Fall is right around the corner. The days are a bit chillier and are getting shorter. Leaves are changing colors and beginning to drop from the trees. Harvest is making its way here too as the grapes have become perfectly ripened. In vineyards across Oregon and Washington, workers are busy bringing in the 2015 fruit. It’s one of my favorite times of the year.

Fall is also the time when we see more interest in hard apple cider. Orchards are busy with activity as tons of Washington apples are being pressed and fermented into hard cider. Hard ciders have become very popular in the past couple of years. They are gluten free and have lower alcohol levels, typically around five to six percent. Interestingly, it’s the younger crowd that seems to be the most interested in hard ciders. Customers in their 20s and 30s are much more likely to purchase a hard cider than a customer in the 50-plus age group.

While I’ve been carrying hard cider for the past few years, a few months ago I was forced to find new hard ciders for The Wine Shack. The cider house I had been carrying was no longer working with a local distributor and wouldn’t’t be available to us much longer. The search for new ciders was on. My requirements were simple: I wanted to carry three or four ciders from a single, local cider house, and I wanted ciders that taste like ciders, no hoppy beverages that taste more like beer than cider. With these two, seemingly simple requirements to work with, I let my distributors know of my search. Within a couple of days, distributors responded by bringing me A lot of cider to taste. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.

I settled on Atlas ciders, made in Bend. Recently, Bend has become known as a mecca for craft breweries. But, instead of following the crowd and making beer, Atlas owners Bob and Samantha McCoy created a world class cider house. I really like that Atlas sources all of its fruit from the Pacific Northwest and their ciders are 100 percent natural, with no artificial colors or sweeteners. The Wine Shack now carries all four Atlas ciders, hard apple, apricot, pomegranate-cherry and blackberry. Customers seem very pleased with the lineup, which delivers the diversity of flavors I was looking for.

The hard apple cider is Atlas’s flagship, with crisp and tart apple flavors, this cider is off-dry, meaning it has just a hint of sweetness. I really enjoy this cider as you can actually taste the fruit, so if you like apples, you’ll like this choice. Atlas’s hard apple cider pairs nicely with salads, sandwiches and barbecue.

Atlas apricot cider is the driest drink they make. As an enthusiastic apricot lover, this hard cider offers tart flavor of apricot that may possibly be the most refreshing drink in my store (don’t tell Puffin rosé about this, please). I enjoy drinking this on the deck by itself or with a sandwich or a burger.

Atlas’s pomegranate-cherry hard cider is an interesting blend of fruits that go together surprisingly well. Prior to tasting this cider, I was expecting this cider to be too tart to be enjoyed by itself. I was wrong. The cherries deliver enough sweetness to offset the tart pomegranate flavors. This is another delicious and refreshing adult beverage with low alcohol content. However, the biggest surprise was yet to come.

Atlas blackberry cider is a stunner! An amazing blend of blackberry and elderberry, this hard cider is crisp, off-dry and even has some light tannins. I was immediately impressed with the beautiful purple color of the cider, but the taste is true to the sweet-tart combination that makes blackberry one of my favorite fruits. This may sound crazy to some, but Atlas blackberry cider has what it takes to be a dinner beverage, instead of a glass of wine or beer. Recently, I was out for dinner at a Portland brewery for dinner and drinks with a group of friends. While most of the group was busy enjoying their craft brews with appetizers and dinner, I went with an Atlas blackberry cider. The cider was up to the task.

I’m in the process of scheduling an Atlas cider tasting for an October or November Saturday afternoon. This will be a great opportunity for you to come in, try something completely different and sample these delicious Oregon hard ciders.

Please don’t drink and drive. Although the hard ciders have much lower alcohol levels than wine, they still can lead to impaired driving and decision making. If you’ve been drinking, please use a designated driver. We want to see you again at The Wine Shack soon. Cheers!

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