Here’s a pressing but totally unimportant question: How did Ballard not have a cider bar? Sure, there are only a handful in the city, but Ballard—the neighborhood of a million breweries, the neighborhood I once heard called (unironically) the “Brooklyn of Seattle,” the neighborhood with two apothecaries and an apothecary cocktail bar and a vegan tiki shack—how does it not have a cider bar?
Well, now it does. Woodinville’s Locust Cider opened a taproom in mid-December on 22nd Avenue Northwest, tucked beneath the former Kickin’ Boot Whiskey Kitchen space, and rustic vibes seems to have trickled through the floor: Dark exposed wood abounds, the walls are covered with pensive cider-making artisans, and everything is written in chalk.
Brothers Jason and Patrick Spears started Locust in 2015. About a decade ago Jason, then working for Starbucks, found that beer was bugging him: He figures it was the hops. And as so many beer-bothered have done, he turned to cider. But a decade ago your cider options were radically limited: a pint can of Strongbow, maybe a boutique cider like Alpenfire if you really dug. Even Angry Orchard didn’t go national until 2012. And the ciders that spoke the most to Spears were traditional French styles—bottle-conditioned and farmhouse funky. So he made his own.
Now Locust offers a broad range of ciders: from funky single-varietal heirloom vintages to simpler types spiked with secondary flavors like vanilla bean and Thai ginger. What’s available on the 12 taps in Ballard is dependent in part on the seasons. Since cider has exploded in the last five years, cider apples are in short supply, so by this time of year, with this year’s harvest still fermenting, places working on a larger scale like Locust have run through much of the cider-apple based supply.
Locust makes most of its year-round styles—basically the stuff available in cans—from the eating apples too ugly for stores. The resulting ciders—if simply fermented—tend toward the big and (generally) lackluster, drunk effervescent takes on a Tree Top juice box. But Jason sees these apples as an opportunity to play with flavors like mojito or jalapeno-cilantro or dark cherry, and to play with techniques like barrel aging or a twice-fermented brut.
As with most experimentation, the results feel fun, if a little erratic. I’m frequently disappointed by local ciders but I loved the brut, dry and tight with a bitter edge. The Thai ginger has a flavor somewhere between forest floor and canopy: odd in a good way and tasted acutely Northwest, conifer and apple and Asian accent. But the vanilla bean totally eclipsed any cider flavors and drank like a cream soda, while the jalapeño and apple tasted more like a collision than a merging of flavors.
But the music was good, the barstools plentiful, the staff very friendly, and the prices not bad: pints run $5.50 to $9; four-ounce tasters are $3 to $4. It’s worth checking out if you find yourself in Ballard and beered-out.