One of the best cider producers in the region, and maybe even the country, is tucked away in the back of a downtown Renton antique store.
Nick Hill, who co-owns Puget Sound Cider Company with his wife, Holly Coleman, said that he feels the cider is “Renton’s best kept secret.”
The award-winning small-batch cider company has a tasting room in the back of Antiques 4U on 924 S. 3rd St., a business that the couple also owns and operates.
Hill said that his adventure into cider making is tied to the antique shop, as it began when the shop brought in an antique cider press. He said having the press led him to research old cider making techniques, which led him to try making apple juice before experimenting with alcoholic cider.
The apples that Hill uses are the same varieties of apples that were used to make cider centuries ago — heirloom varieties once thought to be extinct before they were recovered on a New Jersey cider mill in the 1970s, according to Hill.
“I wanted to make cider like they made 200 years ago,” he said.
The apples, known as the Harrison cider apple, are not a very sweet apple, according to Hill. He compared them to eating a crab apple, but said they make a delicious cider with a sweeter taste and good mouth feel.
“We love antiques and history,” Hill said of how his old-style cider goes hand-in-hand with antiques from the same era. He said the ciders he produces are similar to the exact ciders that people would have drank in the mid-1700s, during what he called the “golden age of cider.”
With small batches, Hill and Coleman produce many different varieties of ciders, about 30 different ciders a year, all using natural fruit fermentation without adding artificial flavors.
“Exploring and developing new flavors, that’s what I like as a cider maker,” Hill said.
And through this experimentation, they have found great success and recognition, winning and placing in cider-making contests throughout the region at some of the most prestigious competitions in the country.
“We make some of the best cider in the country,” Hill said. “And it is all because of these apples.”
The orchard where they sourced these unique apple varieties in Ellensburg was recently sold to them by the old farmer who tended to it before them, allowing Puget Sound Cider Company to ramp up production, as the orchard has nearly 10,000 trees.
Hill said the experience of learning how to manage such a large orchard has been a challenging one, with a learning curve, as they now have to manage the production of a quarter of a million pounds of apples annually.
Hill said it was a “golden opportunity” to obtain a mature cider apple orchard that produces apples that have a “unique taste of the orchard,” and a true “sense of place.”