Independent Cider (IC) is one of very few cider makers in North Central Washington focusing exclusively on making hard cider with pears. Their product is called perry – a cider made completely with fermented pear juice as its base. Although perry is a fairly new product to many, its roots stretch back to a long tradition that started in Europe, especially in the United Kingdom and France.
IC is the brain child of three college friends from Montana State University: Micah Roberson, Michael Partheymuller and Kramer Christensen. Micah and Michael come to the partnership from the business and wine industry and their partner Kramer holds an essential piece of the puzzle: pears. As a 5th generation farmer whose family has more than 400 acres of pears in the Dryden area, he’s been able to provide the fruit that makes it possible for this rapidly expanding perry maker to exist.
“People ask us why we decided to get into making cider with pears,” says Roberson. “It’s because we didn’t really have a choice. Either it had to work with pears or it wouldn’t work at all.”
In their second full year of production, IC is focused on perfecting three perries: Snow Gem, their flagship perry; Lavender perry, made with several varieties of locally-grown lavender, and a Bartlett pear perry. The Snow Gem’s name – and the name Independent Cider itself – are both nods to Kramer’s family orchards and packing house. Snow Gem was their first label they packed their fruit under, and the family packing and processing warehouse in Dryden is called Independent Warehouse. IC production facilities are located on the family orchard above Dryden, in an old converted warehouse originally built in the 1930s.
“Kramer was one of the main forces that got things moving and converting everything into a cellar,” says Roberson.
The 2018/2019 season is IC’s first complete season and already they’ve found enough demand to greatly increase production.
“Really, the first year was more of a trial than anything, just to make sure we could make something that would turn out,” says Roberson.
The partners purchased a press that reduced the time to press 40,000 pears from a week to two long days. They bought several tanks from a Napa Winery and invested in two bright tanks. As a result, production increased from 2000 gallons to 8000 gallons.
IC’s goal is minimal intervention, says Partheymuller, the crew’s cider maker. “We’re trying not to do any back sweetening, he added. “We really want any flavoring to be a subtle compliment. We want the pear to come through at all stages.”
Unlike apples, pears contain sorbitol, an unfermentable sugar that remains in the finished product once fermentation is complete. Independent Cider uses this to their advantage, playing up on the natural sweetness and pear flavor and making sure to give it its due in their products.
“Our opportunity is unique because our orchard scenario and the heritage there,” says Roberson. “It’s a big balance between identifying the heritage with our identity in the modern market.”
“We’re lucky,” said Partheymuller. “We have access to high quality pears – either fresh or cold stored – 7 months out of the year. Being able to extend the harvest season is really helpful.”
Aside from their three cornerstone products, the partners are also experimenting with other perry ideas. They’ve grafted 15 traditional perry variety pears into a test block in the orchard, and are experimenting with unique blends as well, including a barrel-aged combination of viognier and Anjou pears.
“It’s an interesting balance between small batches and what will move across the state,” said Roberson. “Being new, it’s a big risk. We want to make sure they’ll work.”
“We think there’s a growing market for this type of perry, and we’re excited to bring it to the market,” said Roberson. “I think we have an opportunity with the pears to set ourselves apart.”
Although they don’t have their own tasting room, IC has become popular at many local stores and restaurants throughout North Central Washington. You can find their perries at Wenatchee Natural Foods, Martin’s Market in Cashmere, and Blewett Brewing, Dan’s Market and Yodelin in Leavenworth.