first batch of brew in their new 1,600-square-foot facility. They are making what is commonly known in the United States as “hard” cider, because of its 6.7 percent alcohol content.

In Europe, “cider” refers specifically to a fermented drink, as it did in early America. It wasn’t until Prohibition that the term was first applied to non-alcoholic juice.

Prohibition, they said, also created a hurdle for future cider makers. During that period, farmers began uprooting trees bearing cider apples because they were no longer profitable.

The dearth of supply still holds, a legacy of the 1920s, which prompted Mark Bailey to plant 600 cider apple trees on his Carlton spread.

The trio also faces the same challenges of other fruit growers, of course. Their trees alternate between heavy and light harvest cycles, and a frost during the spring fruit set could devastate a year’s crop.

Because its product features a relatively low alcohol content, on par with beer rather than distilled spirits, the industry is regulated by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration rather than the more restrictive Bureau of Tariff and Trade. The FDA only requires that they post a list of ingredients on their labels.

The cider makers use a blend of about 80 percent of several varieties of cider apples—Dabinett, Yarlington Mill, Medale D’Or, Porter’s Perfection or Kingston Black, say—and 20 percent of an eating variety like Jonagold.

Cider apples are not commonly consumed raw because their high tannin content makes them too astringent, Bailey said.

However, that very trait makes them ideal for fermented drink. “It’s more of a sensation than a flavor,” he said.

The fruit they are using primarily comes from Yamhill and Washington counties, but they sometimes have to range as far as Washington’s San Juan Islands for their apples. They oversee the entire process, from the picking of the fruit to the bottling of the final product in distinctive English bottles featuring jaunty red caps.

After being washed, ground and slowly pressed, the apples yield juice that is pumped into barrels for about two months of fermenting, followed by a like-period of aging.

The cider from Carlton Cyderworks is considered artisan because no concentrate is allowed, only juice from fresh fruit. “How you blend the bases is where the art comes in,” Bailey said.

The result is a clear, golden, aromatic and slightly carbonated drink that pairs well with pork, sausage or cheese, especially cheddar cheese.

Bottles containing 500 milliliters—about 17 ounces—retail for around $8. They are available at Harvest Fresh, NW Food & Gifts, the Northwest Wine Bar and Olive You in McMinnville and The Horseradish and Cuvée in Carlton.

The tasting room will be open during the annual Thanksgiving in Wine Country celebration. Otherwise, it will be open from 1 to 5 p.m. Fridays or by appointment.

The cider-making concept evolved from Bailey’s success as an amateur beer brewer.

When he moved his family from Portland to a 40-acre spread in Carlton, he was looking for a crop to plant. After much research, he settled on cider apple trees.

He continues to hold a day job as a train operator for Portland’s MAX light-rail service. His son, Keenan, graduated from Yamhill-Carlton High in 2004. Gould graduated from Amity High in 2003. They also hold day jobs, running a private group home for the developmentally disabled in McMinnville.

All three took short courses at Washington State University, and conducted further study in England, under the direction of celebrated cider maker Peter Mitchell. They augmented that foundation with a process of trial-and-error experimentation until they had a recipe they were satisfied with.

“We’re still learning because it’s new,” Gould said. “We’re making our own tradition.”  

The partners said there is more interest in cider making now than there has been at any other time in the last century. They think the development of artisan wine and beer industries in the Northwest should help them promote and market cider.

Carlton Cyderworks can be reached at 971-241-3077. ◊

Yvette Saarinen is the business editor at the News-Register.

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