Food & Drink Guide 2021: Eating Sustainably
Portland neighborhoods are brimming with residential fruit trees, and while the bounty is a delight to the residents and their friends who reap the benefit of their generosity, a lot of that fruit winds up wasted on the ground.
One refreshing solution comes from the Portland Cider Company, an award-winning cider brewery founded in 2013 by husband/wife team Jeff and Lynda Parrish, that pairs classic English-style cider-making techniques with the astounding array of apple varieties grown throughout the Pacific Northwest.
For the past six years, along with a score of other flavor-packed beverages, Portland Cider Company has been producing the limited-quantity PDX Community Cider, which is made from 100 percent donated apples and other fruits grown in neighborhood yards.
The annual Fruit Forward Drive that collects the bounty used to make PDX Community Cider runs from mid-August through September, and this year raked in a record-breaking 41,000 pounds of fruit. It’s a good, smart idea—but what’s the actual result when a wide, unpredictable variety of apples, pears, plums, berries, and more are lumped together to create each batch of cider?
“One of the things you learn quickly as a cider maker is that the wider variety of apples you put into a batch, the better it’s gonna be, because it has more complexity,” owner Jeff Parrish tells the Mercury. “The idea for PDX Community Cider came about because we thought it would be really fun to invite folks to contribute their extra apples to make a cider—but it’s not an original idea. For example, there are areas around France where entire villages will make wines from all the grapes grown on everyone’s properties.”
In addition to collecting a lot of fruit that would ordinarily go to waste, 10 percent of proceeds from PDX Community Cider go to Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon, a solutions-based non-profit that not only feeds the state’s hungry, but also brings about policy changes that focus on dismantling the oppressive systems of inequity that contribute to poverty. In addition, Portland Cider is also donating $2 for each six-pack sold (regardless of variety) during the month of October.
“I grew up in a pretty poor household,” Parrish says about the reason Hunger-Free Oregon was chosen as the recipient of the cider’s proceeds. “I was the beneficiary of free lunches at school, so their mission is what really attracted us to Hunger-Free Oregon… and their organization really seems to resonate with the community as well, because when they came on board, that’s when sales of the cider really took off.”
And fruit donations “took off” as well. For example, in 2019 the cider makers received about 15,000 pounds of backyard fruit. However, after the pandemic hit, many people suddenly had a lot more time on their hands, and in 2020, fruit donations made the dramatic leap to roughly 40,000 pounds.
“It was crazy how much fruit was coming in,” says Parrish. “And it was matched again this year. During the drive we collect around 1,000 pounds of fruit per day… which is fine with us. If it’s edible, we’ll ferment it.”
An interesting aspect of the drive is how this wild variety of fruits coming from different areas mix together to form a crisp, drinkable cider. According to Parrish, “you don’t know what you’re gonna get [taste-wise] until it’s all said and done.” However, the same strict practices they use every day to produce their other ciders are in play to ensure a high standard of quality. And yet, wouldn’t it stand to reason that occasionally these random combinations of apples, pears, plums, and berries would taste… well, weird?
“That would only happen if for some reason the fermentation went sideways,” Parrish explains. “The art of cider, wine, and beer making is all about biological control. You want the good bugs to dominate and the bad bugs to go away. So getting a ‘bad’ batch would be due to having a lot of spoilage organisms in there giving it funky flavors—and we know how to control this.”
“But as for all the characteristics that come from the fruit…at the end, it’s a roll of the dice,” he continues. “To an avid cider or wine drinker, each batch will taste dramatically different. But to the layperson, they’ll probably only be able to taste a slight difference.”
Even as a textbook example of a “layperson,” I fully enjoyed my experience with this crisp, refreshing cider, which reminded me of a rosé champagne. Along with the welcome 5.1 percent kick of alcohol, I detected notes of peach and apricot, and found it to be medium sweet with a smooth, slightly sour finish. As stated before, with so many fruits going into so many different batches, individual results will vary—but it’s still a practically perfect fall drink.
While donations for PDX Community Cider are no longer being accepted this year, Parrish says they still have enough fruit to make a couple thousand gallons, so the best way people can help them support Hunger-Free Oregon is to grab the cider from major grocery shelves or visit their taprooms for a cold glass. And while information on the cans state that 10 percent of sales go to Hunger-Free Oregon, Parrish clarifies they’re actually giving 100 percent of all profits to the organization, after their production costs are covered.
In addition to helping a very worthy cause (and making use of a lot of fruit that would ordinarily rot on the ground), Portland Cider Company also works sustainability into their everyday business model.
“Considering the volume of product that comes in and out of this building,” Parrish says, “we have very little waste. We use, like, one-tenth the amount of water a brewery does. And we make all of our ciders using apples that are essentially unmarketable on a grocery store shelf. Even the squeezed apple pumice that’s left over from the process ultimately becomes animal feed or other food products. Sustainable practices help everyone, but it makes sense from a financial perspective, too. Waste wastes money.”
“What’s most important for us is that PDX Community Cider is truly a community effort,” Parrish says. “I continue to be amazed at how responsive everyone’s been, and we look forward to growing it every year.”
PDX Community Cider can currently be found at major grocery stores, at Portland Cider Company’s Hawthorne and Clackamas taprooms, and various locations. To find one near you, consult their “Cider Finder” on the Portland Cider Company website.