Hard cider project goes big for co-owner of Sun River Vintners in Kennewick

Loretto J. Hulse, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 24, 2014 

— Daniel Washam never intended to go into hard cider production commercially. He only wanted to create a tasty brew for his wife.

But his home-brewing project has shifted to the winery he and his father, Glen, own: Sun River Vintners in Kennewick.

His wife Heidi doesn't enjoy beer but had sampled a beverage about a year ago at a Seattle event and really enjoyed it.

"She had no idea what it was. She simply pointed at what she thought was a cool-looking tap handle and asked for a sample," he said.

His winemaker wasn't interested in making hard cider, so Washam decided to try making it at home.

He scoured the Internet for recipes and techniques and began experimenting. In a few months, he had a recipe he and his wife thought was pretty good. Their friends thought so too.

He named it Baked Apple. It's a mixture of juice from several apple varieties enhanced with a cinnamon-infused syrup created by Washam. It smells and tastes like liquid apple pie.

He wondered if it would it sell. He and Kathleen Dykes, Sun River Vintners' marketing manager, took a sample to the Fox and Bear Public House in Richland a few months ago.

"I've always been a wine person and really didn't want to have anything to do with cider," Dykes said. "I thought they'd say, 'Nice try, but we can't sell it.' But they wanted it, badly."

"I've been drinking cider since the late 1990s," said Peter DeGroof, manager of the pub, which is owned by his brother, Daniel DeGroof.

They've had different hard ciders on tap, but when the DeGroofs tried this one, it was, "Wow."

"This one tastes really, really good and we like the fact it's local," Peter DeGroof said.

The DeGroofs were the first drinking establishment to add it to their wine and beer offerings, and it quickly became a favorite with customers.

"If we give them a sample, if they're looking for a cider, they order it," Peter DeGroof said. "Their cider moves quickly. Right now, we have another cider on tap along with the Baked Apple, and we've gone through three kegs and are still on the first one of the other cider."

Yes, it would sell.

Sun River Vintners now has a second label, D's Wicked Cider.

"Wicked because it's wickedly good," Washam said.

On Dec. 17, he took his hard cider to Spokane and met with Steve Stockton, chief operating officer for King Beverage, a Spokane Valley distributor.

"They distribute nearly everywhere in Washington. I figured I'd start at the top," Washam said.

It happened that there was a sales meeting scheduled the next day. Stockton had the staff sample the hard cider and asked, "Well, do you think we can sell this?"

"Every hand went up. It was unanimous. I literally went from producing 50 gallons to 600 gallons overnight," Washam said.

Since that meeting, he's produced 3,000 gallons and is working on more.

"I use the same equipment to make cider as I do wine. It's a very organic transition. My wine is in the tanks for two months out of the year, and then I can use them for cider," he said.

He will introduce his second hard cider, Hobbit Foot, in April or May. It's a mix of several different green apple varieties and has the distinctive aroma and flavor of the fruit.

Beginning Friday, Washam will bottle his hard cider into 22-ounce, long-neck beer bottles. The ciders are 8.5 percent alcohol. Higher than beer, but lower than most wines.

Hard cider is considered a fruit wine by the Washington State Liquor Control Board, though it's brewed like beer. It's not aged.

Washam's cider can literally go from apple to juice to the fermentation tank in a single day and be ready to drink in 21 days.

Like beer, Washam's ciders get their bubbles from a dose of CO2.

King Beverage, an Anheuser-Busch distributor, soon will be stocking shelves of liquor and grocery stores with Washam's cider. They'll sell for $6 to $7.

It also will be sold by the bottle at the winery tasting room. Or you can buy it by the 2.25-gallon party pig at the tasting room or Ice Harbor Brewing in Kennewick. The initial cost is $75. Return it for a refill and the cost is $55.

Need a keg? Contact Washam or Kathleen Dykes at the winery.

Washam's cider is already available on tap at 12 restaurants and watering holes in the Tri-Cities and eight in Spokane. Some Tri-City sites include the Fox and Bear, Casa Mia, McKay's Tap House, 3 Eyed Fish and Stick + Stone in Richland, and The Roxy, Sports Page and Twigs Bistro in Kennewick.

It also rotates onto one of the three taps at Bookwalter Winery in Richland.

"I hope to start a cider revolution," Washam said with a grin.

The tasting room for Sun River Vintners/D's Wicked Cider is at 9312 W. 10th Ave., Kennewick. It's next to Sun River Electric, owned by Glen Washam.

You can sample wines and cider from 3 p.m. until close Thursday, from noon to close on Friday and Saturday. Tasting on Sunday is by appointment only. Call 627-3100.

To check them out on the Internet, go to dswickedcider.com and sunrivervintners.com.

Hard cider workshop for orchardists planned March 18 in Moses Lake

MOSES LAKE -- The hard cider industry in the United States is growing rapidly. Sales grew 101 percent in 2013, to more than $128 million, according to the Northwest Agriculture Business Center.

But production of the apples uniquely suited to hard cider has dwindled throughout the years, according to the Mount Vernon, Wash.-based center.

"There are currently not enough hard cider apples (bittersweet, bittersharp, heirloom) and perry pears grown in the U.S. to meet demand," said Karen Mauden of the center.

To help educate orchardists about this opportunity, the center is holding a "Hard Cider: from Orchard to Shelf" workshop from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 18 at Big Bend Community College in Moses Lake.

"What better place to look for new cider fruit orchards than in Eastern Washington? It's an opportunity for diversification in a fast growing market," Mauden said.

The workshop will provide an overview of the hard cider business from orchard management to the expanding market for cider fruit.

Cost is $95 and includes all class materials and food. For more information, go to www.agbizcenter.org.

-- To submit business news, go to bit.ly/bizformtch.

-- Loretto J. Hulse: 582-1513; lhulse@tricityherald.com

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