This story was originally published March 20, 2013.
As a lover of all things weird when it comes to my alcoholic beverages, Sea Cider caught my eye at a recent trip to Brouwer’s Cafe. Of the four Sea Cider concoctions Brouwer’s currently sells, the Wild English cider, named so for its reliance on spontaneous fermentation, was an easy choice.
The earthy, funky notes reminded me of a saison, but there was clearly the crisp apple overtone you’d expect in a good cider, too. I was hooked.
Kristen Jordan, Sea Cider’s owner and cider mastermind, didn’t start out in the cider business. About 10 years ago, she had grown tired of her career in international development and wanted a change. “I wanted to build something that would be a legacy for my family, for the kids,” Jordan says. Her children are 10 and 13 years old.
Inspiration struck at the run-down apple orchard she had inherited as a teenager.
“I looked at the orchard and thought, I could probably do something with this,” she says. “And that’s how it started.”
Jordan comes from a family of farmers and ranchers, so starting her own didn’t seem like that much of a leap. But she had to learn how to make cider.
Jordan went to “cider school,” attending courses at Washington State University’s Mount Vernon extension. She hit the road to see production in process. “I visited every single cidery I could in Canada, the U.S., and Britain,” Jordan says. She later bought a cider orchard in Saanichton, outside of Victoria, British Columbia.
Sea Cider opened in 2007 and now makes eight ciders year round, plus a few special products now and then. She’s currently working on “a couple of secrets I can’t tell you about.”
Jordan says she started out doing everything at the farm and cidery herself. “I was making the cider, selling the cider, sweeping the floors, pruning the trees and everything,” she says. Now, though, she has a full production and sales staff. Her cider is sold in restaurants and stores throughout Canada and Washington.
Sea Cider’s products range from the dry Flagship to the popular and complex Prohibition, which is aged in rum-soaked bourbon barrels and fermented with a touch of molasses. I also tried the Kings & Spies, a sparkling, slightly tart, off-dry cider that reminded me of a Granny Smith apple. Each of the ciders, with the exception of Wild English, is fermented with champagne yeasts.
“We like champagne yeasts because they really bring some complexity to the cider that you wouldn’t otherwise achieve and they kind of bring forward, I think, the best sort of fruit profile to the cider,” Jordan says.
Wild English, the cider I tried at Brouwer’s, ferments with whatever yeasts are sitting on the skin of the apples when they’re picked, making the process a little unpredictable.
“That’s our wild card one,” Jordan says. “It’s the one that makes us the most nervous, because you’re never sure how it’s going to turn out. For people that like a really funky, just in your face cider, that’s a good one to try.” Worked for me.