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Originally published Monday, November 19, 2012 at 8:33 PM

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Hard-cider industry starting to bear fruit

A big tasting event helped signify the growing importance of a WSU research center within the hard-cider industry, as well as offer a global perspective to a budding Northwest market.

Skagit Valley Herald

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Local hard-cider makers, researchers and enthusiasts got to sample the globe recently, as the Washington State University Northwest Washington Research Center hosted the world’s largest (by variety) hard-cider tasting.

The event, held in a small laboratory in the back of the research center, seemed more focused on advancing the science and culture behind hard cider than serving as a raucous party, as 300 ciders representing 16 distinct growing regions of the world were sampled in small amounts, then evaluated for aroma, taste and mouth feel.

No representative from the Guinness Book of World Records was on hand to verify the claim. However, Dave Reedy, a field researcher for the Botanical Research Institute of Texas, which collected the samples, seemed to have done his homework.

“There was a group in New England that claimed they had the largest cider tasting in the world and they had 25 to 30 producers. Now they may have served up something like 100 gallons, but this is the most diverse,” Reedy said.

The event did, however, help to signify the growing importance of the WSU research center within the hard-cider industry, as well as offer a global perspective to a budding Northwest market.

The center’s Mount Vernon-based research orchard grows the largest variety of hard-cider apples in the nation, with 58 varieties of apples from the distinct growing regions of France, England and the Northeast.

Will McClatchey, vice president and director of research at the Texas institute, said one of the goals of the tour and tasting was to compare how American consumers reacted to European ciders, which can range from dry and acidic to sweet.

McClatchey said the WSU orchard is essential for preserving specific varieties of apples from different regions and eras.

“These guys are really responsible for a lot of conservation,” he said. “Obviously it’s important for Washington state, but it’s important globally for managing biodiversity.”

Prospective farmers can use the orchard to learn how to grow cider apples effectively, while classes offered by the Northwest Agricultural Business Center (NABC) in Mount Vernon teach how to grow and market a business in cider production.

Carol Miles, lead researcher for the center’s hard-cider program, said the orchard is necessary for farmers here by helping them discover which varieties grow well in the region, while testing evaluates what the juice and cider made from those apples taste like.

She said the event was intended to help local consumers and cider makers refine their palates, allowing them to compare locally made ciders to some of the distinct flavors of the world.

“It’s easier for cider makers to say, ‘This is similar to a cider that’s made in Normandy,’ than to try and describe the different flavors,” Miles said.

Sherrye Wyatt, NABC marketing manager, said the tasting event may help give a global context to a growing Northwest cider market that is still experimenting with flavors and ingredients. She said it will also help orient consumers to what she said is an exciting new world of craft ciders.

“It’s really an exciting time to be involved in this industry, because you see so much growth, you see more of it in the media, there’s more curiosity around it, and that’s why it is so important to have this event.

“To appreciate global variety, to understand the vocabulary and to sample some heritage world styles,” Wyatt said.

Kyle Pieti, an amateur cider maker from Bellingham, said he makes his beverage with whatever fruit he can find in bulk on friends’ farms.

He said the event opened his eyes to the distinct flavors and characteristics inherent in different apples from around the world.

It also helped him connect with researchers to find what trees would work well for some farmland he owns in Anacortes, Pieti said.

“My palate for ciders is limited to what apples I have on hand. To be able to taste ciders from around the world, it’s pretty awesome,” he said.

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