Joel VandenBrink, the founder of SoDo's Two Beers Brewing, is starting an apple-focused enterprise called Seattle Cider Company. While hard cider is experiencing quite the resurgence in Washington, this is the first cidery to open in the city of Seattle in anyone’s memory—since Prohibition, according to VandenBrink. He's planning two styles to start, a dry and a semi-dry, which he says will showcase how complex and non–Jolly Rancherish a good cider can be.
The space in VandenBrink’s facility that used to house Churchkey (the hipster cans have moved manufacturing elsewhere) is now busy fermenting blends of apples custom tailored by sales and distribution director Eric Willard, whose years working at Tiny’s Organic made him a bit of an apple savant. Seattle Cider Company isn’t using the more tannic cider apples. Those are only available at harvest time, says VandenBrink, and are in short supply anyway since bigger cider companies snap most of them up for production. But Willard calibrated a blend of familiar dessert apples—including Fuji, Gala, Granny Smith and both Golden and Red Delicious—with varying sugar content, acidity, pH and other characteristics, that produce a cider that isn’t the cloyingly sweet version of our youth. “You can pull a lot of character out of dessert apples,” says VandenBrink. Fermentation helps, too, as does a special strain of yeast, which VandenBrink says imparts an earthy character.
VandenBrink became interested in cider in part because he was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease four years ago. Typically people with this affliction can’t consume beer, he says, but “some part of the universe understands that I own a brewery.” So making cider, which is naturally gluten free and easier to digest, is his way of preparing for the future—“I always want to drink a product that I’ve created,” he says. Brent Miles, the cidery's operations manager, is also gluten intolerant and harbored a love of cider from a year spent teaching in France.
The state technically considers cider a wine, so VandenBrink needed a separate license and separate business, even though the cidermaking process hews more to beer than wine. Plus Seattle Cider Company will dispense its wares in kegs and 16-ounce tallboy cans. The cider should hit the market in September. VandenBrink is also expanding (and getting appropriate licenses) for his tasting room, The Woods, so it can pour cider alongside Two Beers brews. Keep tabs on Seattle Cider Company's progress right over here.