It was easy to get distracted at the Northwest Cider Association's second annual Summer Cider Day at Port Townsend's Northwest Maritime Center: The cidermakers' society had arranged for live music indoors, and lucked into spectacular weather outdoors, so the draw of a perch on the waterfront deck was strong.
But for drinkers intent on sampling the dozens of available hard ciders, perries and meads (a mission that required negotiating quarter-pours and locating the event's few dump buckets), the association provided one of the best tasting note booklets I've ever encountered at a public tasting: Printed beneath each "cider name" blank was a series of multiple-choice prompts for color, clarity, carbonation, sweetness, bitterness and acidity, charting a path toward serious cider appreciation.
I'm still working my way down that path, but a few of Saturday's entries struck me as especially noteworthy. Also noteworthy: The prices. Considering the complexity and food-pairing potential of these drinks, hard cider is still a terrific bargain. The most expensive bottle on Saturday's sales table wore a $20 tag.
East Wenatchee's decorated cidery presented the most impressive portfolio: There wasn't a clunker in its line-up of beautifully balanced ciders. But the standout was the Orchard Select, which permanently solves the "what to drink with Thai take-out?" conundrum. The bright, summery cider has a melon edge that recalls Sauvignon Blanc, but it's lighter and bouncier.
Like a face-plant in a violet patch, Anthem's hops-enhanced cider takes full advantage of the floral character of fresh hops. The hops help keep the cider's sweetness in check, making this Oregon concoction especially easy to drink.
3. Cidre, E.Z. Orchards, $13
The Frenchified flipping of the "e" and "r" in "cider" is a clue that Oregon's E.Z. Orchards is aiming for sophistication with its traditional production methods, which call for the cider to finishing fermenting in bottles. The result is a lush, refined cider with deep apple flavors and a restrained effervescence. It's a toast for a serious occasion.
Attention bridesmaids: Port Townsend's own Eaglemount has crafted the perfect bridal shower sipper. This pretty pink drink, is more fun than a sparkling rose, but just as feminine in its softness. Ripe with raspberry flavors, the cider is sufficiently dry to pair with sweets: It's a fine dance partner for chocolate.