Why hello there, and welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophes. Today’s post takes us on a magical voyage, casting our mind back to the Halcyon days of…like, 3-4 weeks ago, when the world was still carefree and bright, when the birds sang, children laughed, and Jon wasn’t minutes from a mental breakdown. (He’ll be fine. He made some foolish choices, and he’s in the middle of a time crunch, so he’s getting panicky. Of course, since he’s me, this extended third-person reassurance may not have been all too reassuring, I guess.) SHUT UP, ME. I’M LEANING INTO THE CRAZY. Today, we’re visiting a site Jon’s spent a surprising amount of time at, Finnriver Farm and Cidery, where he’s going to drink these issues away.
Will we get to see “N-Word Jim”?
JESUS CHRIST, TITLE JON. NO. IT IS WAY TOO EARLY FOR THAT JOKE. Also, and I know asking myself this question aloud isn’t super helpful, but am I going crazy, or does that question mark look weird? Welp, now this one looks weird too. I’m so sorry to the good people of Finnriver for being in the throes of madness while reviewing their business. They’re all lovely people, they deserve better than this.
ANYWAY, no, the name has nothing to do with Mark Twain, riverboats, or the uncomfortable residue of America’s advancing racial politics. The name is a portmanteau of the names of the sons of the founding families: Finn, and River. You might say “Jon, doesn’t that make it a “portma-nym”? But you’d be wrong, because ‘portmanteau’ is actually the name of a piece of luggage, Lewis Carroll thought he was being clever when he named his practice of smashing two words together after it, because it had two halves joined by a hinge. Meaning it worked like a normal suitcase or trunk. The guy called his silly words “suitcases” and got away with it because no one cares if you beat up France for spare words.
Seriously, this is the origin of the word.
As I was saying before being distracted by throwing shade at the inventor of Wonderland out of some kind of suitcase-based spite, Finnriver is a farm and cidery in Chimacum, Washington. A town so small, spell-check assumes I screwed up writing it down. It’s also a bit of an ask for my family, since it’s about an hour’s drive away from our house.
Finnriver is one of what I think of as my parents’ “nesting” hobbies. Because I moved away, then Stephen moved away, and they went out and picked up a bunch of new friends, hobbies, and restaurants they liked. Who knew your family had lives that changed and progressed without you present? Wild. Anyway, my mother went to a Wood-turning event that was…held at the cidery? Near the cidery? I don’t remember how they were connected. All I know is she did a wood-turning thing, ended up at the cidery, and started driving out there every 3 months or so.
I mean, what could be the appeal of driving out to the Olympic Peninsula?
The REASON we went out every three months is that she had become Cider Club members with them, which meant that, in exchange for buying a certain amount of cider/alcohol from them every year, we got special perks, like reduced prices, free tastings, and access to limited cider releases. (So, like, we could buy seasonal or newer ciders before the general public could.) And every 3rd month, they’d have those limited releases and seasonal ciders ready to go, as well as new smaller-batch ciders they were trying out which club members would get to sample, and they’d hold a “cider pick-up month”, where you can show up any weekend for that month, and buy your boxes. I’d go along with my mother because she wanted someone to haul the cider boxes, and because, hey, alcohol.
This turned out to be a questionable idea, as my mother and I are…look, we’re very good at spending money. We like having things, we like getting things, and we like completing sets of things. So we’d go out, we’d try six ciders, and we’d go “Yeah, we should get 2 of each of these.” Over time, we bought so much cider from them that one of the…ciderers? Cidermakers? (I don’t know what the word is for “someone who makes cider”, so I’ll call them Fruit Fermentation Force or FFF for short, because I refuse to acknowledge I can Google this.) one of the FFF there decided that THEY’D had enough, and increased our membership, since we were already easily surpassing the requirements every year.
Once Nate returned home, he joined the adventures, and over time morphed from “I don’t want any, I don’t like ciders” to “I don’t like most ciders, but I like these guys” and now he can give nuanced opinions about the ciders. And apparently, the buzz for the spot has been slowly growing. More and more on our trips out there, I’m seeing people I recognize, and people I know are hearing about it from their other friends.
Which is how, at the start of the month, I ended up at Finnriver with these two.
An accurate representation of the two general reactions of people recognizing me.
That’s Nate, the site Baron of Breakfast and Admiral of Asian Foods, and our friend Katie, who doesn’t have any official titles on the site, but is one of our beloved Patreon patrons! So is Nate, who started supporting the site before we were living in the same house again, and now we just try not to acknowledge the awkwardness. So…I guess if you support the site enough, you could one day join me on an Adventure in Alcohol. Actually, that’s a really cool reward tier idea. I’m going to look into that.
Anyway, let’s talk about the actual alcohol on this adventure in Alcohol. Now, while we were there, we had…roughly 14 different drinks, between the 6 option Club tasting, another 5-6 tastings during the orchard tour, and, you know, the actual drinks, but we’re going to focus on the Club tastings.
Presented here with ample lens flare.
Sippin’ on Ginned Up Juice
So, during cider pick-ups, there’s a selection of ciders, both new and old, that are available to buy. Technically, you don’t HAVE to buy those specific ones, you can buy however you want, but as I noted, my mother and I have a completionist streak. And it is a VICIOUS streak. Right now, depending on how their stock moved or if there are any current crew selection ciders, Finnriver sells roughly 29-32 distinct types of ciders and/or cider derived alcohols (they have port-style fruit wines, and fruit cordials In addition to straight ciders.) Of that 30ish varieties, my family owns 40. Yes, we have more of their drinks than THEY do, technically.
This is because, as noted, several of their ciders are seasonal, or limited run. For instance, September is the release of their Forest Ginger botanical cider.
Come, Wendy, let us try to jump the hilly brush.
They have 5 botanicals they work through over the course of the year, and this one happens to be Nate’s favorite. It’s brewed with Fir needles (I believe Douglas fir specifically), and ginger. It lives up to its name, in that it tastes like forest and ginger. It’s a semi-sweet cider, a little dry for Katie, but that reduced sweetness is partly what appeals to Nate.
Speaking of forests and fruit, a new cider they unveiled this month is directly tied to the local forests.
Understory is the 3rd party undertale knock-off trying to leech Steam sales.
Salal, if you’re unfamiliar with the plant, is a bush that grows on the western coast of North America. It grows all the way from California to Alaska, and is a dense component of the forest understory in Western Washington, hence the name of the cider, Understory, in case you can’t read images for some reason.
Salal, while mostly considered by local hikers as little more than an enormous weed, is edible, or at least, the berries and young leaves are. (The older leaves won’t kill you, but they will make your mouth numb, so try not to eat them.) This cider is a component of the ongoing relationship between Finnriver and local land use organizations, specifically the Ecotrust Forest Management company, who are partners with The Jefferson Land Trust, a land-grant non-profit in the area that hopes to sustain local farming and agriculture, and whose grant assistance was critical to Finnriver’s establishment and survivability. In any case, EFM harvested the salal berries for Finnriver, who made a cider with them, in order to provide a physical and culinary tie of the organizations to their goals, and to represent the value of those goals to consumers.
Speaking of using the land (ew, I used the same segue twice. I feel dirty) and honoring goals, the next cider ALSO ties into the land, and the history of the Cidery as a whole
I saw you standing aloone
FInnriver wasn’t actually originally a cidery, it was a farm. Which is why the official name is “Finnriver FARM and Cidery”. Specifically, it was an organic blueberry farm. It was only after a couple years that the idea of pursuing organic hard cider production arose, from a barrel of homebrewed cider from the farm’s former owner.
The “Blue” in Blue Hewe is in reference to those very berries, still grown and harvested at the farm, and used in the cider. The Hewe is the name of an heirloom Crabapple variety, the “Hewe Virginia Crab”. (Yes, Crabapples DO have a purpose. Actually, they have MULTIPLE purposes, such as helping pollinate other apple trees, providing pectin for jams, being simply decorative, and a couple other obscure ones. But you can’t just eat the raw apples, so people think they’re dumb. No, YOU’RE DUMB, PEOPLE.)
The Blue Hewe has what we sometimes call a “barnyard” quality. It’s briefly barrel-aged, so there’s a woodiness to the flavor that melds with the bitterness of the crabapple juice to produce an vaguely straw-or-hay-like flavor. Other ciders or beers can be much more intense in this regard, especially if certain strands of yeast are used. But even the relatively mild version of the flavor was enough to dissuade Katie from liking it.
SPEAKING OF WOOD BARRELS, because if I can’t stop using that segue, I may as well lean into it and make it a bit, OUR NEXT CIDER is defined by its relationship to wood. And barrels.
It’s a good thing Nate ended up liking this cider, because we were always going to buy this bottle, just because it has a chicken on it.
This is Nate’s other favorite cider they make. Personally, I like their chile-based ciders, and their more floral botanticals. This may be because I’m more than a little crazy, as, during the orchard tour we took, I tuned out of the explanation being given about whatever was being said to eat some fresh chamomile the guide pointed out on the ground while we were walking.
I’m going to be honest, I’m only 80% sure he said it was chamomile.
I know whatever it was, it got used in cider.
I have a weird hobby of eating random plants in farms and orchards.
I assert that it tasted like Pineapple, while the majority of my group outright refused to eat plants plucked off the ground where people had been walking. Which I found disingenuous, since we were the FIRST tour of the day, so no one had stepped on them in at least a day! Katie, emboldened by the 10 or so different ‘tastes’ of ciders and wines we’d had at this point, tried it, and argued that Pineapple was the wrong word, but she couldn’t figure out what the right word WAS. Google tells me they’re supposed to taste a little like apples, and a little like mint, so maybe that’s the truth. Anyway, back to the chicken cider.
Fire Barrel is so named because, years ago, a barrel holding the blend was used to douse a sudden Sheep-pen fire after an electrical fence shorted, and before you ask, no, that story isn’t true at all, I made it up because it sounded cool. It’s called Fire Barrel because it’s aged in smoked Rye whiskey barrels. Which, if you know my brother, immediately explains his choice. Nathan loves Rye whiskey, specifically and especially in Sazerac cocktails. He also likes Fernet Branca, and therefore can be assumed to be powered solely by bitterness. I, on the other hand, am empowered by madness and spite, which is why I’m such a firm believer in the Scharffe Cocktail, a mixture of Jagermeister, Simple Syrup, and Sriracha sauce that tastes like a spicy Italian sausage. That cocktail ISN’T made-up, surprisingly, but is such an offense to good taste and sense that the first bar at which I ordered it didn’t even realize they offered it and REMOVED IT from their menu afterwards.
SPEAKING OF SPIRITS, OUR LAST CIDER ISN’T EVEN A CIDER AT ALL.
Spirited Apple Wine
Meaning, of course, that what the apple wine lacks in talent, it makes up for with effort.
In addition to their ciders and farming, Finnriver also has an assortment of harder beverages, from Apple-Brandy Fruit Wines (meaning “lightly fermented fruit juice mixed with high-proof apple brandy to make a 36 Proof Liqueur”) to their “port Style” Spirited Wine Collection. This, their spirited Apple Wine, is made by fermenting apple cider into apple wine, and then dosing it with apple brandy. As you can guess, it’s all apples.
Really, it’s flavor is best described as “autumnal”, because I like the way it sounds, and because it’s very in line: it’s warm, apple-y, woody, hints of caramel. It tastes like oak trees in autumn look: all oranges and browns.
In the end, we walked away with a modest sized haul for a seasonal trip, with 2 crates of ciders and spirits. Also known as “literally half of what we need to buy to maintain the highest rank of membership.”
The bag of kettle corn was just a bonus.
If you’re looking to check them out, we recommend trying to pick a sunny day on the weekend. Their property is simply stunning, and they have multiple food vendors during the weekend. I think sometime around 3 on Sunday is the perfect time: there’s typically live music, most of the vendors are there, or will be soon, and if it’s sunny, you have time to play some of the yard games, or take the orchard tour and see the apples you’re drinking.
I do not know why my picture of these orchards color-corrected to look like a shot out of a Zack Snyder superhero movie, but it’s doing them a disservice.
Nate and I of course recommend it, and while Katie feels their ciders are a little too dry for her tastes, she also fully recommends people visit it like we did, feeling that it’s a beautiful property, the food vendors are good, and you can easily have a great time even if you don’t drink.
And just so we’re clear, this isn’t a sponsored post or anything. Hell, I didn’t even ask PERMISSION, so I might get an email soon saying “Hey, can you not talk about our place while rambling incoherently about Lewis Carroll?” Only time will tell.
If you want to help Jon’s family make up for their prolific alcohol purchases, consider supporting us on Patreon, where maybe we’ll put in a tier that would let you bully Jon into hanging out with you at a brewery or cidery, depending on like, travel expenses or something. We’re looking into it. If you just want to TALK to Jon about breweries and cideries, then hit us up on Facebook! Seriously, talking with people about the site is in Jon’s top 5 favorite things to do, so if you want it, just put yourself in, man!
MONDAY: I MAKE A DISH TO MEAT NATE’S DIET. AND NO, THAT WASN’T A TYPO. YES, IT IS A GOOD MEAL.
THURSDAY: CULINARY COMPENDIUM RETURNS, AS WE DO DIETS, PART 2!