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Enjoy Magazine

Humboldt Cider Company

11/26/2016 02:44PM ● By Jordan Venema

An Apple a Day...

By Jordan Venema
Photo by Malcolm DeSoto

Most well-rounded bars have one on tap, and sometimes even a second, more exotic pear varietal. Ciders aren’t exactly a bar’s staple draught, and they might be more a concession to people who don’t really enjoy beer but also don’t want to be caught without a pint in hand. And while ciders probably will never be as common as craft beer, that isn’t stopping Eureka’s Humboldt Cider Company from breaking stereotypes by brewing clever and crafty cider concoctions.

Even for Darren Cartledge, who founded Humboldt Cider Company with his wife Michelle, cider was an acquired taste. Not a fan of the overly sweet ciders found regularly on tap, he then discovered English ciders, “and that they’re not really as sweet with the fake flavoring.”
In 2012, Cartledge opened Eureka’s The Local Beer Bar, but he says he had actually preferred to start a cider company first. “But I didn’t know what I was doing. I was making pretty terrible ciders,” he says with a laugh.

Enter Jamie Ashdon, Cartledge’s friend and third co-founder of Humboldt Cider Company. 
“I’ve been friends with Jamie for a quite a while,” explains Cartledge, “and he owns a home brew store, so he has a fair amount of experience with fermentation.”

After pairing with Ashdon, Cartledge then attended classes in Portland and Washington under the instruction of renowned cider-maker Peter Mitchell.
“And that’s pretty much how it got started,” he says. “We bought some fermenters and met a lady out at Redwood Acres, and took their old barn, cleaned it up and sanitized it, and started making cider.”

Cider is often perceived as a one-trick pony, a sweet, fermented apple wine. But as third-wave coffee was to Folgers, and craft brews were to Budweiser, Humboldt Cider Company is to fermented apple drinks. 

“It’s a huge stereotype that we’ve had some horrible ciders out there for a long time,” says Cartledge. “Mass-marketed ones are generally sweeter, and usually on tap wherever you go.” But at Humboldt Cider Company, says Cartledge, “we’ve done, I actually have no idea now, maybe 35 or so.”

As fermented fruit, cider technically falls under the wine category, but the apple-based beverage can be brewed as a single varietal or infused with other flavors and fruits, bringing out various notes and flavors that are washed out in overly processed ciders.

The brewers at Humboldt Cider Company began fermenting with different single varieties such as Jonathan and Macintosh apples, then “started playing around with different flavors and seeing what people like,” says Cartledge.

“We started playing with whatever ingredients were available, like kiwis, pineapple,” says Cartledge. “We are also next to Slice of Humboldt Pie, and they have their commercial kitchen next door, so we’d buy pineapples and they’d cook some down for us for
our cider.”

Other than single varieties, Humboldt Cider Company has blended ciders with ingredients such as honey, cherry, hibiscus, even berries. They’ve also created ciders that are brewed with more traditional ingredients found in craft beers.

“Our dry hop cider is one of my favorites, and a customer favorite,” Cartledge says, adding that the drink is a good bridge for customers more familiar with and fond of craft beer and IPAs.
They also offer unique ciders like the Coombachambre, a single varietal Jonathan that is matured for nine months in tequila American oak barrels, and the You Old Sailor You, another Jonathan varietal aged nine months in rum French oak barrels. 

With 10 ciders on tap, the best way to discover the nuances in Humboldt Cider Company’s ciders is to visit the tasting room and try them for yourself.  The tasting room is family friendly, offering various sizes and flights, and open Friday through Sunday. But if you really want to dive into the nuances of locally made cider, you’ll have to find them on tap or purchase a growler from the tasting room.

As far as selling retail goes, “we’re not quite there yet,” says Cartledge. “We’re still pretty small as it goes.” Small maybe, but also making a big impact on the craft cider scene. •

Humboldt Cider Company Tasting Room

3750 Harris St., Eureka • (707) 798-6023

Friday 5-9pm, Saturday noon-9pm, Sunday noon-8pm