CORVALLIS, Ore., — Two young men survey a Corvallis orchard of heirloom apple trees.
One of them, Dave Takush, is head cider maker and orchard manager for 2 Towns Ciderhouse. The other, Lee Larsen, is the company’s co-founder and CEO. This orchard is their solution to a problem. The cider makers could not source enough cider apples to meet demand.
In 2010, Takush, Larsen and co-founder Aaron Sarnoff-Wood were Oregon State University graduates with a passion for fermentation and experimentation. That passion led the three friends to start 2 Towns Ciderhouse.
In that first year, they sold 100 cases of hard cider a month.
“When most people think of cider, they think of the sweet, syrupy and artificially flavored drink of 10 years ago,” Takush said. “Craft beer drinkers know better. They’ve been game to try it. They’ve resurrected this historic beverage.”
The “locavore” movement has also spurred interest. Tied to that resurgence, this year 2 Towns Ciderhouse has sold several thousand cases a month, according to Larsen.
Sherrye Wyatt, executive director of the Northwest Cider Association, said the region’s cider industry has exploded from a handful of pioneers to more than 30 in the past four years. And unlike the wine industry, very few ciders are single varietal, she said. Cider makers like to blend different types of apples.
“Many cider makers are also purchasing fresh pressed juice and expanding beyond one orchard to work closely with a multitude of growers throughout the Northwest,” Wyatt said.
These new ciders are dry and complex. But that character does not come from a sweet Red Delicious or Gala.
“We wanted to make a very Old World style of cider,” Takush said. “Those types of apples don’t exist any more because the only thing you can do with them is make hard cider.”
Conversely, these tannic apples also take fewer inputs because visual appearance is not important, Takush said.
Much like craft beer makers had to push hops growers to plant more varieties, cider makers such as 2 Towns have worked closely with orchardists to bring rare varieties into the market. They contract out for several thousand trees from many orchards.
But it’s not easy to source a variety such as Kingston Black. This old English cider apple is a biennial bearer, difficult to train, disease-prone and has low yields. But it makes an exquisite Old World style cider, Takush said.
To revive such varieties, 2 Towns Ciderhouse planted a three-acre orchard in 2012. Apples from its trees will be fermented into ciders next year.
To do this, they resurrected dwarf rootstocks from forgotten orchards, including varieties such as Dabinette and Muscadet De Bernay. Next year, the orchard will produce between 5,000 and 7,000 cases of cider, Takush said.
Despite the potential, Takush still doesn’t call himself a farmer. He’d like to focus on what he knows best — cider making.
“There’s a demand now for cider apples,” Takush said. “There are more farms producing cider varieties because we want to buy them.”