Independent Cider (IC) is one of very few cider makers inNorth Central Washington focusing exclusively on making hard cider with pears.Their product is called perry – a cider made completely with fermented pearjuice as its base. Although perry is a fairly new product to many, its rootsstretch back to a long tradition that started in Europe, especially in theUnited Kingdom and France.
IC is the brain child of three college friends from MontanaState University: Micah Roberson, Michael Partheymuller and Kramer Christensen.Micah and Michael come to the partnership from the business and wine industryand their partner Kramer holds an essential piece of the puzzle: pears. As a 5thgeneration farmer whose family has more than 400 acres of pears in the Drydenarea, he’s been able to provide the fruit that makes it possible for thisrapidly expanding perry maker to exist.
“People ask us why we decided to get into making cider withpears,” says Roberson. “It’s because we didn’t really have a choice. Either ithad to work with pears or it wouldn’t work at all.”
In their second full year of production, IC is focused onperfecting three perries: Snow Gem, their flagship perry; Lavender perry, madewith several varieties of locally-grown lavender, and a Bartlett pear perry. TheSnow Gem’s name – and the name Independent Cider itself – are both nods toKramer’s family orchards and packing house. Snow Gem was their first label theypacked their fruit under, and the family packing and processing warehouse inDryden is called Independent Warehouse. IC production facilities are located onthe family orchard above Dryden, in an old converted warehouse originally builtin the 1930s.
“Kramer was one of the main forces that got things movingand converting everything into a cellar,” says Roberson.
The 2018/2019 season is IC’s first complete season andalready 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 topress 40,000 pears from a week to two long days. They bought several tanks froma Napa Winery and invested in two bright tanks. As a result, productionincreased from 2000 gallons to 8000 gallons.
IC’s goal is minimal intervention, says Partheymuller, thecrew’s cider maker. “We’re trying not to do any back sweetening, he added. “Wereally want any flavoring to be a subtle compliment. We want the pear to comethrough at all stages.”
Unlike apples, pears contain sorbitol, an unfermentablesugar that remains in the finished product once fermentation is complete.Independent Cider uses this to their advantage, playing up on the naturalsweetness and pear flavor and making sure to give it its due in their products.
“Our opportunity is unique because our orchard scenario andthe heritage there,” says Roberson. “It’s a big balance between identifying theheritage with our identity in the modern market.”
“We’re lucky,” said Partheymuller. “We have access to highquality pears – either fresh or cold stored – 7 months out of the year. Beingable to extend the harvest season is really helpful.”
Aside from their three cornerstone products, the partnersare also experimenting with other perry ideas. They’ve grafted 15 traditionalperry variety pears into a test block in the orchard, and are experimentingwith unique blends as well, including a barrel-aged combination of viognier andAnjou pears.
“It’s an interesting balance between small batches and whatwill move across the state,” said Roberson. “Being new, it’s a big risk. Wewant 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 havean opportunity with the pears to set ourselves apart.”
Although they don’t have their own tasting room, IC hasbecome popular at many local stores and restaurants throughout North CentralWashington. You can find their perries at Wenatchee Natural Foods, Martin’sMarket in Cashmere, and Blewett Brewing, Dan’s Market and Yodelin inLeavenworth.