Finnriver Farm & Cidery's craft ciders are the kind of drink you can feel good about consuming. And we’re not talking about ABV. In these days of “sustainable,” “community-minded,” and “artisanal” ubiquity, their unique stewardship of the land and keen grasp of the seemingly humble apple has rendered them an integral part of a vibrant agricultural community and the hard-cider renaissance.
While they’ve tackled sour, botanical, and pepper ciders, it's their herbaceous salal berry cider that we've transformed into a simple, bright marmalade that shines in a lightly spiced cardamom ice cream. (Now scooping in Seattle!) We chatted with production manager (aka Duke of Tanks) Andrew Byers and co-founder Crystie Kisler to get the skinny on all-things Finnriver.
CAN YOU SPEAK A BIT ABOUT THE COUNTRY’S CRAFT CIDER MOVEMENT?
The United States has been discovering modern cider for around 15 years now…a small portion based on high-tannin English and French apple varietals and another on the fermentation of dessert apples. It is an interesting time, as the cider industry is building a connoisseurship.
HOW DO YOU COME UP WITH NEW CIDERS?
Some ciders are easy to put together; other ciders require planning of novel methods, trials, and scaling. Just yesterday I looked in on a barrel of what has become a beautiful blueberry vinegar, shoved in a handful of fresh fennel greens the farmers were harvesting, and cut the vinegar with finished cider. R&D is about inspiration of the season, needs of the farmers, and the delight of process.
The main memory of a cider fail is the Wasabi cider [the very same wasabi we use in Oregon Wasabi & Raspberry Sorbet]. It was potent! It turns out the spicy notes are sulfur-based, and with the heat of pasteurization it smelled like a mix of rotten eggs and cooked Brussels sprouts water.
WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION BEHIND THE SALAL BERRY CIDER WE’RE USING FOR OUR ICE CREAM THIS MONTH?
Ecotrust (an environmental organization) spoke of salal berries as a potential sustainable forest product…an alternative revenue generator to harvesting timber. I let the berries ferment on their own with no additions, to harvest the wild, but felt certain that it wanted something else. I looked back to the forest, to tell its story. Western Red Cedar, which is added during aging, is part of the canopy that creates the space for salal berries.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO YOUNG OR FIRST-GEN FARMERS JUST STARTING OUT?
Central to our progress and successes has been our partnership and our relationships with the community! Find great folks to work with who have skills different from your own. Get to know the long-time farmers, the marker managers, the conservation district, the university extension, the food policy council, the economic development agencies. Farming happens and thrives in community!
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE ICE CREAM FLAVOR (WE HAD TO ASK)?
Typically I choose Rocky Road. I like chocolate and nuts.