Cider…I admit I have never been a huge fan, especially – My God! – of those bland, boring, low-ambition ciders that are basically just apple juice, quickly fermented, filtered, and bottled. It took me YEARS of tasting – for my old job as a partner and product buyer for the first extensive online beer/wine/liquor website – to even begin to appreciate most ciders. But then, ciders back then were NOT especially interesting, at least the ones our distributors carried. The very first cidery that knocked me for a loop was SeaCider, on Vancouver Island, and after that, Eaglemount, here in Washington. Then came a string of moderately compelling ones; nothing that ever rose to the status of Wow!
That started nine years ago and I have kept on tasting. As a general statement, LOTS of cideries make one, maybe two, really good ciders but NOBODY – NO. BODY. – that I found makes excellence across the board.
But maybe someone is about to.
Double Mountain Brewery & Taproom appears to have, uh, doubled down on cider. I’ve now tasted four, the latest of which is their new “Wickson Crab Cider” – that’s right, cider made from crabapples. Before that, there was “Arkansas Black”, made from the unusual Arkansas Black apple varietal, before that, Pear and Estate Heirloom and Red Fleshed Rosé and probably one or two I forgot.
Because of my mild and negotiable cider antipathy, I haven’t reviewed DM’s ciders because, honestly, I was waiting to see if they were actually going all in on making them and if the quality standard they hit with that first one, the Double Mountain Dry Cider, was going to be repeatable or if that shot their supply of apple juice acumen. Because DM is an excellent brewery, I expected their ciders to be at least very good.
I did not expect that they’d wind up being one of the best cideries I’ve ever come across.
That statement is NOT hyperbole. With every new iteration, Double Mountain has NAILED – I mean like with a sledgehammer – what they were going for in these bottles. Every time, with zero missteps.
The new Wickson Crab is jaw-dropping…and mouth-watering and swoon-inducing and shocking in its complexity and layers of flavors. It’s not fizzy, either, as too many ciders are, these days, and they haven’t resorted to the cheap, gratuitous ploy of leaving a ton of residual sugar to appeal to those younger drinkers who have only lately graduated from juice boxes. These ciders are DRY, balanced, appropriately effervescent, and vivid in their clarity and expression. The Arkansas Black recalled eating that oddball varietal directly off the tree, a hair underripe, (my preference) at which point it is rather dry and bordering on astringent but exploding with flavor. Along with their fuggen BRILLIANT Pear Cider – seriously THE best Perry I have had from any American producer yet – these three make up enough of a resume for any cidery…and they’re made by what is most accurately described as a part-time cider program, by a notable brewery, working with ALL local produce.
The Double Mountain “Wickson Crab”, which I’m sipping while writing this, is my favorite so far. It’s barely fizzy – what the Italians would describe, speaking of wines, as “frizzante” – and crisp as new money, leading with an up-front blast of grassy, brambly mostly-ripe apples, interwoven with kiwi, white grapes, flint, huge minerals, saline, cucumber, and fresh parsley. It lingers on the finish prettily and slowly devolves into mild spices like nutmeg and sumac. From that first swallow, it is really similar to no other cider I’ve ever found, with the sole exception of the brilliant Spanish sidra “Viuda de Angelon Sidra Brut”, which is similar in character but more effervescent. I had thought it was a still cider, when I opened the first bottle but discovered that the mild bubbles were so fine and tiny that I could easily feel them on the tongue bit just couldn’t see ’em. This is, along with SeaCider’s immortal “Rum Runner” (US name: “Prohibition”) my favorite cider I’ve ever tasted, out of a number which just passed the 1,000 mark in November of last year. 98 Points
The Double Mountain Perry Pear Hard Cider was just, well, perfect. Again, as with all its brethren, it’s DRY, defiantly unsweet and impeccably balanced and round and sexy and mouth-filling. It tastes like PEARS, damnit, as though somebody had blended slightly over-ripe pears with slightly under-ripe and allowed 95% of the sugars to ferment out. It showed grace notes of rural foliage, new-mown hay, white raisins, gold currants, figs, and lanolin and carried a bewitching aroma that just teases the nose without ever really giving you everything it then delivers on the palate. Just awesome. It remains, along with the SeaCider, the only ciders on tap for which I have ever passed up the available beer taps and I would do it again in a New York minute. 96 Points
Double Mountain Arkansas Black is just simply a delight. I remember, as a child in the western mountains of Virginia, eating Arkansas Blacks and being miffed, with my eight-year-old aesthetics, that it was called “Arkansas” because I wanted it for Virginia. It was a lovely green color that deepened dramatically as it continued to hang on the tree. Just picked, at a gorgeous burgundy color, it was crisp and firm but juicy and mildly sweet. I liked to pick them and put them on my grandmother’s kitchen windowsill and let them get a tad over-ripe, when they’d transform into this succulent, sweet confection that would drip down your chin when bitten.
All that sensation came roaring back when I tasted this remarkable cider. It was sweet but in a nicely restrained way, just teasing the tongue and delivering an appealing tickle to the taste buds with its tiny bubbles. The flavors hinted at wild herbs and chamomile and red pears and a hint of vanilla and the finish was exceptional; lingering and sweet and a bit spicy. It was a thoroughly pleasurable thing to drink, even given my relative “Meh” about cider in general and, along with the vivid memory of how much I liked that Pear cider, was what convinced me that Double Mountain is Onto Something, in a major way. 96 Points
Double Mountain Red-Fleshed Rosé was a revelation…and shouldn’t have been. I had lately had at least two other Rosé ciders (and a handful of Rosé beers, too) and thought I knew what expect: It would be faintly sweet, almost too insubstantial to detect flavors, with a clumsy “subtlety” that comes nowhere close to actual subtlety – which CAN, absolutely, co-exist with big flavors and definite body. Well…that’s NOT what this is. The Oregon-grown, Mountain Rose and Pink Pearl apples contributed levels of white grape, mixed citrus (leaning to pink grapefruit and lemons), dried cranberries, gooseberries, star fruit, and raspberries. With the apples’ own lovely crispness and restrained flavors of apple and pear, it made for easily the best attempt at a genuine Rosé beverage (using the same standard of Rosé wine that all these beers and ciders arose from), with enough muscle to avoid making you search for what you’re tasting. All that said, this is still DM’s lightest-textured cider and it’s framed in an effervescence that recalls sparkling pink wines from the South of France, many of them fermented with actual Champagne yeasts. However they did it, Double Mountain knocked the whole Rosé Thing clean out of the park. 97 Points
The major hurdle, for me, was DM’s first go at cider, the Double Mountain Dry Cider. I was ready, as I always am, to be disappointed. It would be sweet and appley and little else and would probably have bubbles the size of dimes, if at all. WRONG. This cider, which I understand they either don’t make anymore or have put on hiatus, was crisp and DRY, subtle and expressive. It showed other flavors(!), something which almost NO basic cider I have ever found has done. It was the exact opposite of cloying and aggressive, copping a beautiful light feel with a subtle – possibly from the beer yeasts that were used? – layering of honeysuckle, actual honey, faint orange zest, and hints of peaches and flowers, all embraced warmly by a bafflingly authentic flavor of FRESH – NOT fermented – ripe apples. I was SHOCKED, in the best way possible, and detected, in fact, a faint whiff of crow lingering in the air as I drank it. 94 Points
It was a definite Message bottle: we’re not doing this like everybody else…
And they haven’t.
How and why does this genuinely fine brewery suddenly become, from the git-go, one of the Northwest’s most distinctive cideries? Does the brewing aesthetic they’ve gleaned from their years making adventurous ales make them inherently different as a maker of ciders? I don’t have those answers. What I DO know is that – with the sole exception of that brilliant Saanich, BC, unicorn, SeaCider – Double Mountain, whatever their place in the hierarchy of PNW brewing may be, MAY just turn out to be one of the Northwest’s truly top-tier cideries. I believe, in fact, that – given the available evidence – they may already be there.
One Caveat, Here: Anyone who’s thinking – as I have heard some cider geeks say, recently and irrationally – that cider is the low-alcohol alternative to wine and strong ales, is delusional or uninformed. These run from about 5.5% to well over 7% ABV, so they are adult beverages, in the strictest sense, and deserve careful handling, as with having multiple pours of anything with more alcohol than your reflex BudMillerCoorsPabst crap-water. You’ll be tempted to have more than one of MOST of what’s above here but I have to counsel moderation, despite the notion that fruit-based drinks hit you differently than grape or grain based. NO, they do NOT, and if you don’t believe me, ask the cop who pulls you over after you have five Wickson Crabs and try to drive home.
If you like cider and haven’t tried anything from Double Mountain, DO IT. NOW. If not, you risk missing what may well be The Next Level in the evolution of cider in the Northwest…and beyond.