Running dry, or sweet, at Western Cider Co. 

Where you're at: The owners at Missoula's new cidery seem a little dazed right now. Five years ago, they planted 4,500 apple trees in the Bitterroot Valley in the hopes of someday opening a cidery, and now here they finally are with a menu and a space and a small crowd of thirsty customers. The Western Cider Co., located on the Clark Fork next to the California Street footbridge, is fresh with white paint and spring sunbeams, which is the perfect kind of light to illuminate tables full of sparkling drink. Matthew LaRubbio and Michael Billingsley, who co-own the cidery with Jon Clarenbach, both admit it all feels "totally surreal."

click to enlarge PHOTO BY DEREK BROUWER
  • photo by Derek Brouwer

What you're drinking: As many kinds of ciders as you like, which means you should get a flight. The bartender will arrange your six ciders (chosen from a menu of 11) from driest to sweetest, and that's the way you should drink them. Once you've sipped them like some kind of fancy connoisseur, you should definitely mix the glasses up and do a blind taste test to see how well you listened to the bartender's description of their flavors.

Our favorites: Not all the ciders are made with local orchard apples, but the Heirloom and the Hewe's Rouge are. They're also the driest and (IMHO) most delicious. LaRubbio says the Hewe's Rouge is a "cider drinker's cider" because it's made from true cider apples (the kind that are so astringent they make you pucker.) The Aronia Rose, made with aronia berries and rose petals, somehow manages to taste like roses and be enjoyable. Also of note is the limited batch of wild-fermented Great Bear cider, created in honor of the late Chuck Jonkel and made with apples culled from trees valley-wide by the Great Bear Foundation. It's a little funky, but in a good way—just like the town it comes from.

Where to go: 501 N. California St., next to the California St. footbridge.

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