The most recent stop in an ongoing journey to find the world’s best hard cider.
A few months ago I found myself aimlessly wondering around inside of a QFC and somehow walked out with a case of Schilling hard cider London dry. I was hooked. Love at first sip. Prior to that my cider experiences had been limited to Angry Orchard and suffice to say, I had NO idea what I was missing.
I went back to that grocery store many times over the next few weeks and tried every Schilling Cider they carried. Pineapple-passion fruit, grapefruit, rhubarb.... All tasty, some more so than others. A quick Google search revealed that their brewery was in the PNW, along with two tasting houses, one of which was located nearby in Seattle.
“Gathering up a large group of friends, I went to the tasting house immediately!” is what I would like to say. Unfortunately my friends either dislike cider (“it’s too sweet!”) or dislike drinking in general so I spent a solid month with a Schilling Cider House tab open on my phone, salivating every time I noticed it. I suppose I could have gone alone, but I don’t really enjoy being in big groups of strangers without a familiar face or two.
So—unwilling to throw in the towel—I channeled all my millennial power and perused the social media’s for a date. Eventually I found a stranger who shared my desire for great cider and we agreed to meet.
Saturday night, I walk in to the tasting house about ten minutes before eight. Immediately my eyes were drawn to the massive board proudly proclaiming the current ciders on tap. Sitting down at the bar, the bartender gives me the rundown of how the place works. Pints or growler fills of anything on tap, a massive cooler full of bottles from local breweries and absolutely no big brands allowed. She told me that there’s no kitchen, but I’m free to order something or bring my own food. And finally, a flight of six ciders is $12, which gets you 3oz of each.
The place was packed, but had a very friendly vibe. Good mix of young, old, male, female, different walks of life, etc. The atmosphere was inviting, and everyone was all too thrilled to offer up their personal favorites on the cider board, or ask for suggestions themselves.
I opened a tab and got a pint of regular old Schilling dry (#5) to start the night. Drinking slowly, I overheard the two jovial guys to my left talking about their cider-making trials and tribulations, while to my right a group of three women huddled around the one available chair, taking photos of the multi-colored drinks arrayed in front of them. I grabbed a card and slowly chose my first six ciders to sample. Exciting!
Quarter past eight—starting to wonder if this is going to be a no-show—she arrives, apologizing for being late. No worries! She fills out a card and just minutes later we have beautiful wooden serving trays with six ciders each! Now, onto.... THE REVIEWS
after the first flight, we each had a second, so we sampled 12 ciders each, plus shared any that were particularly good/bad. On top of the pint I started with, that’s 52oz of cider ranging from 5%-16.8% abv so parts of the night are a bit hazy. I’m a lightweight, but I’ll do my best to provide the info you crave!
My first flight was 16, 9, 30, 31, 17, 11.
16. Sea Cider kings & spies, 8%. This is imported from Canada, hence the extra dollar added to the price of the sample. But Oppo? It’s incredible. This may well be my favorite cider atm. Slightly sweeter and more flavorful than the London Dry Pint I had to start the night, I’m really hoping I can find some Sea Cider in a store near me. One of the hopeful cider makers to my left suggested this. Thanks bro! 5/5
9. Anthem watermelon. Super refreshing, very light, crisp watermelon taste. Good, but it would never be my first choice. 3/5
30. 101 electric pineapple sour. This cider was neon green. It tasted like what you would imagine a neon green cider would taste. Very tart, tangy aftertaste. As soon as it touched my tounge I felt a jolt run through my body. Definitely worth trying if you like experimental drinks! 2/5
31. Schilling cold brew coffee cider (caffeinated) 5%. Quick! Coffee and cider mixed, Yay or nay? There was a strong, pleasant coffee aroma that was noticeable a foot away. Taste test reveals.... It’s good! Very good! What a strange combo, but it works. This coming from someone who doesn’t drink coffee. 4/5
17. Mission trail Trinidad Jones smoothie, 10.4%. I’ll be honest, I don’t remember this one too well. I recall it being perfectly fine, and not being boozy tasting despite the higher abv. I also don’t know what the name references because there was nothing smoothie-like about it. 3/5
11. Tieton cherry, 6.9%. Last sample, the cherry was way too sweet for me. Wasn’t a fan, but luckily my drinking buddy didn’t like her last drink either (no. 6 blackberry) so we swapped! She liked the cherry, I didn’t much care for the blackberry either but it was an improvement. 1/5-cherry, 2/5-blackberry
First flight down and we’re feeling it. Okay, quick bathroom break and on to round two!
“We interrupt this program to bring you Sink or swim - Night on the town edition!”
It’s ten 0' clock and a proposition is made. What if we pick the next drinks for each other? Hmm. Risky, but it just might pay off. I agreed.
We hand our cards off to the bartender and a new flight arrives. Aaaaaaand we picked four of the same drinks for each other. Do’h! Great minds think alike Oppo. This time I had 7, 8, 32, 1, 25, 20
7. Schilling kings shilling, 6.5. Did not like. Don’t remember why. That is all. 1.5/5
8. Rhubarb pear, 6%. I was so happy to see this one. Definitely my favorite of the Schilling ciders available in stores at the moment. Complex, with a good aftertaste. 4.5/5
32. D’s baked apple, 6.5%. Not sure if I can keep going at this point, but momma didn’t raise no quitter. Plus my 5 foot, 100lb partner in crime was still going, so I couldn’t walk away with ciders left untested. This tasted like liquid apple pie. I don’t really like apple pie, but it wasn’t bad. I’m sure others would absolutely love this? 3/5
1. Schilling ginger, 6.5%. Very strong ginger flavor. Quite the kick in the pants, lots of bite. I loved it, she wasn’t as thrilled! Would make for a good Moscow mule. Or Mexican mule to really kick you into the next dimension. 3.5/5
25. Greenwood fire roasted pepper cider, 7.9%. If your idea of a good time is drinking liquefied pepper, enjoy. This was bad enough to be considered cruel and unusual punishment and I just vomited a little bit even thinking about that terrible, terrible, “drink”. THIS IS WHY YOU DON’T TRUST STRANGERS. Err, wait. I picked this one for her too... Whoops! -500/5
20. Rev Nats Idaho 7 fresh hop, 6%. I used this as a chaser for the awfulness that was the above cider and do not remember a single thing about it’s taste. Sorry. ?/5
Some of her samples that I tasted...
15. Moonlight meadery last apple, 16.8%. Moonshine light would also be an appropriate name. Strong. Would have been a fun starter, but near the end of the night was a liiiiiiittle too much! 2/5
That’s actually all I can remember of hers haha. All in all, I freakin love this place. No TV’s, just great drinks, friendly people and board/Card games everywhere. Will be back, but preferably on a weekday night so it’s a bit less crowded. I got lucky finding a seat, most people stood. Only complaint is that they close at 11! I don’t know Ballard particularly well, but we ended up going to a bar and grabbing some fantastic mozzarella burgers. Followed by a seattle tour, where I saw the gum wall for my first time, and the Fremont troll!
Tl:dr - sea cider brand cider is my new holy grail, and meeting strangers doesn’t always mean your organs will be harvested.