More than 50 million Americans suffer from allergies each year, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. For Mike Thierfelder, an avid homebrewer curious in ferment, his passion hobby unfortunately evolved into an allergic reaction to something many Americans are finding issues with: gluten.
The remedy? Ferment something else. Thierfelder became fermenting cider at home instead and, after sharing with friends and receiving positive feedback, he shared the idea of starting a cidery with his brother, Nate, over Thanksgiving dinner.
“We’re like ‘yeah, you know, the cider industry is booming,’” Thierfelder recalls. “We kind of pooled everything and decided to make it happen.”
Two years later, the brothers are following their vision with Woodbox Cider, one of the latest cideries to Portland’s saturated fermentation scene. Currently, they’re operating on a small scale, but have four ciders on the menu so far — including the mainline single-varietal Pippin and the Heritage 8, a blend of eight heirloom apples — with more to come soon, like this fall’s seasonal crabapple-Gravenstein blend relase.
Focused on dry ciders, Thierfelder says the draw to dryness was a personal preference. “We try to create a cider that really creates everything a cider can be, rather than just a sweet sugary drink that a lot of them tend to be these days,” he says.
The fruit for the ciders is sourced from the Hood River Valley, just an hour east of Portland, but they also source from another farm in Helvetia, near Hillsboro, Oregon. Although Woodbox’s 300-square-foot NE Portland production facility is a modest space, the entire room is utilized from the floor to the ceiling, putting out 3,000 gallons in production this year alone.
“We don’t buy juice from Yakima or the bigger producers, so ours tend to have a little bit more of an acid profile,” Thierfelder says. “And the true apple flavor, but I guess it’s kind of hard to pin down. We do use some wild ferments so you get a little bit of that funkiness too.”
With his brother currently residing in California, Thierfelder hopes for him to move up to Oregon in the prospects of buying land, planting an orchard and opening a tasting room to take this quickly-developing dream into a full-scale, orchard-side cidery.
“Our motto is working with small orchards and farms, and doing sort of an orchard-to-table system,” Thierfelder says. “We’ve worked with a bunch of little orchards and we’re happy to pay them more than maybe what the market price is because we get the attention to detail. So, that’s what we’re looking at: to try and create an artisan product that people can enjoy, and be willing to pay a little bit extra for, because it’s worth it.”