In the case of Seattle Cider Co., first there was beer, then there was cider. When I went to meet the craftsmen behind the ever popular Seattle cidery, I walked through the doors to a packed bar at The Woods taproom where the company, and its sibling brewery Two Beers, operates out of. The brewery was gearing up for the its eight anniversary. I asked Joel VandenBrink, the founder of Seattle Cider Company, where it all began and he put it simply. “I can’t tell the story of Seattle Cider without including Two Beers.”
From humble beginnings, the brewery moved into a warehouse in Seattle’s SoDo district after two years of production and continued to boom—in production and square footage. The brewery quickly began to build out in the space as other businesses left.
A perfect storm soon ensued. VandenBrink was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease that subsequently caused him to start living a reduced gluten lifestyle and one of his brewers, Brent Miles, was also trying to cut back on gluten in his diet. After a neighboring brewery closed up shop, the business left all the equipment, floor drains and necessities for another producer to take over—VandenBrink and Miles saw this as an opportunity to push into the space and make cider.
In less than a year after conception, the two raised enough money to fund the project and fine-tune the build out to make the space an official cidery, opening doors in late August of 2013 with Miles as head cidermaker.
VandenBrink’s love for cider dates back to his early college days when he lived in Michigan. “I would go to Buffalo Wild Wings with my college buddies on Tuesday night because it was 25 cent wings, and we would have a competition to see who eat the most, hottest wings,” he reflects. “I found early on that Woodchuck Amber cut the heat from the spice because of the sugar. To help me win these competitions, I would drink cider and I started to enjoy cider at that point.”
Although marketed as Seattle’s first cidery since Prohibition, the notion to be the first wasn’t the stimulus that brought VandenBrink to create this business. “What motivated me on the front end is my love for cider and a love for fermentation,” he says.
Across a wide breadth of ciders, Seattle Cider produces the entire portfolio with Washington-grown apples, majority coming from Yakima and Wenatchee valleys. Year-round, customers can buy the cidery’s Dry, Semi-Sweet and Citrus ciders. Seasonal blends range from Pumpkin Spice to Oaked Maple and Berry, while limited editions like the Gin Botanical and Three Pepper are exclusively released at The Woods and hyper-local markets.
The Harvest series includes the perry, Gravenstein Rose (single varietal aged in wine barrels) and Washington Heirloom. For this series, the apples are all pressed on-site using cider and heirloom apples. The cidery also sources heirloom apples from Washington State University’s extension campus in Mount Vernon, partnering with the school to buy apples from the established research trees.
Recently, Seattle Cider has partnered with City Fruit, an organization that promotes the cultivation of urban fruit in an effort to build community. Every year, City Fruit has been composting a lot of the ugly fruit that food banks don’t want and in this collaboration, Seattle Cider has swooped in to take all the fruit that doesn’t look the most appealing but is still edible with good character to press for a future cider. Half of the proceeds from the cider sold will be donated back to City Fruit. Look for this cider to be released next year.
A continuously burgeoning project that started with an unfortunate diagnosis, Seattle Cider teems with success and now distributes to 10 states (and growing) with limited distribution to Japan and several countries in Europe.