Locally made cider was hard to find three years ago when there were just eight cideries in the state. It was even harder 13 years ago, when David White realized his love for the drink.
“Around 2000, I discovered one of the couple of craft ciders in Washington from Westcott Bay Cider in San Juan, and I guess it became my drink of choice,” White recalled.
You could say the rest is history.
From there, White started to make cider on his own using a local cider press. It never tasted as good as his bottled favorites, but he kept at it.
In 2007, he started Old Time Cider, a blog about traditional North American craft cider and cider-makers. Around this time, the cider scene was just starting to pick up around the country.
In 2008, still determined to make his cider, White used his income tax return to enroll in Peter Mitchell's Cider Practices and Principles course at the WSU Experimental Ag station.
“The big catalyst was taking that class,” White said. “Just about every cider maker in the Northwest has taken the course.”
With much better tasting cider, White started the Northwest Cider Association with Sharon Campbell and Lars Ringsrud, some of his peers in the industry, in 2010. At that point, there were less than a dozen cideries in the state. Now, there are 32 that are registered members of the group.
“The Northwest isn’t entirely leading the way, but, between the Northwest and a few other regions — New England, Great Lakes and Virginia, it all started to elevate around 2008. It really has kind of taken a turn in the last year or so or almost two years,” White said. “The reason I jumped in so quick was because I didn’t want to be the 30th cider maker in Washington. I wanted to among the first of them.”
White’s Whitewood Cider Company became the 13th or 14th cidery in Washington.
The name, though, predates most cideries in the area. White said he and his girlfriend, Heather Ringwood, came up with the name that brought together their last names well before he began his business.
To buy equipment and get his company off the ground, White sold his shares of Olympia Coffee Roasting Coffee to its current owners.
He applied for his business license in October 2011 and had it in hand the following June, in time to start pressing apples last fall.
So far, White has sold about half of the 1,400 gallons he made.
“We’ve kind of been selective about where we’re selling, so we can maintain stock throughout the year. We’re hoping to double production this year. Within the next year or so, I’ll be able to make cider full time,” said White, who has a day job as a graphic designer for a local coffee company.
White’s goal, though, isn’t exorbitant.
From 2010 to 2011, cider production in the U.S. rose from 1.2 million gallons to 2.5 million gallons, including 200,000 gallons in Washington state, according to the Northwest Agriculture Business Center.
Cider is the fastest-growing segment of the beverage market.
White’s growth, however, may be stunted compared to some other cideries.
“Some of the people that are seeing the biggest growth are buying apple juice and fermenting it. Some folks are turning around batches in a month,” he said. “We press them in in late fall, then start bottling in May. It’s more like a winemaker’s schedule.”
This year, White’s Whitewood Cider Company was considered a nano-cidery, because he produced less than 2,000 gallons.
“I’m just trying to double,” he said. “The big caveat would be the availability of the fruit for some of us. The ones that are growing the fastest don’t share that concern. We’re using apples only. We still have blends, but we’re blending for balance and different profiles.”
Along with continuing to increase production, White hopes to eventually find or start an orchard and move production there.
“We’re looking south of Olympia, like Little Rock, Tenino, Chehalis, Centralia area,” White said. “My ideal situation would be 10 to 15 acres, a house, a shop and potentially an existing orchard, but that’s wishful thinking.”
As for the future of the industry, though, White is very optimistic. In the early 2000s, it was nearly impossible to find local ciders. That story continues to change for the better.
It’s getting easier,” White said. “For now, it’s really the specialty bottle shops and businesses that are dedicated to local and craft ciders that are at the forefront of it. It’s still a little bit of a challenge to talk every restaurant into it. It’s all about educating not only the consumers, but the retailers as well. I’ve seen it grow since I started drinking it. It started to trickle in 2008 and 2009. It’s not necessarily the norm, although it is becoming the norm.”