One of the most respected names in the craft cider industry started making cider simply as a way to get rid of a surplus of apples.
Nat West of Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider ran an urban community supported agriculture (CSA) program in Portland before he launched his cider label. One of his “gardening buddies” was giving away extra apples from a large, old tree in his backyard.
“There’s no question what you do when you’re a serious gardening geek and your buddy has an apple tree,” West says. “You harvest the apples. We ate a lot of apple pies and made a lot of applesauce. There’s only so much of that you can eat. From there, it was fairly easy to imagine making it into alcohol.”
Cidermaking became a hobby for West in 2004. “I was working part time, and the rest of the time I was a stay-at-home dad. I didn’t really want to hang out with the stay-at-home moms, so I kept myself busy making alcohol with my 11-month-old.”
West tested his creations at weekly potlucks he hosted. At first, only friends attended, but the dinners grew to include lots of people West had never met. “I was able to get real, honest feedback from people who didn’t even know I owned the house, much less made the cider.”
West decided to label his cider back when it was still a hobby. The name was his wife’s suggestion. “She said, ‘All you do is preach about cider.’” The name is only somewhat of a stretch—pre-cidery, Nat was ordained online to officiate a friend’s wedding.
By 2011, West had enough volume to launch a business. He estimates that he produces around 20,000 gallons a month and growing, compared to 20,000 gallons for all of 2013. Reverend Nat’s has 14 full-time employees and is sold in five U.S. states, Japan, Singapore and British Columbia, with “distributors all around the country clamoring for our products,” West says.
He has built a reputation for inventive ciders with thematically-appropriate names: Hallelujah Hopricot, made with fresh hops; Br’er Rabbit, with fermented and fresh carrot juice; and The Passion, with passion fruit juice, toasted coconut and vanilla.
“Nobody’s making the kind of ciders we’re making,” West says. But he doesn’t want to please everybody. “When I meet somebody who hates what I’m making, I know we’re on the right track, because our goal is not to make the middle of the road stuff. For every person who hates it, there’s going to be somebody who’s going to think it’s the best thing ever. That’s the role we like to play in the marketplace.”
This story originally ran in the fall print issue of Sip Northwest. For more feature stories like this, click here to subscribe.