By Carrina Stanton
For The Chronicle
Just a few miles off U.S. Highway 12 on Silver Creek Road, big things are happening at one very small orchard.
Family legacies are being carried on. Lost things are being found. And one man is on a mission to make some very good ciders.
Though apples and apple cider have been part of Joshua Hail’s family for most of his life, the owner of 3 Dog Cider & Brewstillery in Silver Creek never considered going into the cider business until a few years ago.
Hail, a landscape architect, has lived in a handful of other states and spent five years working in New York. He noted that New York is called the Big Apple because before Washington decided to be an apple producing area, New York was known for its apples. There are many orchards and cideries abound in New York. Hail spent time at several, including working at Angry Orchard, where he helped with the construction of the Walden, New York, site’s treehouse tasting room (which was featured on Animal Planet’s “Treehouse Masters” show).
The experience inspired him to think about his own family’s land back home in Silver Creek.
“I thought, ‘When I get home, that’s what I’m doing,’” Hail said.
When he returned to Lewis County in 2019, Hail’s family land was overgrown and retained just nine of the original apple trees, including one named Blossom, a Chehalis apple tree Hail’s father purchased in 1968 and Hail planted in the spot at the age of about 3.
Once about 119 acres, the family land had slowly been sold off over the years. Hail now has about 12 acres, a small portion of which houses 3 Dog Cider & Brewstillery.
“My theory is if you have land, you might as well put it to work for you,” Hail said.
Growing up, Hail recalled his family did not approve of alcohol, so when they pressed cider and it turned hard or to vinegar, it got dumped. Using the skills he acquired through the extensive schooling required to become a landscape architect, Hail learned to create hard cider by reading scientific books and looking at it like a giant science experiment. His first attempt at hard cider was with a French Calville Blanc apple.
“It blew my mind,” Hail recalled.
Hail started doing blind taste tests with his friends and family, pitting his own ciders against commercial varieties. He got such positive feedback, he decided to throw his hat into the ring at a Northwest Cider Association symposium, where the reception was the same.
“I was shocked with how big a hit it was,” Hail recalled.
Today, Hail has a total of 194 apple trees representing 30 varieties, and growing. Many of his varieties are considered “lost” apples that are being rediscovered by a man from Spokane who travels to old farmsteads and takes samples that are verified either by Oregon State University (OSU) or an organization in Washington, D.C.
Hail noted that OSU has a database of about 2,000 varieties of apples but it used to have about 14,000 varieties cataloged, so many old fashioned varieties are still waiting to be rediscovered. Each year, Hail purchases between eight and 20 trees that have been grown from grafts of these lost varieties to be added to his cidery collection.
Hail’s trees have names you may have never heard of: Ivanhoe, Shackelford, Buttersweet, Arkansas Beauty and the extremely rare red-fleshed Niedwetzkyana. They are varieties prized for being more bitter, astringent and tannic than so-called culinary apples.
One of Hail’s apple trees, the Gnarled Chapman, is also known as the spitter apple, because it is so bitter, you’ll spit it out. But these are the types of apples the area’s first settlers may have brought on their journey West because they were long keepers and made cider that was prized because it was a clean product to drink when drinking water sources could be dangerous.
Hail said most cideries in the state purchase their apples from Eastern Washington and then make the cider at their location. His goal is to create all of his cider from his own apples, but while he’s waiting for some of his trees to mature, he finds Lewis County trees to source his fruit from. Sometimes, he’s able to find antique trees in his neighbors’ properties. Other times, it’s a little farther away, such as the more than 100-year-old Gravenstein in Bucoda, with a trunk circumference bigger than Hail’s arm span. For Hail, finding these local sources is an incredibly important part of his mission.
“Lewis County is losing its agrarian nature, which I think really distinguished it from the rest of the state,” Hail said. “I’m keeping all my apples, as much as possible, in Lewis County.”
At the moment, 3 Dog Cider & Brewstillery is open to the public on weekends through October, weather permitting. Besides take-home four- and six-packs and growlers, visitors can buy a pint or half-pint of cider as well as a four- or six-sample flight. There are also non-alcoholic cider varieties to sample.
Visitors to 3 Dog Cider & Brewstillery get a chance to sample Hail’s creations while sitting or walking among the apple trees that grew the fruit. Last year, Hail produced about 600 gallons of cider while the difficult weather that has plagued most farmers meant he only produced about 100 gallons this year.
Still, on a recent afternoon, Hail had two carbonated varieties (ale-like HHB featuring site-grown hops and blonde Rizzo) and five “still” or “Scrumpy” ciders, referring to their more wine-like, non-bubbly finish (Gravenstein & Pear, Gravenstein & Buttersweet, Gravenstein & King & Jonathan, Blossom Blend and Dry Hopped).
Eventually, Hail plans to expand his orchard to all 12 acres of the property.
Hail would also like to add an event center, which would expand his ability to be open to the public year-round.
Next year, he also plans to add food to his offerings and apply for a distillery license in order to expand his offerings.
More Information: 3 Dog Cider & Brewstillery
Location: 1402 state Route 122, Silver Creek
Hours: Open from 2 to 8 p.m. Friday, noon to 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 to 6 p.m. Sunday through October (weather permitting)
Online: Find 3 Dog Cider/Brewstillery on Facebook and 3_dog_cider_brewstillery on Instagram.
Events: Check out their ciders at the Onalaska Apple Harvest festival beer garden Sept. 30-Oct. 2 and during its Farm & Homestead Tour Oct. 2.