Rev Nat’s Hard Cider

Rev Nat's Hard Cider

Slow down, or else you may very well miss it.

I drove slowly down Portland’s NE Broadway two times before I noticed the sign, pointing north up a side street to Rev Nat’s. After a quick turnaround, I was back on track, pulling up to what appeared to be an old warehouse.

Portland is, according to reputation, a beer town. On every street corner, they say, a new Imperial IPA is brewed. A short drive down the valley, world-class Pinot Noir grapes are grown in trellises along the fertile, rolling hillsides. No longer simply a polite addition to the customary IPA array, the hard cider is coming into its own as a potable force.

I visited Rev Nat’s on the last Sunday of June’s Cider Week. The small tasting room was bustling with enthusiasts giving rise to the notion that cider’s ascendance isn’t hypothetical anymore. It’s something to be reckoned with.

Given Rev Nat West’s unique audience, I thought I’d ask him a few questions about where cider falls in a beer-loving town.

Q: Where do you see cider in the Portland drinking palette?

NW: Nationally, cider is consumed like beer. Mostly in six-packs, a lot on draft, some cans. Very little wine bottle style cider is consumed. And Portland is no exception. We drink a LOT of Angry Orchard. But Portland is also the only market in the US where Angry Orchard is in decline. It’s still accelerating elsewhere. So Portland is a very different place than everywhere else. We drink cider alongside great beer. A craft beer drinker will want something a little lighter, or something that pairs well with food, or they will just happen to be near my taproom and come in for a cider, or hear about a festival or event we are putting on.

Q: How much of working with new cider drinkers comes down to showing them the diversity of the product?

NW: You hit the nail on the head there. We do a TON of events and festivals and special releases and pushing the boundaries. By and large, American consumers think cider is sweet and appley. But as beer drinking palates change (think IPA’s and sours), so do palates for cider. It’s a common refrain in the Pacific Northwest that every cider company’s competitors are uneducated consumers, not each other.

Q: Why go into the cider business when beer has such a collective hold?

NW: I have never brewed beer, to this day. But I love beer. Couldn’t the same be said for a brewer who loves to drink cider? I just found my niche. And in Portland, that niche is still in the beer industry. We attend beer festivals; we are served alongside the best beers in the country at some of the best craft beer bars in the country. And Portland has such a strong beer culture that we have style-specific breweries. Cascade Barrel House (we did a collaboration with them recently) specializes in sours, Occidental specializes in German-style beers, The Commons specializes in Belgian-influenced beers (and they make no IPA’s), and both Barley Brown’s and Boneyard specialize in IPAs. I consider myself a brewery that specializes in ciders.

Q: Where do you see cider going over the next few years? Is there a ceiling on its appeal? Or can it rival beer in ubiquity and popularity?

NW: Right now cider is about 2% of the US beer market but about 5% of the PNW beer market. I think it will go to 10% nationally. Some analysts think it might stop around 8%. It will never rival beer in popularity because beer is just so good. In the next few years, we will continue to see a proliferation of cider companies starting up. It’s cheaper to start a cider company than a brewery as far as equipment goes, but I think it’s more difficult to run a successful cider company. The market is still very small so, in order to get to a reasonably profitable position, you need multi-state distribution. And that’s hard to accomplish if all you want to do is just make cider, not run a company.

With the proliferation of new cideries, we will see more sub-categorization and uniqueness. Just how breweries are known for certain styles of beer, or indeed specific beers (Founder’s Breakfast Stout, Three Floyds Alpha King, Russian River Pliny), we should see that in cider. And as craft beer geeks begin to fully embrace cider, we will see more off-the-wall styles like soured ciders and barrel aged and high ABV.

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