While craft beer has taken off, hard cider is quickly catching up. The Rogue Valley is home to some killer fruit-based brews, and local pubs are serving up Pacific Northwest offerings. Whether you're gluten-free or just want to mix up your standard summer libations, here are a few must-try drinks.
1. The Growler Guys
This spot is great for the serious sampler who wants to try them all. Taste any of six ciders on tap as well as mead, sangria or an array of kombuchas. Order a flight of any four drinks on tap and grab a patio seat with friends. For beer lovers, Growlers Guys' most popular seller is RPM IPA by Boneyard Beer in Bend, which is always on tap.
Peach sangria is among many non-beer options. Cluster by Nectar Creek in Corvallis is surprisingly light and bubbly. Made from honey and similar to cider, this strawberry-cranberry mead has floral and fruity notes reminiscent of hibiscus nectar.
Sacrilege Sour Cherry by Rev Nat's Hard Cider of Portland is sweet and sour up front and spicy on the back. The heat cuts through the sweetness, which is a welcome change from syrupy ciders. Adventurous tasters should put this on the bucket drink list.
Growler Guys wins my vote for the largest selection of non-beer summer drinks.
Find Growler Guys at 345 Lithia Way, Ashland.
2. Standing Stone Brewing Co.
Apple ciders can feel overdone, so I'm always looking for a good berry variety to mix things up. The blackberry cider by Atlas Cider Co. of Bend is earthy, rich and on the drier side. Tannins add to its deep flavor. Though a heartier cider is not as refreshing in the summer heat, I would easily drink this year-round.
For beer drinkers, Standing Stone also offers beer flights for $5 and has some fruity seasonals on tap, including Summer Squeeze and Stone Fruit Sour.
This local spot has plenty of seating both inside and outside, plus plenty of gluten-free options. With a great food lineup — my candidate for best thick-cut fries — this is your best bet for an amazing cider and tasty bites.
Find Standing Stone Brewing Co. at 101 Oak St., Ashland.
3. Brickroom Gathering House
Brickroom in downtown Ashland usually offers at least one cider on tap, as well as a gluten-free beer by the bottle. For those who love the hoppy bitterness of beer, the IPA by Omission is a good bet. This IPA, with a bolder, earthier flavor, is a welcome respite from overly sweet ciders if you're gluten free.
I was impressed with the gluten-free offerings on the menu. The small plates are a nice departure from standard pub food. Baked beans and beet-chevre salad? Most definitely. This place has my vote for enjoying a cider over dinner and music.
Find Brickroom Gathering House at 35 N. Main St., Ashland.
4. Swing Tree Brewing Co.
This spot stands apart for its relaxed ambiance and knock-out ciders. Tucked away on Hersey Street just off downtown Ashland, it's a popular hangout for locals to grab a drink and play shuffleboard. I'll be back for the atmosphere alone.
The Rabid Dry by Apple Outlaw — made in the Rogue Valley — takes the cake for dry cider. It can be hard to find a basic apple variety that isn't cloyingly sweet, but the Rabid Dry is no-nonsense, allowing the fruit flavor to shine. This one is my new go-to, especially for a homegrown choice.
Find Swing Tree at 300 E. Hersey St., Ashland.
5. 4 Daughters Irish Pub
On Main Street in downtown Medford, 4 Daughters is cozy, with large, comfortable couches and armchairs. The Pineapple Hard Cider by ACE of Sebastopol, Calif., is one of my new favorite semi-sweets. With just enough tartness and tropical flavor, the apple-based cider isn't too far outside the box and a balanced, summery blend.
This pub also offers four or five ciders on rotation, plus two gluten-free beers. Cider lovers can get Strongbow, a basic hard apple cider, here as well.
For someone who loves fries, the gluten-free sweet potato fries with spicy aioli and huckleberry ketchup are a nice change-up. This is the first time I've seen a pub dedicate an entire section of their menu to gluten-free options, so I'll be back for that.
Find 4 Daughters at 125 W. Main St., Medford.