Eugene, Ore.: Land of the Ducks, home of the hippies and if you want to enjoy an evening out on the town, there are a few places you can find a good draft cider.
Written by Emma Salo
Photos by Courtney Hendricks
It’s a lazy afternoon in Eugene, Ore. You’re done with work or school or that thing you were suppose to do but are avoiding instead. You decide that the only thing missing from your life (the only thing easily fixed that is) is a glass of lovely hard cider. But where do you go? Which bars have multiple hard ciders? Where is it on tap? Which ones are the best? All these questions run through your head in a cacophony of cider desire. But, halt! Fear no more desperate cider seeker for I, as a human lab rat, ventured around Eugene to find the best bars with hard ciders (in the name of science, and stuff). The following article is a record of my findings at this time. Now you can decide which bar has the cider and atmosphere best for you. So, read on cider seeker!
The Bier Stein
The first bar I went to was The Bier Stein (which I later discovered is the premiere Eugene bar for hard cider). A friendly and helpful bartender said that hard cider popularity seems to go through phases of popularity and that demand definitely increases in the summer. However, most people look for cider on draft and The Bier Stein only has bottled ciders (over 15 types, including Fox Barrel, Strongbow, and Woodchuck). The most popular ciders ordered are Wyder’s and Ace’s Apple.
The bar itself has a (dare I say it?) comfy, homey feel. The soft yellow walls are welcoming and there is a pleasant buzz of conversation that makes for great white noise but still allows for conversation. Colorful beer posters decorate the walls and a bike hangs from the skylight (don’t ask me why). The clientele consists of students and community members. Everyone is friendly and willing to chat.
Now, about the ciders. I told the bartender to surprise me and she gave me a bottle of Wandering Aengus’ Bloom, which uses organic apples, and Spire Mountain’s Draft Cider. Wandering Aengus’ cider is a light topaz color while Spire looks like champagne. Wandering Aengus has a vaguely tangy smell (but only after you shove your nose halfway down the glass to get a whiff). It packs quite a punch, however. The cider tastes sour and bubbly, at first, and grows increasingly sour. The aftertaste is sweeter and a bit yeasty. There’s definitely a metallic and acidic edge to the cider, especially when compared to Spire. Spire has a strong fruity smell with yeasty undertones. It starts out soft and bubbly, then sweet, and finally tangy. One of my tasting buddies said it had a “refreshing zing.”
Of the two ciders, Spire was my favorite. I enjoyed its sweet and tangy flavors over the harsher, more acidic ones of Wandering Aengus. Both ciders were enjoyable, though, and I’d be willing to order either again.
Next, I journeyed to Max’s Tavern. It’s a small, cozy bar with dim lighting, several booths and a bar. The bar has free snacks (popcorn or peanuts) and the clientele seemed to be mainly students and regulars. There were even people studying. The bartenders were friendly and supplied me with Wyder’s pear cider, which was on tap. It’s the only cider the bar carries and the bartender said that more women tend to order it than men. She also said that Max’s does a Snake Bite, which is a glass half full of pear cider with Guinness floated on top.
The pear cider was clear with a sour smell. It was very soft and tasted like sparkly water at first. Then it was sour, metallic, and ended sweet. There’s no real aftertaste and I can see why it makes a great summer refreshment. It was rather addictive, but lacked an edge. I think I’d order it again on a hot summer afternoon, but I’d steer clear during the cold, rainy winter.
McMenamins was next. Both a pub and restaurant, McMenamins has outdoor and indoor seating. The staff bustles around and the bar itself is a happening place with bartenders flying in and out. I don’t think I’d recommend sitting at the bar because it’s so busy, but the bartenders are nice and willing to chat (when they’re not running around and ringing people up, that is). You can order drinks from a table or the bar (if you order at the bar it’s pay as you go). The lighting is bright and there’s a good amount of white noise, but nothing too loud.
I tried the McMenamins’ hard cider, which they brew themselves. It was a bright amber color and smelled coppery. It was full bodied and the alcohol content was very apparent. It had a rough texture and was “zingy” (my tasting buddies really liked that word). It was sour, then yeasty, and had a sweet aftertaste that faded quickly. It wasn’t very sugary and was good if you’re looking for a cider with an edge. However, I preferred Wandering Aengus.
Finally, I went to The Horsehead. It has dim lighting (though brighter than Max’s) and a friendly atmosphere. There are tons of places to sit and a few little alcove type rooms with cool wooden tables (one is shaped like Nevada). The bartender—who turned out to be the owner—was very friendly, gave me Strongbow cider in a bottle (they only carry Strongbow and no ciders on tap), and told me to head to The Bier Stein if cider was what I was after (The Bier Stein is cider seeker heaven, apparently). I chose to sit at a table outside, which was shaded by a wall of bamboo. There are about seven outdoor tables and all were packed with a variety of people.
The Strongbow had a smell that vaguely reminded me of rotting apples (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing) and the cider itself was super sour with a sweet aftertaste. The aftertaste didn’t linger and I found the cider rather dull and uninteresting, making it my least favorite of the night. That said, I really liked the atmosphere at The Horsehead and it was wonderful to sit outside in the sun.
So, there we have it, cider-seeker. This is by no means a complete list of bars in Eugene, but hopefully it helps to still your mind’s cacophony of cider-focused queries. The Bier Stein was my favorite of all the bars (both in atmosphere and ciders) and The Horsehead runs a close second as my favorite bar (though not at all in cider seeking). But, it is up to you to make up your own mind. Go, cider seeker! Go avoid that thing you have to do and relax with a nice glass or bottle of hard cider!