Yeast expert turned cider maker unites his local community
By Nick Thomas
You’ve got to stick with what you know. It didn’t take long for basketball star Michael Jordan to realize he made a horrible mistake in the early 90s when attempted a stint in baseball. Similarly, Apple achieved much success with making sleek and simple computers in the 80s, floundered around a bit in the 90s with a number of unsuccessful products, but ultimately came back with the sleek and simple iMac that it was used to making.
Hood Valley Hard Cider owner and cider maker Brian Perkey makes cider by sticking to what he knows. His impressive resume of more than 23 years in the beer industry includes time spent at BridgePort Brewing, Full Sail Brewing Company, Gordon Biersch and Wyeast Laboratories, Inc.—a company that sells hundreds of different strains of yeast specifically for the alcohol industry. “One of the perks of working [at White Labs] was all these different yeast strains that you get to play around with,” Perkey says.
However, yeast reacts with fruit juice differently than it does with beer, so when he founded Hood Valley Hard Cider in October 2012, the first thing he experimented with was the yeast and fermentation process. Like Thomas Edison who famously said he didn’t fail while inventing the light bulb he just learned 1,000 ways how to not make one, Perkey admits that approximately 80 percent of his initial batches were dumped right down the drain.
But this was not a failure to him or to Hood Valley as he learned through trial and error some of the best possible yeasts to achieve the end product he was looking for. He started out with Champagne yeast like many cideries, but wanted to add more ester to the mix, which he achieved with London ale yeast, though he’s also been successful with Belgian ale yeast and French saison yeast. “It’s really been fun for me to focus on yeast as an ingredient in achieving what the final flavor profile of the product is going to be, not just what variety of apple it’s going to be,” Perkey says.
If you find yourself in Parkdale, Oregon where Hood Valley’s taproom is located you might notice they’re selling more than just cider. Along the walls you’ll also find glassworks, paintings, photography, rocks and minerals for sale. One of Perkey’s goals with his cider business was to keep everything as local as possible within the tight-knit Parkdale community of about 300 people. In addition to creating jobs and offering to buy fruit that would otherwise go unsold, he offers space for local merchants who maybe can’t afford a full unit to sell some of their things and only asks to keep 5 percent of the profits as “rent.”
“[From working at a major international English malt company], I got tired of seeing the fruits of my labor basically go elsewhere outside of my community,” Perkey says. “Here at Hood Valley, we have just a massive amount of fruit that gets produced, but a lot of that just gets left hanging on the trees. So I wanted to bring kind of a ‘value added’ enterprise to the community to be able to pay the farmers a decent price for [the fruit] so they don’t just send them up to the Yakima juice plant and make no money off of it.”
Looking to the future, Hood Valley will soon begin bottling their product and distributing it locally in three varieties: an English dry cider simply called Draft, a hopped cider called Le Fleur and a semi-sweet cider called Apple Maiden. Through his decades spent in the beer industry, Perkey established several connections with people who will help him distribute Hood Valley across the West Coast in the coming years, once he’s ready.
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