The hard cider revival that’s been sweeping the nation is taking root in Coeur d’Alene.
Both North Idaho Cider and Summit Cider began draft distribution late last year, and recently opened tasting rooms. While they share an appreciation for fermented apple juice, they’re following somewhat different routes to expressing that.
Before becoming business partners, Summit Cider’s Davon Sjostrom and Jason Fletcher bonded during days of plowing the powder at Schweitzer Mountain Resort.
That shows in both the names of their business and their ciders, and the decor in their cozy taproom neighboring Coeur d’Alene Cellars winery.
Hanging from the ceiling is an assemblage of skis collected from friends, which will continue to grow. A large silhouette of a skier adorns a back wall down a hallway. One of Sjostrom’s old snowboards serves as a shelf under the line of taps behind the bar.
The cider that flows from those taps falls between the bone-dry offerings of the artisan craft cider movement (think Liberty in Spokane) and the sweeter stuff you find in supermarket six-packs.
Sjostrom, who’s borderline celiac, started making cider at home when he went gluten-free five years ago and gave up beer.
“What was out there in the grocery stores was disgusting,” he said. “I started making cider with as little sugar as possible, and inched it up until it was balanced.”
He and Fletcher got serious about cider a couple of years ago after a visit to Spokane’s first cidery, Twilight Cider Works on Green Bluff. After fine-tuning the recipe for their flagship Corduroy, they tested some samples on friends at Slate Creek Brewing, a favorite hangout.
“Everybody really liked it,” Fletcher said. “We said, OK, let’s go for it.”
They began distributing to bars around Coeur d’Alene in November (the first keg went to Slate Creek) and opened the taproom at the beginning of March.
The off-dry Corduroy (6.5 percent alcohol by volume), with a touch of sweetness throughout, stands between the drier, more acidic Fall Line (6.5) and the darker, sweeter Greenhorn (5.5), dosed after fermentation with fresh apple juice. All are made with a blend of five apple varieties from the Yakima Valley and Wenatchee.
Some rotating specialties will be available in the taproom, starting with Chunder – a flavorful, unfiltered version of the Corduroy – and Yard Sale (8.5), big and dry in the British tradition.
Ciders lightly flavored with other fruits like apricot and huckleberry may show up eventually. “I want to do a really good job with straight cider first,” said Sjostrom, who refined his technique by studying with cider expert Peter Mitchell in England.
Summit also offers a couple of local beers on draft, as well as wine. In turn, area breweries including Slate Creek, Daft Badger and Downdraft serve the ciders, with cider-beer blends becoming popular.
“We’re taking the microbrew model and applying it to our cider. It’s in pints – you don’t drink it with your pinky sticking out,” said Fletcher, who’s careful to call their space a taproom, not a tasting room: “I want people to come in here and hang out.”
North Idaho Cider
Greg and Mara Thorhaug fell in love with cider during a trip around the world.
The young couple took a break from their jobs in 2011 and traveled on the cheap, sampling ciders everywhere from Argentina to Spain to New Zealand.
They returned determined to start both a business and a family. Greg Thorhaug took classes through the Idaho Small Business Development Center, interned at Tieton Cider Works in Yakima and studied with British cider authority Peter Mitchell in Western Washington.
Last June, along with a few partners, they leased space in the business incubator at the Coeur d’Alene Airport in Hayden. The first keg from North Idaho Cider was tapped just before Christmas at the Fort Ground Grill.
“If all you’ve had before is Angry Orchard, your taste buds won’t know what to think,” Mara Thorhaug said of their drier-style ciders. “It’s a learning process for a lot of people.”
First up are two ciders in the everyday Lake City line: Dry, full of fresh apple flavor, and Hopped, which gets some sweetness from added pear juice and tropical fruit flavors from Citra, a popular beer hop. Both are made with juice from five Washington eating apple varieties and are around 7 percent alcohol by volume.
Following later this spring will be Renaissance, a blend of that juice along with more tannic, traditional English and French cider apples – harder to come by – from both the Moscow area and the Thorhaug family farm in St. Maries. There are 100 trees in the ground there now, with 200 more to come.
Planned for next fall is a quick-fermented, non-aged Simple Cider, which will be an all-Idaho blend of those old-school apples and assorted eating apples.
“I’m very proud of the ciders we’ve produced so far, but I’m aiming long-term for more complex, traditional styles,” said Greg Thorhaug.
He talks of single-varietal specialties and ciders in the French (usually sparkling) and Spanish (typically still, or uncarbonated) traditions. Seven containers of multicolored liquids sitting in his production space are part of an ongoing trial involving various yeasts.
The adjoining tasting room, airy and bright, reflects that cosmopolitan approach. The walls are lined with maps of worldwide cider producing regions and apple photos. Books about cider-making sit on tables. The wooden tap handles are hand-carved and painted.
Since it’s a licensed winery tasting room serving only its own products, kids are allowed – a priority for the Thorhaugs, parents of an 18-month-old daughter, Adeline. They plan to eventually expand regular hours beyond the current Saturday afternoons.
“Just like the craft breweries, we’re all kind of competing against the Angry Orchards, the Johnny Appleseeds,” Greg Thorhaug said of the growing local cider scene. “We’re all going to find our niches.”