A cider session with the Bishops of Alpenfire Organic Hard Cider
At around the 2:40 minute mark in the Pirate's Plank tasting notes below you'll hear Bear Bishop (his folks named him Steve) talk about applying flame to his orchard and inflicting terror on his trees.
He is not speaking in metaphors.
Bear is a former Hotshot fire fighter for the National Park Service, and one of the tools that he deploys in the Alpenfire orchard—the first orchard ever certified organic in Washington State—is fire.
The cider and heirloom apple trees that Bear planted with his wife and colleague Nancy all wear silver skirts to protect their trunks from the blow torch that he periodically strokes across the orchard floor, to simulate the fiery lick of a controlled burn. When I visited in March the soil of the orchard was a springy, soggy sponge still waterlogged with the rains of winter, and the counterpoint of flame, in this damp corner of the Pacific Northwest, made perfect, elemental sense.
Wet and cold: Meet dry heat. Dark cloudy day: Meet firelight.
Fire fighting was a family affair—both Bear and his son Philipe worked the fire line—and now cidermaking is too. The Bishops—Steve, Nancy and Philipe—grow, press, ferment and market a spectacular line of organic orchard cider conceived from over twelve varieties of cider and heirloom apples that they grow along trellises in a bowl carved within the Olympic rainforest, ringed by majestic Douglas Fir.
Pirate's Plank is perfect with pub food: Burger and fries, pizza, even fried clams if you're in the Pacific Northwest within spitting distance of an Ivar's (or their clam chowder will do in a pinch). True to pubs, avoid salad with this cider: The wrong vinegar can make it get all tangled up on your palate. Bear likes his Pirate's Plank with barbecued lamb chops »
As Washington state natives who grew up a short ferry ride away from the Canadian border, the Bishops were introduced to cider by their neighbors to the North.
In 2001 they toured the cider countries of Europe to learn more about traditional production methods and discovered that many cideries were producing on a small scale, driven by family orchards. This was perfectly suited to what they had in mind.
And they learned something else, equally important: That true cider apples were key to producing the cider they loved to drink. A hard cider rich in tannins, lively acids, and aromatics that, when properly fermented, allowed the flavor of the fruit to shine through.
After studying with renowned UK cider producer and educator Peter Mitchell, Nancy and Bear invested in 900 French and English cider apple trees and laid down their first orchard acreage near the town of Port Townsend, just opposite Seattle on the other side of the Puget Sound. The Bishops committed to organic orcharding practices at the outset, and in 2007 Alpenfire became the first certified organic cidery in the Pacific Northwest.
Pair Alpenfire Ember Bittersweet Cider with cream based seafood—mussels in cream or, better yet, mussels steamed with cider and bacon—and save some to accompany a marzipan rich dessert like prinsesstårta »
Today the cider varieties that the Bishops planted in the early 2000s continue to thrive in the low nitrogen, bare bones soil of the Olympic Peninsula where they grow their Dabinett, Foxwhelp, Yarlington Mill, Kingston Black, Brown Snout, Vilberie, Muscadet de Dieppe and other heirloom apples. In recent years they have also laid in early American Varieties and five types of Perry Pear trees.
From this fruit has emerged a line of cider varieties named after the wildfires that Bear and his son Philipe once battled as Wildland fire fighters across the US, and which gave birth to the cidery’s name: Alpenfire.
Alpenfire's Glow received Best of Show and the Chairman's Award at Dan Berger’s International Wine Competition in 2016. Ember Bittersweet received a GLINTCAP Bronze for French Style Cider in 2014 and the Spark! Semi-sweet received a Silver from Sip Northwest Best of the Northwest for Traditional Apple Cider in 2016.
I hope you enjoy our cider tasting as much as we did—they're available on this page, wherever you see the Soundcloud "play" button, and they're also available in their entirety on Soundcloud. You will need either the Soundcloud app for Android or iOS or Adobe Flash installed on your smartphone or web browser. The voices you hear are cidermakers and orchardists Nancy, Bear and Philipe Bishop.
Pair Alpenfire Spark! with Steamers with Linguini. Trust me.
Pair Alpenfire Glow Rosé Hard Cider with salmon, in season, preferably Chinook. BBQ works, but take it off the spit quick to preserve the rich fatty quality of the fish. You might want to investigate The New York Times guide to How to Cook Salmon, and if you must top it with something, try this native Northwest recipe featuring ginger and lemon »
Cidrbox.com connects people seeking orchard-driven cider with the artisans who make it. Each month we visit a single, distinctive American heritage orchard — where small producers grow, harvest, press, ferment and refine their cider — and we share their cider with our subscribers. We also sit down for a cidertasting with the maker, which we share with you here at cidersessions.com.
p.s. When we say cider, we mean hard cider: Artful fermentations of heirloom apples by master cidermakers. You must be at least 21 to drink what we deliver, and you will be asked for your ID and signature at the door.