Image: Erik Skaar

Five years ago, Tieton Cider Works’co-owner Sharon Campbell spent most of her time at festivals and fairs, explaining that her cider does, in fact, contain alcohol and is not meant for kids. To the north, -Alpenfire Orchards cofounder Nancy Bishop fielded a frequent query: What flavors do you have? Her response is dry as a bottle of Alpenfire Cider’s own Pirate’s Plank. “It’s cider. We have apple flavor.”

In Europe, cider (or cidre, or sidre) is shorthand for an alcoholic beverage of fermented apples. In Britain it’s dry as the humor. France likes a dash of sweet, while Spanish versions run stringent and musty. In America, George Washington’s troops received rations of it. John Adams reportedly drank a tankard of it for breakfast each morning. Cider apples and their fermented juice were prevalent on American homesteads. Then Americans departed farms for cities, German immigrants introduced beer culture, and ultimately Prohibition took a collective axe to cider orchards across the country.

The term hard cider usually means alcohol—and, for many of us, youthful memories of beverages that tasted like a liquefied Jolly Rancher. But in the past few years, orchards and tiny handcrafted cider operations across Washington are quietly making us an epicenter of a drinking revolution. 

In 2008 there were maybe four cideries in our bounds; now about 15 dot the state from San Juan Island to Pullman, and even wineries are getting in on the action. Scores of bars and restaurants give cider its own tap, grocery stores and bottle shops have specialized shelf space, and Seattle even has a new bar dedicated to labor-intensive, small-batch ciders. As Snowdrift’s Tim Larsen explains it, “The founding fathers drank it, but Washington’s cider industry is newer than the iPhone,” despite the apple’s status as our first fruit. Meet the cideries that make us a bulwark of America’s first signature beverage—and are banishing those Jolly Rancher stigmas in the process.