• Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Portland Pride in Traditional Cider

You may recognize Abram Goldman-Armstrong from the iconic Portland Timbers (major league soccer) 2011 billboard campaign that featured fans of the team. In his fan feature, Abe is wearing a green, plaid flannel with a black vest mottled in Timbers Army patches. Thick leather bracelets band both wrists and he has two double-bit axes slung over his shoulders, framing his majestic sideburns and game face. Abe is the type of person who gives his passions his all—evidenced, in part, by the striking Portland Timbers tattoo display on his upper right bicep. Beyond being a diehard Timbers fan and lover of Portland, Abram Goldman-Armstrong is cidermaker and owner of Portland’s Cider Riot.

Abe began his cider brewing adventure in the closet of his college dorm room. He snuck some apples from the dining hall, got hold of a cheese grater, used two plates as a press, and a few weeks later had his first batch of cider. He explains that his parents were “hippies and everything was DIY” so it was not a stretch for him to have the desire to brew his own cider. He was introduced to the industry as a teenager when he worked planting apple tree varieties used for cider in Yamhill County. During college, Abe majored in Irish Studies and spent one year abroad. On Cider Riot’s company website, Abe recalls “student days drinking cider from plastic two-liters on the streets of Cork City, Ireland.” During this time abroad, he was able to gain more exposure to cider, and ultimately, he became inspired by it.

Keeping to his roots, Cider Riot started out as a very DIY operation. He renovated the detached garage of his house in NE Portland and obtained all necessary licensing to begin cider production in 2013. Abe focused on crafting the cider and teamed up with a friend to handle the sales—a model that is still working for him. By December 2015, Cider Riot had expanded to a larger production facility and public house, where the fermenting and processing is all done on-site. The new space has allowed for the creation of more cider and is large enough to support the operation’s continued growth.

Walking through their production facility, it’s clear that Abe not only commits to his passions, he surrounds himself with them. He points out the bottle filler, the keg washer, the press, and the enormous, 30-barrel shiny metallic vessels filled with cider that line the far wall. Abe proudly notes that these vessels are manufactured in Portland and stops to introduce us to each of them—all named after punk rock bars within a fifteen-minute walk from where we stand. DIY initiative, cider, Portland pride, and punk rock all in one room? All he’s missing is a billboard depicting his Timber pride…oh wait, he’s got that too. But Abe is far too humble to hang a billboard above the punk vessels or the rack and cloth presses. It’s folded on top of a stack of canned cider.

Since moving into this facility, Abe’s role has shifted a bit. He now oversees production, guides the company, and admits to doing more administrative work than he would like. Abe plans to get back to being more hands-on in the cider making process and is looking forward to working with his team to use their existing varieties to come up with unique, more complex flavors. These days, Abe shares his “Cidermaker” title with Angie Watkins, who has an extensive background working with wine. During our visit to Cider Riot, Angie was abroad, training at a program in England through the Northwest Cider Association. This program teaches cider makers a process called keeving: a traditional cider production method that relies on natural fermentation. During this slow fermentation processes, the cider forms a hard crust on the top and the cider beneath turns naturally sweet.

Despite Abe’s own adventurous palate, Cider Riot is unique for its insistence on traditional cider making practices. While many cider brands “back-sweeten” their cider, Abe prefers traditional methods that result in a subtle, natural sweetness. He’s looking forward to giving keeving a shot upon Angie’s return to Portland.

To Abe, cider should be thirst-quenching. “It is a refreshing beverage, not a dessert wine.” Abe asserts that there is a common misconception that all ciders are very sweet. In reality, the character of ciders “can be as complex as wines.” He explains, “If you let apple juice ferment out, it’s going to ferment out dry every single time.”

Despite having abundant knowledge of the practices and philosophies of traditional cider production, Abe’s challenge has been sourcing cider apples. His father has an orchard on their family property in rural Yamhill that provides Abe with a reliable harvest of delectable apples. Additionally, he uses traditional cider apples from Alan Foster’s orchard at White Oaks Cider. Still, there are too few growers to meet the demand. Abe notes that while Oregon has become very specialized in growing Pinot grapes, Oregon is also “very well set up to grow cider apples.” He thinks there is a great opportunity to make this a regional specialty, and encourages orchard owners to learn “what [varieties of] apples do well, not only in our bioregion, but in the sub-climates within our bioregion.” While Abe has considered filling the need for cider apples himself by growing his own out in Yamhill, he admits that the apple-growing part of cidery is not where he wants to focus his energies. Nonetheless, Cider Riot is self-described on their website as “dedicated to producing high quality ciders from Cascadian grown apples.” Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and Abe will no doubt find it.

Perhaps it is that same will that was exhibited in the Cider Riots of 1763. England’s government implemented a tax on cider production. This resulted in riots and outrage, which not only led to the eventual repeal of the tax, but also clearly demonstrated the peoples’ passion for cider. Not only did Abe name his company after this revered event, but he dubbed his reserve line “1763,” which is described as being “inspired by the West Country ciders that warranted such passion.” Cheers to that, Abe.

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