Abram Goldman-Armstrong fell in love with cider at a young age. He spent his high school years planting cider trees in Oregon’s Yamhill County and his college years deepening an appreciation for cider in Ireland.
But Goldman-Armstrong never considered opening his own cidery until he attended a tasting at the home of Nat West, of Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider, based in Portland, Oregon, in early 2013. West was in the process of moving equipment out of his home and into a new facility when Goldman-Armstrong noticed the basement setup — specifically, he realized that the dream of making and serving cider suddenly seemed, well, doable. “This is insane; you got this licensed?” He thought upon seeing West’s gear. “I could totally do this.”
The seeds for Cider Riot! had been planted. “That was really eye-opening for me,” Goldman-Armstrong said. Fast forward to today, and Goldman-Armstrong’s popular cidery — Cider Riot! — celebrated its sixth anniversary in Northeast Portland.
In the years since opening, Goldman-Armstrong has prided himself on craft and serving traditional, “proper” ciders that evoke the Irish and English countrysides where he grew to love the beverage. “Historically, cider has this very rich tradition, and there’s so much more to it than a heavily carbonated, often fruit-flavored thing that’s often served on draft,” he said.
Goldman-Armstrong talked with Sip Northwest about developing a passion for cider, how Cider Riot! fits into the broader scene in Oregon, and what he’s brewed lately.
How did your early experiences inform your love for cider?
It’s definitely been a lifelong thing for me. I grew up working on a cider farm — where I developed an appreciation for true, West Country-style cider made from bittersweet apples. That was pretty unique in North America at the time, so I consider myself lucky to have that experience at an early age and to see what cider is. That fruit is where my heart is and what keeps me motivated to keep making cider — that passion for proper cider.
What about that idea of “proper cider” connects with you?
To me, that’s the true expression of what cider should be. It has the ability to compete with wine on a level playing field as far as complexity, as far as the tannin structure and the phenols in the apples. You get that barnyard character, you get that almost peaty feeling from those cider apples. And those tannins give it so much structure and make it so much more than what you can get with dessert apples.
As cider makers, we’re seen as an extension of the beer world in Oregon. But, really, cider is its own thing. We play well in the beer sandbox, but we can play well in the wine sandbox, as well. But we’re not going to get there by making cider from dessert fruit apples. We’re going to get there with the proper varieties, just like how the proper wine varieties revolutionized wine in this country.
How does Cider Riot! fit into an evolving craft cider scene?
It’s nice to be reinforced for doing our traditional ciders, but it’s also nice to make these craft ciders that are more influenced by beer as far as being cider with something else in it; the traditionalists in England wouldn’t have that — they don’t believe in fruit ciders — but we can do both.
That’s something you see in the brewing world, where breweries are known for a “thing.” And that’s something for us, where we’d like to specialize a little bit more. Every time you have a Cider Riot! cider, it’s going to be refreshing, and it’s not going to be sweet. We’re never going to make anything that I describe as “best served over pancakes.” And I think there are a lot of ciders on the market with that level of sweetness.
So I’m proud to say we’ve come up with some new ciders that predominantly use dessert fruit but are still approachable for people who might not be familiar with English cider. I think the new wave is a good entry point. We really want to emphasize the refreshing nature of cider and focus on doing things that we’re good at and feel good about doing, rather than try to meet a perceived need in our portfolio.
Have you made a cider recently that you’re especially excited about?
Our Kingston Black cider is something I’m very proud of. It’s a single varietal bittersharp — so it has tannins and acidity as well, and that makes a lovely, really well-rounded cider.
It’s a really true expression of the apple without anything else getting in the way; it expresses that terroir of where it’s grown in Yamhill County, but it’s still going to be pretty close to what you’d taste if you had a Kingston Black cider coming from the West Country [in southwestern England].