Checking In with Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider

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Though The New School is dedicated to craft beer, we occasionally like dipping our toes into the hard cider world, like with this update on Portland’s Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider currently undergoing a big expansion and opening a tasting room. Some readers might consider hard cider a lesser drink, even a “girly” drink, but I am here to assure you nothing could be further from the truth. Much like “Craft Beer,” or “Microbrew,” or whatever you want to call it, began its comeback 20 or so years ago, now comes craft hard cider.

Located at 1813 NE 2nd Ave, just off of Broadway and MLK in Portland’s Lloyd District, Nat West and his crew are working hard to ramp up cider production to meet demand and finish construction on what will be one of this city’s only cider tasting rooms. Reverend Nat’s started as a nano cidery producing two bottled brands out of Nat West’s basement – Hallelujah Hopricot and Deliverance Ginger, which are still the only two varieties the cidery makes, but not for much longer.

As craft brewers stumbled upon years ago, people like variety and their tastes change with the season. Thus, “seasonals” were born. More recently, beer geeks have embraced special limited batches and experimental releases that are often costlier. Craft cider has taken these cues and run with them–no longer will you see just the exact same cider brand all year round with nothing ever new. Reverend Nat’s has a ton of new ciders in the works:

The original Deliverance Ginger cider recipe will be tweaked to become “Ginger Tonic.” Reverend Nat’s is adding quinine (cinchona bark), fresh lemongrass, and lime juice and zest and repackaging into a new 500ml bottle format from the old 750ml. This will be the new bottle for all of the year-round ciders, including the Hopricot and the new Revelation Newtown Pippin, a single varietal. These three are due out July 1.

In mid-June Reverend Nat’s will debut a summer seasonal–Hibiscus Hymnal, a cider with hibiscus and raspberry in the larger 750ml bottles. Also emerging in mid-June will be a small batch release of Lorrie’s Gold, available only at the tasting room in bottles. It’s a memorial cider for the late Lorrie Skurdahl, a pioneer of Oregon cider who passed away in March.

Mid-summer will feature the annual release of Revival Dry, an  English-style cider. Also in mid-summer will be a collaboration with The Hop & Vine for their own in-house label Ampersand series. It will be a mandarin-chamomile champagne-style cider.

One of the best parts about having a tasting room is that a producer can release tiny batches of things that may not normally warrant a whole new bottle label or the creation of a new SKU. There will be a variety of small batch stuff like this for Reverend Nat’s tasting room, like another batch of Sacrilege Sour Cherry (lacto & pie cherries), Overlook Organic Heirloom (for NAOBF), and a blackberry basil fall seasonal.

Reverend Nat’s continues to produce 10bbl’s of cider at a time, but is expecting a 120bbl fermenter at the end of the month and have both a 10 and 40bbl brite tank. By mid July the cidery expects to have a 60 bbl brite tank as well. There is currently 15,000 gallons of cider maturing, and the company hopes to sell close to 30,000 gallons this year–that’s the equivalent of 1,000 barrels.

Some of the common knocks against hard cider is that it is too sweet or too expensive. While it’s true some cider is sweet, many of the older, more mass-produced brands are just like most beer–they’re the equivalent of cheap, crappy lagers. Craft cideries are changing all that, and, like microbrews, they are more expensive to make. But cider is more expensive than beer to make from the get-go. It takes Reverend Nat’s about 3,500 pounds of apples just to make about 265 gallons of cider. Not surprisingly, Nat West credits craft beer with helping cideries advance in the beverage world. “Much of cider’s increasing popularity has to do with the success of the craft beer industry. Cider is seen as “craft” by many people (and indeed all the NW cideries would be considered “craft”). And since many craft beer drinkers are always looking for the next good taste, cider is one of the tastes they are finding.”

Another aspect of the growing cider trend is the turn towards buying local products. Cider is nothing if not a local product dictated by seasons and harvests, and the Pacific Northwest and the gorge is a great region for growing apples. Nat says that “cider is a regional product and has stronger agricultural ties to the land than beer does. It’s a bit like wine in that regard. A lot of people seek out Oregon wines and Oregon beers and Oregon ciders (or wherever you are) fit into that trend. Cider isn’t a new drink like Zima or Mike’s Hard Lemonade, so I think consumers see it as a legitimate revival of the beverage, not a new fad.”

Instead of just focusing on the craftier, more premium hard cider market, Reverend Nat’s will launch a separate brand targeting the cheaper, more approachable cider market. Actually the new brand, Cascadia CiderWorkers United, is completely separate from Reverend Nat’s, though it is owned by Nat West and produced at the same facility. The CCU ciders will come in 16oz cans (mock-up design below) and are aiming to retail at $10 for a 4-pack. Nat will bring in a mobile canning company to package and they should be on shelves by August 1st.

The Reverend Nat’s tasting room will open to the eager public on June 28th with a number of events during the week, which just so happens to be Oregon Cider Week. The hours will be Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 5-10pm and Sunday from noon-5pm. The facility will feature eight taps, six of which will be housemade ciders. One tap will be a guest beer or cider, with the first on deck being The Commons Urban Farmhouse. The last tap is a secret. Like the nearby Upright Brewing tasting room, Reverend Nat’s will be open before Blazers games starting next season due to its proximity to the Rose Garden.

Founder of The New School and most frequent contributor Ezra Johnson-Greenough has worked in the craft beer industry for almost 10 years, doing everything from illustrating beer labels to bartending at renowned beer bars and breweries like Belmont Station, Apex, Laurelwood and Upright Brewing. He has also had a hand in creating events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, Portland Beer Week, and the Brewing up Cocktails series. He is available for freelance consultation in marketing, events, graphic design and branding. Contact: [email protected]

1 Comment

  1. Jesse Radonski

    May 29, 2013 at 4:22 pm

    Man, I can’t wait until his cider house is open. Those can sounds like a very affordable take compared to his more expensive bottles.

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