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Festival hopes to draw on hard cider’s renaissance
Gig Harbor will host inaugural Cider Swig as fall attraction

By Rodika Tollefson - KPBJ contributor

When Crystie and Keith Keiser began making hard cider at their organic farm, Finnriver, they and their partner, Eric Jorgenson, were at the forefront of a new movement. Now the cidery in Chimacum (between Port Ludlow and Port Townsend) is open seven days a week for visitors who want to stop by for a tasting.

“The cidery is growing in response to demand for Northwest cider,” Crystie Keiser said. “A lot of small Northwest craft cideries have helped inspire the full-on cider renaissance that we are having right now.”

Organizers of a new event in Gig Harbor are counting on that growing momentum. The Greater Gig Harbor Foundation is bringing Cider Swig, a festival for all ages, to Sehmel Homestead Park on Sept 27. The event is a fundraiser for the nonprofit foundation, with proceeds benefitting environmental education, conservation and other outdoor recreation initiatives.

“We wanted to do something environmentally related but a little bit of fun. When we started thinking about what we can do that is fun, centered around community and the environment and be interesting for people to come, this is where we landed,” said Julie Ann Gustanski, the foundation’s president and co-founder.

The festival will include an enclosed cider garden, plus food vendors, live music from five bands, a children’s activity zone and an apple-launch competition. Only the cider garden will charge an admission fee, so families can come and enjoy the music and the food. Parents can also pay to drop off kids ages 3 to 12 in the kids zone and head over to the cider garden.

The 11 cideries that have committed so far will bring a total of more than 40 varieties of cider (nonalcoholic options will be available in the food area) and will have the option to sell their beverages for off-site consumption. The cider garden admission fee includes five tokens for sample-size drinks.

“We appreciate people creating opportunities to showcase cider. We’re excited to expose more people to what we make and to build enthusiasm for cider,” said Keiser, whose farm was invited to participate at the event.

The cider vendors are coming from as far as Eastern Washington and Portland, and event volunteers will be distributing flyers to all those areas in hopes to attract some of the cideries’ fans to Cider Swig.

If similar festivals in the region are any indication, Cider Swig has the potential to be a draw far beyond the Gig Harbor area. The annual Summer Cider Day, organized by the Northwest Cider Association in Port Townsend in August, attracted more than 500 people from as far as Seattle and beyond last year, according to the association’s president, Dave White.

He said when they introduced the first festival in 2010, there weren’t many opportunities for cider makers beyond beer and wine festivals. There are more of these events popping up around Washington and Oregon, but Seattle and Port Townsend so far have been the only Puget Sound areas to host a cider festival.

White and his partner, Heather Ringwood, produce cider at their Whitewood Farm in Olympia and the Gig Harbor event will be the closest to home for them to date. He notes that when he and a handful of others created the association four years ago, it had eight cideries as members. Now, that number is at 45 and includes cideries from Washington, Oregon, Montana and British Columbia.

During the colonial times, long before beer became the drink of choice for Americans, apples were being pressed and fermented into cider on just about any farm. The popularity of the drink waned in the early 1900s as more European immigrants brought their taste for beer along.

The resurgence of the drink began five or six years ago all over the country, and the Northwest is one of the hotter zones.

Ironically, the interest in craft beer, especially among the younger crowd, is one of the reasons attributed to the cider resurgence. Others factors include the gluten-free food trends and cider’s appeal to women. Although cider accounts for a small percentage of alcoholic beverage sales, national production of the drink has tripled between 2011 and 2013, according to data cited by the Oregonian.

 The Foundation

The Greater Gig Harbor Foundation (started as the PenMet Foundation eight years ago) is divided into five core area boards (CABs): education, parks and environment, arts and culture, recreation and social capital. The focus of the CABs was the result of a community needs assessment that included various nonprofits from the Gig Harbor and Key Peninsula area. Each CAB organizes its own fundraisers and supports various initiatives.

“The primary goal is to have funds for the community, whether for people in need or helping the community do something wonderful like build a new center,” Gustanski said. “It’s a bit of an economic engine for the community.”

She said cider was a good fit for the parks and environment CAB because it ties in with agriculture. “It’s a way for us to help highlight a component of small business — small farmers. Most of them are not just in the industry to make money; they’re caring for the environment,” she said.

The foundation helped develop Gig Harbor’s first beer festival, which attracted 1,400 people but had no music or family component. About 25 percent of those who attended came from beyond a 15-mile radius. Based on that success, Gustanski estimates that Cider Swig could bring in as many as 4,000 people. The number of cider garden tickets is limited, however, to ensure cideries don’t run out of samples.

Even without any advertising, the foundation had sold more than 100 tickets by mid-July.

The event is on the same day as National Public Lands Day and there will be parks projects between 9 a.m. and noon around both peninsulas. Volunteers who sign up will get $5 off Cider Swig admission along with a T-shirt and commemorative glass. The festival is entirely volunteer-run and needs as many as 80 volunteers, and event volunteers will receive a $5 meal token, among other things.

White encouraged people to come and give craft cider a try, noting that it’s not necessarily the same as the more mass-produced, grocery-store variety.

“I would tell folks a lot of ciders are more wine-like by the way they are produced and their complexity,” he said. “It’s a different kind of drink and it doesn’t have to taste like apple juice — but it doesn’t mean it can’t be fresh, crisp and balanced.”

Want to Go?

The inaugural Cider Swig will be Saturday, Sept. 27 in Gig Harbor. Tickets are $25 advance, $28 last-minute and $32 at the gate (tickets are limited). There will be live music and food vendors offering barbecue, lumpia, burritos, fry bread and more.
WSU cider expert Gary Moulton will do a presentation and demonstration.
More details at www.gigharborfoundation.org/cider-swig.

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