By STEVE BROWN
OLYMPIA -- Just as apples have become a cornerstone of Central Washington's agricultural economy, cider apples can thrive in Western Washington.
Orchardist Gary Moulton introduced about 30 interested growers to the growing and blending of ciders during a workshop June 6.
"Western Washington is a lot like the U.K.," he said, "and lots of varieties do well here. And cider is in high demand."
In the U.S., "cider" traditionally means fruit juice and the fermented alcoholic variety is known as "hard cider." But in the cider world, all ciders are hard.
Where dessert apples have familiar names like Red Delicious and Fuji, cider apples reflect a colorful heritage: Foxwhelp, Chisel Jersey and Northern Spy.
The dozens of cider cultivars are arranged by their levels of sugars and tannins as sweets, sharps, bittersweets and bittersharps. Most ciders are produced from a blend of different cultivars, often including heritage dessert apples like Gravensteins and Winesaps.
Moulton, who retired from Washington State University Extension after budget cuts eliminated the tree fruit program for the state's west side, has continued his work as private consultant and workshop speaker. He guided workshop attendees through the different techniques for planting, harvesting and marketing, including taste tests of unblended and blended ciders.
Attendees at the Olympia workshop included some with trees needing improvement, some wanting to add orchards to their existing business, some in the planning stages, some retired and some just starting in agriculture.
Lucas Patzek, director of WSU Thurston County Extension, said he organized the workshop in response to a growing interest in apple and pear hard ciders.
"There are 10 commercial cideries in Washington state, six of which are located west of the Cascades," he said.