What are trained architects doing making hard cider?

“It’s a great beverage with a great legacy,” says Austin Dickey ’00, who tasted his first cider while visiting Europe after graduating from high school. He and colleague Rick Hastings share a passion for traditional hard cider.

After experimenting with homemade batches for years, the two began comparing notes and decided in 2012 to transform their hobby into a commercial venture.

“For us it’s all about the apples and yeast,” says Dickey.

Liberty Ciderworks, located in downtown Spokane, became the state’s first urban craft cidery and was among the initial wave of artisanal cider producers to launch commercial operations in Washington.

Dickey and Hastings, who have kept their day jobs, tend to be traditionalists and their dry ciders show it.

The primary focus is on the quality and variety of apples they blend for each batch, rather than elaborate recipes or exotic ingredients.

“There’s an artistic component to it,” says Hastings, who took classes from British cider expert Peter Mitchell. “We’re trying to get all the flavor we can out of the apples and the yeast. We really want that apple to be front and center.”

Traditionalists rely primarily on the quality and variety of apples to determine flavor, often experimenting with blends to produce specific characteristics. The result is a more traditional taste reminiscent of colonial America.

But that doesn’t mean they avoid taking chances.

One of their specialty batches, for example, is an English blend they call Stonewall. Aged in whiskey barrels from the nearby Dry Fly craft distillery, the blend takes its name from General “Stonewall” Jackson, who Civil War era historians say was known to blend whiskey in with his cider.

Stonewall has an oaky flavor with a subtle kick and was declared Best in Class for 2015 by the Great Lakes International Cider and Perry Association, which hosts the nation’s largest cider competition.

“Cider in so many ways is a hybrid between wine and beer,” says Hastings.

Like wine, it’s essentially fermented fruit juice and tends to be packaged in larger bottles. But the alcohol levels are more similar to craft beers and often is available on tap.

In fact, Dickey’s first forays into hard cider production began over a decade ago when he received a home beer-making kit as a gift and realized he could use the equipment to produce hard cider instead.

Like others in the growing industry, Liberty’s owners have had to scour the region looking for suitable apple varieties.

They consider themselves fortunate to have found two producers now specializing in cider varieties: Steury Orchards in Potlatch, Idaho, and Bishop’s Orchard in Garfield, Washington.’

“We don’t grow that many cider-specific apples in America yet,” said Hastings. “But that’s changing.”