Bellingham may be best known for its craft breweries — we’ve got more than a dozen and counting, after all — but our hard cider scene is not far behind. There’s a lot to love about cider — it’s refreshing, gluten-free, and comes from Washington’s favorite fall fruit. Plus, just like with beer, the varieties and flavor profiles are endless.
In this month’s feature, we explore six businesses whose core mission is to make and sell quality cider to the good people of Bellingham and beyond. From small-batch cider producers to cider tap rooms and orchard-tenders, Whatcom is truly a destination for die hard cider-lovers as well as those just starting to explore this particular genre of drink.
Keep reading to learn why Ferndale is the Normandy, France of North American cider-making, as well as where you and your family can pick your own apples this fall.
Bellingham Cider Company
Photo by Emily Porter
Bryce Hamilton and Joshua Serface, co-owners of Bellingham Cider Company, met in 2005, while working together as emergency paramedics.
“Being paramedic partners in a busy city environment tends to create a unique bond of trust as you depend on each other in very challenging and stressful situations,” Hamilton says.
Between their emergency calls, the two men discovered a connection: they both dreamed of one day opening a small business. Serface was passionate about cider-making and hoped to start his own craft beverage company, while Hamilton and his wife dreamed of opening a restaurant and bar in Bellingham, where they went to college.
“I was inspired by the unmet potential of the Bellingham craft cider scene and the overwhelming support for family owned small businesses throughout Whatcom County,” Hamilton says.
In 2015, Serface and Hamilton’s dreams finally converged when they created the business license for Bellingham Cider Company.
It took the pair two years to find the perfect location, but the wait was more than worth it. The building, located on Prospect Street in downtown Bellingham, offers a world-class view, a spacious interior, and an unbeatable patio. The 700-square-foot basement, known as “The Fermentorium,” serves as a testing lab for new brews — two tanks produce more than 12,000 gallons of small batch cider every year.
Photo Courtesy of Bellingham Cider Co.
The restaurant, which opened to the public in 2018, offers guests a stunning view of Bellingham Bay. If you’ve been there, you know that sunsets over the water are par for the course. The patio also recently underwent a large expansion, making it the largest outdoor seating area in Whatcom with a view of both Bellingham Bay and downtown.
Today, Hamilton serves as the general manager while Serface makes the cider. They’re joined by marketing director Michael Sampson. Together, the three strive to maintain a community-minded space that offers quality food and delicious cider.
“We ensure our practices will focus on an environmentally conscious mindset, an additive-free and pure product for our consumers, and a business tied to its community. And we always use fresh pressed Washington State apples,” Hamilton says.
When it comes to the cider, you know you’re in good hands, and among good apples. Serface has been making cider his entire life, starting on his family farm in Washington where he pressed and canned fruit. He also interned at Locust Cider in Woodinville, where he gained knowledge about commercial cider production. He now makes cider in small batches, blending traditional cider-making methods with the latest fermenting techniques and equipment.
The most popular cider is the Blackberry Ginger, followed by the Dry Cider. That said, Serface’s favorite is the Gateway Hazy Hopped, a beer-inspired cider with a faint apricot finish. It highlights the citrus flavors of hops without the bitterness found in some beers. Another festive seasonal option is the Harvest Spice, a semi-dry cider flavored with real pumpkin and notes of nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove.
“Great cider is rare and takes time, consistent development, and the experience of the craft,” Hamilton says.
Lucky for us, Bellingham Cider Company delivers on all three. Bellingham Cider Company, 205 Prospect St., Ste. A-105, Bellingham, 360.510.8494, bellinghamcider.com
Photo by Emily Porter
Fruit forward with a final bite of ginger, this semisweet cider is sure to appease any palate. The smooth, refreshing cider also mixes great in cocktails. It’s no wonder it’s a bestseller, perfect on a warm, sunny day or a rainy Pacific Northwest night.
In the early 2000s, Chris Rylands purchased some land in Ferndale. Among hayfields he planted apple trees, thinking his daughters would enjoy them. When his daughters inevitably tired of eating apples, he decided to make cider.
To use his words, he instead made “some battery acid.”
Rylands wanted to create cider like he’d tasted in Quebec. “I tried some French [cider] and it was different and excellent in every way.”
What he discovered was that French-style cider isn’t made from eating apples, like the ones he planted for his daughters. Instead, they’re made from a special kind of apple called a bittersweet apple.
“In the U.S., we’ve got dessert and culinary apples, high in acid and sugar… a sweet tart flavor good for eating. When you ferment that juice, the sugar turns into alcohol, leaving behind acid and alcohol….Tastes like cheap white wine,” he explains.
Bittersweet apples, in contrast, are high in sugar and tannins but low in acid. According to Rylands, when eaten raw, these apples taste “like a bitter potato.” But as soon as you ferment them, the sugar turns into alcohol and you’re left with a low acid content and tannins, which produce a good mouth feel.
As soon as Rylands discovered the key to making his ideal cider, he discovered something even more exciting: The climate and terre noire in Ferndale are nearly identical to those of Normandy, France, an area renowned for its cider. The two locations even share a line of latitude; Ferndale is 48.8465° N, Normandy is 48.8799° N.
The result is a completely different kind of cider than what’s traditionally found in the states, since hardly any U.S. ciders use bittersweet apples.
Photo by Emily Porter
“Pretty much all the cider you have now is from big orchard eating apples…they will ferment it, back-flavor it with sugar and other flavors,” Rylands says.
In Washington, most cider apples come from eastern Washington, where the fruit is “big, fat, and full of water.” Bittersweet apples, in contrast, are smaller, resulting in a higher concentration of sugar and flavor.
Another difference is that Rylands lets his bittersweet apples get over-ripe, allowing the starch to turn to sugar and the water to evaporate. This process, called “sweating the apples,” allows flavors to release and further concentrate in the fruit. Rylands then adds natural yeast, which occurs on the inside and exterior of apples.
“Wild yeast will give flavor profiles of your regions…you can attain some really unique flavors that you can’t with commercial yeast,” Rylands says.
Today, Renaissance Orchards produces some of the only European-style cider in our neck of the woods. The process of making the cider is called keeving. While more difficult than other types of cider-making, it yields a highly sought-after product called cidre bouché. Rylands’ small operation size means he only makes 1,000 gallons of cider each year, but these gallons are prized.
“I’m not concerned about volume…every step of the way, the keeved cider I make follows the ancient cider-making methods,” he says.
Now in his fourth year of business, Rylands’ cider sells out fast, and for good reason. The Keeved Cider placed in international cider competitions in 2018 and 2019. It may well have won a third year, but the competition was cancelled because of coronavirus.
You can find Renaissance Orchards’ unique keeved cider at several restaurants and tap houses across Whatcom, including Thousand Acre Cider House, Aslan Brewing Company, DownTime Taps, FrinGe Brewing, and Drayton Harbor Oysters.
At Thousand Acre Cider House, the Black Plum Bittersweet Cider (sold there as Black Plum Bourbon Cider), is the best-selling cider on draft. It’s aged in Bourbon barrels for more than two years, and then blended with plum wine grown on-site.
Rylands encourages those who don’t normally like cider to try his European-style cider. “It will be night and day different than general American cider,” he says.
To learn more visit renaissanceorchards.com
Thousand Acre Cider House
Photo by Kristina Gray Photography
Wife-and-husband cider duo Jenny and James Hagemann met in Wisconsin, but headed out west 10 years ago. They settled in Seattle, where Jenny took a sales job at Amazon. “That’s when I started drinking a lot of cider,” she jokes. In 2018, the couple decided to move to Bellingham as a way to combine two of their dreams: to live in a smaller town and to pursue a career in cider.
Jenny first fell in love with cider at the Seattle Cider Summit, where she sampled imported ciders from France and the UK. “They’re using much different fruit, different processes…the flavor was something I had never tasted before,” she says.
After the summit, when Jenny tried searching for similar ciders, she found her options were lacking. There simply weren’t many cider options available, especially not in comparison to beer or wine. To Jenny, the disconnect didn’t make sense.
“People are interested in origin stories, of sourcing philosophy, of trying different tastes…I really felt like this was a time for cider to take not just a backseat on people’s tap handles,” Jenny says.
Photos by Kristina Gray Photography
The result is Thousand Acres Cider House, a cider-focused taproom located on Grand Avenue in downtown Bellingham. At the bar, you’ll find a minimum of 18 ciders on draft from across the Pacific Northwest and beyond, along with a smaller rotation of beers. Those wanting to sample new ciders at home can browse the bottle shop, which features hundreds of varieties and styles of imported ciders.
For Jenny, the thrill is in acquiring unique, delicious ciders you won’t find anywhere else in the area. “I put a fair amount of work into finding and getting new ciders back up to Bellingham,” she says.
Jenny also thrives on building community and connections in the cider world, browsing regional cider associations to discover new and upcoming ciders and networking with brewers in the area. Her aim is to help cider makers reach a wider audience.
Despite being the largest producer of apples in the country, Washington has fewer than a half dozen cider tap houses. Jenny views Thousand Acres as a place where different cider makers can come together in harmony rather than competition, the way craft breweries so often come together on bar tap handles.
When it comes to showcasing cider, there’s no time like the fall, when new offerings emerge and old favorites return.
“I get excited about seasonality…every fall is just, like, nervous anticipation for what’s coming up from the previous year’s harvest…fall is definitely the best time to be involved in cider,” Jenny says.
This fall, stop by Thousand Acres for a glass of mulled chider. “It’s fall in a glass,” Jenny says of the drink, which boasts everything you love about mulled wine — spices, caramel, rum, sugar, orange — but with Schilling’s hard cider instead of wine.
Jenny is also excited to feature cider from Bauman’s Cider Company, a female-owned cidery based near Portland, Oregon. Bellingham is the furthest north you can find Bauman’s cocktail-inspired drinks, like their cider-based peach bellini, strawberry mojito, and old fashioned. 109 Grand Ave., Ste. 101, Bellingham, 360.795.5400, thousandacreciderhouse.com
Photo by Kristina Gray Photography
A warm, comforting drink featuring baking spices and notes of chai — favorite fall flavors that pair seamlessly with apple. Cozy up with a glass around Thousand Acre’s indoor fire table.
Lost Giants Cider Company
You’ve probably seen Lost Giants Cider in the beverage aisle of the grocery store. The logo is hard to miss — a bearded, aviator-wearing apple-man with a stem sprouting from the top of his head. The graphic could stand for any one of the cider company’s three owners — Chris Noskoff, Abraham Ebert, and Brad Wilske — all bearded Bellinghamsters who have apples on the brain.
The three first met through the Bellingham craft brewing community. As fellow employees at Kulshan Brewing Company, they discovered their interests in fermentation aligned. Putting their shared passion into action, they founded Lost Giants Cider Company in 2017.
The name Lost Giants pays homage to the giant trees that once populated Bellingham. Noskoff, Ebert, and Wilske are all self-proclaimed “avid outdoor enthusiasts,” and wanted to acknowledge the area’s natural landscape as well as the trees at the heart of cider production.
Lost Giants opened to the public in 2018, blending Ebert’s extensive background in fermentation science with Washington’s natural agriculture abundance. The result is a variety of dry, flavorful ciders certain to appease any palate. Visitors to the 21-and-over production facility can taste Lost Giants’ brews, or order a regional craft beer from one of the guest taps.
Wilske says his favorite part about cider-making is the culture and community.
“We are excited to be a part of the craft cider scene in Bellingham and the Northwest. We hope to bring the fun and innovative culture that we loved in the craft beer world to the cider industry,” he says.
When it comes to the cider itself, Wilske’s favorite is the Dry Cider, a crisp and refreshing classic. However, during the warmer months, he prefers their Pineapple Cider.
“All of our ciders tend to be on the dryer or less sweet side of the scale, and the Pineapple Cider shines as a perfect balance of sweet and dry with that delicious pineapple finish,” he says.
The Dry Cider and Pineapple Cider are also best-selling customer favorites, as is the unique Elderberry Cider.
The ciders are also a nice option for those seeking a naturally gluten-free drink that also has less sugar.
“Being on the dry or less sweet side, most of our ciders are also very low in sugar, making it a fairly low-calorie adult beverage. For instance, our Dry Cider comes in at 155 calories per 12 ounces,” Wilske says.
As for the future, Lost Giants is always testing out new recipes.
“We are especially looking forward to creating another Rosé Cider this fall using red fleshed Mountain Rose apples from Bellwood Farms Apple Farm,” Wilske says. Lost Giants Cider Company, 1200 Meador Ave., Bellingham, 360.778.2189, lostgiantscider.com
Photo Courtesy of Lost Giants Cider Company
Whether you’re a rosé lover dabbling in cider or a cider lover dabbling in rosé, this can of goodness can’t be beat. Local apples create a pink-tinted cider that’s light, dry, and perfectly crisp, all with an aroma of delicious baked apples.
Honey Moon Mead & Cider
Photo by Emily Porter
Murphy Evans, owner of Honey Moon Mead & Cider, first got the idea to start making cider and mead in 1996, when he and his wife moved to Bellingham. Having moved into the Lettered Streets neighborhood, Evans quickly noticed how much leftover fruit from apple and plum trees was left on the ground. When life gave him apples and plums, he turned them into wine.
Evans initially wanted to make an urban winery, but soon realized there was an abundance of wineries and breweries in Whatcom. Seeing a gap in the market, he decided to focus on crafting cider and mead instead.
Open since 2005, Honey Moon is officially celebrating its 15th year of business in downtown Bellingham. The shop currently sells six different types of mead that are bottled and another six that aren’t.
According to Evans, one of the most common misconceptions people have about mead is that it’s similar to beer.
Photo by Emily Porter
“A lot of people think mead is a type of beer or very similar to beer, but it’s not, it’s really similar to wine,” Evans says.
Mead gets its sugar from honey, much like how wine gets its sugar from grapes. Cider, of course, is made from apples.
Despite their long tenure in Bellingham, Honey Moon only turned its attention toward cider in recent years, following the drink’s rise in popularity. “Cider in the last three or four years has really taken off,” Evans says.
Honey Moon now makes and bottles two types of cider. The real magic happens at the showroom, where Evans continuously experiments with new blends of cider and mead.
The experimentation results in unique products such as Rhubarb CiderHead and Blueberry CiderHead. According to Evans, the most popular cider they sell is their dry cider.
“Our dry cider is bone dry, it’s like a prosecco wine,” he says, adding that Honey Moon’s semi-sweet cider — his personal favorite — is also dryer than most other dry ciders.
“We only sweeten it with starch juice, we don’t add sugar to our ciders,” he says, adding that the semi-sweet is “very refreshing, it’s got a stronger apple character because of the fresh fruit that we put in it.”
But Honey Moon is more than just mead and cider. During non-pandemic times, Honey Moon prides itself on hosting diverse live performances, ranging from opera singers to jazz nights.
“Music has always been a big part of Honey Moon,” Evans says.
The showroom is located in a former glass factory on State Street, in the alley behind Pepper Sisters. The space is situated beneath a 20-foot-high ceiling that helps expand the room. Typically, the showroom accommodates around 20 to 35 people.
Regardless of closures and not being able to have live music in their showroom, Evans favorite part of making cider still persists: the experimentation.
“Taking something traditional and making something new out of it,” is what Evans loves most about cider. Honey Moon Mead & Cider, 1053 N. State St., Bellingham, 360.734.0728, honeymoonmeads.com
Photo by Emily Porter
The Semi-Sweet CiderHead
This refreshing cider is as dry as it comes. Made with only apples added to it, this drink still packs a tart, refreshing punch. Perfect for anyone who is new to cider or who prefers a less sugary drink.
In 2016, Shama Alexander and her husband, Tim “Herb” Alexander grew a bumper crop of apples on their Bellingham property. Unsure of what else to do with the excess of apples, they tried their hand at making cider. It tasted great, and the rest was history.
The Alexanders launched Herb’s Cider in 2017, along with lead cider maker Chris Weir, now joined by cider maker Kevin Weir. Together, the team produces delicious cider using as many local ingredients as possible.
In case you’re wondering, the name Herb comes from Tim’s band nickname — you might know him as the drummer for the alternative rock band, Primus. The company draws heavily from Tim’s music career — for one, most of the ciders boast musical names, such as the Double Drag Tap, Mezzo-Forte, and Black Note.
The most popular cider is the Double Stroke, a simple, ultra-dry cider that Shama describes as bright, light, with moderate acidity and low bitterness. It has notes of green apple, citrus, and fresh melon, with a moderate apple flavor.
Shama’s personal favorite is the 7/4 Bourbon Barrel Dry, a dry bottled cider made from an eclectic blend of organic apples, including Granny Smith, Golden Russet, and Wickson Crab Apples, to name a few. The juice is fermented with traditional French wine yeast and then aged in bourbon whiskey barrels.
You can find Herb’s Cider all over Whatcom and Skagit, at retailers including Haggen, the Community Food Co-op, and Elizabeth Station. Next time you’re getting take-out, check the menu; it’s available at dozens of local restaurants.
Although they had to close their downtown tasting room because of COVID-19, they’ve now opened a new tasting room at their production facility just outside of downtown, on Mercer Avenue.
The new tasting room coincides with the release of three new ciders: a Grand Cuvée, a barrel-aged plum cider, and a cidermaker’s blend. 3155 Mercer Ave., Ste.101, Bellingham, 360.726.4372, herbscider.com
Photo by Emily Porter
The Concerto #2
A true symphony of flavors working in harmony — 17 cider apples, to be exact — this cider is co-fermented with wild foraged plums in French oak barrels. The blend is then aged in 40-year-old French cognac foeders for 10 months, creating a delicious, drinkable concerto.
For more like this, check out our Taste section here.