In the alcohol business not everybody likes beer, or wine, or hard alcohol, but a sweet alternate adults can drink is hard apple cider.
This isn’t branded, mass-produced cider you can find on the shelves of a grocery store. It’s cider on a century-old farm where you can sit beside wandering goats and chickens. It’s Snowbird Farm & Cidery — 484 Old Monte Brady Road in Montesano. The land houses the Glengarry Dairy Farm barn, which was originally built in 1917 and has since been restored.
Raeann Edwards, a former school teacher, and her husband Duncan, a former aviations mechanic for the U.S. Coast Guard, own and operate the cidery, which is named after a Junco bird. They started making cider eight or nine years ago when they were living in Fairbanks, Alaska. Raeann’s hockey team there asked the couple to think about making cider professionally because their home-brew was so good.
It took a while for the Edwards to commit to making the sharp, crisp, flavorful beverage commercially, but since they opened the business in January they’ve succeeded. And it’s the only cidery on Grays Harbor.
It is a real Ma and Pa establishment. Raeann makes the cider and Duncan works on the machinery and any tasks in between. He himself said he only “helps.”
“I’m 10% of this,” Duncan said. “She’s the 90% behind this.”
Raeann said her favorite part of the business is spending time with her neighbors.
“I like the community, especially here, an area that I’m from,” Raeann said. “I graduated from high school in Elma and I began in Montesano when I was little. My parents and my siblings, most of them graduated from Montesano High School. My family’s been in the community for a long time.”
While the couple is from Grays Harbor, they spent 32 years in Fairbanks. They moved back in the last couple years and they love being home in East County.
“For me, being small and being here, it’s really the connections you’re making with the community and the neighbors,” Raeann said. “Some people come in here and it’s like ‘I remember when you were just tiny.’ And then some of the younger people are like ‘You’re from Alaska?’ (Then I go) ‘Yeah, but I’m originally from here.’ And then you start talking with people and it’s like ‘Oh yeah! Your parents knew my uncle and aunt.’ That for me is the most fun, the connections we make.”
Duncan added how he loves the fact during the winter he just has to worry about rain. He doesn’t have to plug in his car so it stays warm enough to drive the next time he has to leave the house.
Raeann’s favorite part of being involved in the cider business is she gets to be her own Dr. Frankenstein, because for her, it’s about trying new things and concocting different flavors.
“I like to tell people the blackberry-basil cider came from my daughter-in-law, who said ‘Hey, I got this new hand lotion, it’s really nice. It’s blackberry basil,’” Raeann said.
The smell of the lotion gave Raeann the idea to get that flavor into her cider. It’s called “Brady Bottom Blackberry Basil,” and it’s on tap now.
“That’s a fun part of the cider part, it’s almost like a chemistry set,” Raeann said.
The cider starts from a 275-gallon tank full of apple juice. Snowbird uses a “pretty consistent” blend of Gala, Red and Yellow Delicious, and Granny Smith apples.
The juice then starts getting fermented. After a lengthy process, at least six weeks, the cider is ready to go.
Raeann explained a few of the major steps in making cider.
“The first step is you pretty much just pitch the yeast,” Raeann said. “What type of yeast you use really has an effect on the flavor of the cider and how it turns out. You can have some that will leave the cider tasting a little more crisp or a little more sweet.”
Then she lets it ferment.
“You rack it, or transfer it to other tanks, and then you let it mature,” Raeann said. “And then, that’s really pretty much it.”
Raeann has other tricks to make her own flavors taste to her liking.
“If it’s the basil mint, it’ll require several days of infusing the basil and the mint in there,” Raeann said. “If it’s another one like the blackberry basil, which contains blackberries, then I’ll be juicing the blackberries and adding that to it. And then of course infuse the basil again.”
And then if she wants more sweetness than what she can get from the berries she puts in it, then she uses apple juice concentrate to backsweeten it.
The juice and the concentrate comes from FruitSmart, in Eastern Washington.
While hard cider is quite popular around the area and there are other cider companies much larger than Snowbird, Raeann is glad to be dealing with a smaller-scale business.
“Our scale here is pretty much what I envisioned to begin with and it’s close to what I’m probably going to stay with for quite a while,” Raeann said.
As far as a recommendation, Raeann’s favorites right now are Snowbird’s “Hoppy Opus” and “Elderberry Honey.”
“It depends on the day, but those are still my two favorites,” Raeann said.
And then it seems Duncan’s favorite is the Apple Pie. It’s also the best seller.
“It’s like drinking apple pie in a glass,” Duncan said.
But, remember, as deliciously sweet and crisp as the ciders might be, all eight varieties currently available are at least 6% alcohol by volume, so drink responsibly.
The farm itself has 100-year-old apple trees and the 106-year-old Glengarry Dairy Farm, which is now part of the Washington State Historic Barn Registry (WSHBR.) The registry “commemorates barns as historically significant resources representing the agricultural, economic and cultural development of the state of Washington,” the WSHBR website states.
“It’s kind of nice to have,” Raeann said. “The trees have the history of the whole farm. It’s kind of fun to be able to use those to make cider with.”
Watching the animals on or near the farm is another plus for the Edwards couple. Raeann told a story about an interesting sight.
“One time I looked out and on top of the fence post over here was a kingfisher,” Raeann said. “He had a frog in his mouth and he was smashing it against the fence post trying to kill it. It was one of the funniest things I’d seen in a long time.”
The Edwards have seen “all kinds of critters,” including river otters, tadpoles, fish and other nature in their backyard and/or in a stream near the back end of the property.
How Snowbird Farm and Cidery started
Raeann said the cider business venture started as a joke with her son.
“He was in grad school and thinking he was never going to get a job,” Raeann said. “He brewed beer and it’s like, ‘Oh we’ll start a brewery in a barn sometime.’”
Soon, the Edwards started thinking it might be time to move back home and be closer to family.
“I had a few family members pass away all at the same time, pretty much,” Raeann said. “And it’s like ‘You know, life is short, let’s go do something else and move down closer to family.’ And then I said, ‘yeah I’m gonna go down and start a cidery in Washington.’ I don’t know, just decided ‘OK, we’ll do this. How much work can this be for a retirement gig, right?’ A lot actually.”
While it took a couple years to find the right spot in Grays Harbor County, it sounds as though their spot just off Monte-Brady Road is just right. And they’re surrounded by family, who live between Olympia and the beach.
“This is a good place, it’s a good location for a cidery,” Raeann said. “And it’s got character with the barn and the house, and it’s close to family, so we ended up here.”
After searching extensively for a property, they needed a name. They didn’t want to name it after a person, because of an unfortunate finding in Alaska. And then they found it difficult to find a name that was right for the business, and at the same time, one that was available. Then a friend suggested Snowbird. The Edwards, who were commuting between Alaska and Washington, loved the name.
“It gives us our ties to Alaska and our ties here,” Raeann said. “And also the bird that is considered the snowbird, is the junco.”
If planning a trip for the crisp, flavorful cider, the cidery is open Fridays — 4 to 8 p.m., Saturdays — 2 to 8 p.m., and Sundays — noon to 6 p.m. If driving from Aberdeen, head east on U.S. Highway 12, turn left at Monte-Brady Road, turn right just after the railroad tracks, on Old Monte-Brady Road and then look for the white fenced farm.