The partners behind this casual, communal gathering space are committed to pioneering pours, locally sourced food and Chimacum itself.
THERE ISN’T MUCH to attract a motorist’s attention at the Chimacum crossroads beyond a blinking red light, a Chevron station and The Chimacum Corner Farmstand. Port Townsend-bound travelers from Seattle and points south are likely to breeze straight on through the intersection but — whoa, Nelly! — hang a left instead, and set a spell at Finnriver Farm & Cidery. It’s Chimacum’s communal backyard, where neighbors, day-trippers and wandering tourists alike pause for refreshment.
Eat, drink and be wary of the manure if you stroll among the rows of espaliered apple trees, alongside fields of flowers that are harvested for seed. Mind the electric fences too, meant to contain grazing sheep. Let the youngsters loose on the playground, or join them for a game of Cornhole. On weekend nights, bands add to the merry mayhem.
The cider garden is open year-round, rain or shine. The roof is a bit leaky, but there are blankets, heaters and clear plastic sides that drop for extra shelter. “We try to close down when there’s a big storm, but people still show up,” says Crystie Kisler, one of Finnriver’s co-owners, along with her husband, Keith Kisler, and Eric Jorgensen.
World Apple Day
Finnriver Farm & Cidery celebrates “World Apple Day” on Oct. 14.
Address: 124 Center Road, Chimacum.
Chimacum Valley, a patchwork of pastures, forest and farmland with a salmon-bearing stream running through it, is the agricultural heart of the eastern Olympic Peninsula. Like many farms in the area, Finnriver’s 50-acre orchard and its 33-acre home farm (both certified organic) are permanently protected as working farmland under a conservation easement with Jefferson Land Trust.
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The orchard has about 6,000 trees, including more than 20 varieties of traditional European and early American cider apples and perry pears. The site was a dairy farm for more than a century. Finnriver began leasing it in 2012, two years after launching the cidery at the home farm, 3 miles south. By most measures, Washington ranks among the top five cider-producing states. Finnriver was in the vanguard, entering the market just before U.S. cider production began spiking and widening the horizon of possibilities for fermented apple juice.
Some of their early experiments established new categories. “We did the first pepper ciders,” says Crystie. “Now it’s a thing.”
Habanero cider is one of dozens of small-batch brews they make, some so small, they are available only at the farm. The tasting room sells flights and samplers, guided or on your own, as well as pints and bottles. In addition to traditional and contemporary craft ciders, Finnriver makes botanical ciders, including a soft, fruity blend of black currant and lavender, and a crisp, tart cranberry-rosehip mix.
The smoke-tinged Fire Barrel cider, aged in rye casks, is part of the Orchard Series, which showcases the best of their own fruit. Finnriver wrangles apples from all over Washington, though. The elegant “Pommeau,” an oak-aged apple brandy, marries Finnriver fruit with apples from Orcas Island.
The partners were able to buy the property this year. Eventually, the cidery will move to the cider garden complex at the orchard, joining the tasting room and retail shop; food stalls; and two large, open-air pavilions — former dairy barns now filled with tables and chairs and strung with white party lights. A trough where cows once gorged on silage is now the base of a long communal table topped with reclaimed barnwood where humans chow down.
Food is available every day, all of it with a local connection. Pizza, brats and salads comprise the regular weekend fare, or you can purchase cheeses, cured meats, smoked fish and crackers for snacking. Rotating guest vendors have included Cape Cleare’s Alaskan salmon wagon, Hama Hama seafood, sweet and savory crepes from La Crepe de Quimper food truck, and Fiddlehead Creamery’s vegan ice cream.
Dented Buoy pizzas might sport thin rounds of yellow squash, Sun Gold tomatoes and Mt. Townsend Creamery blue cheese. A mix of whole wheat and white flours boosts the flavor of the paper-thin crusts. A few minutes in the alder-fueled oven (constructed from a battered buoy), and the edges brown and crackle like autumn leaves.
The pork for the grilled bratwurst is from pigs raised just down the road. The crunchy sauerkraut and hearty brown cider mustard are both farm-made. The stellar buns are from Port Townsend-based Pane d’Amore Bakery. If your visit coincides with Cape Cleare’s, follow the scent of garlic bread to snag a grilled salmon sandwich loaded with Midori Farm greens; herb-flecked tartar sauce; and, if you want, a Finnriver Farm fried egg.
The outrageously abundant salads flaunt more lettuces than one could possibly sort out. A late-summer tangle of lemon-dressed greens included fat blueberries and quinoa. Keith Kisler is the grain geek. Descended from a long line of Eastern Washington farmers, he also grows buckwheat, spelt, rye and wheat.
A milling room is next on Finnriver’s wish list. This year’s accomplishment was building a commercial kitchen at the orchard for use by their own vendors and the community at large. “We perceived a major need for local food vendors to have a commercially certified place to prep,” says Crystie. It’s another way of furthering their devotion to “the art of farming, the love of land and the spirit of community.”
“There has always been leadership on this corner,” she says. Finnriver’s website details some of the history: William Bishop Jr., a dairyman who became the first elected Native American to serve as a Washington State senator, purchased the land in 1898. When B.G. and Gloria Brown bought the Bishop farm in 1956, it became the Chimacum Dairy. “Brownie” served as a county commissioner for 20 years, while Gloria ran the Chimacum Café.
It still exists just north of the crossroads, under different ownership but possibly with the same flowered wallpaper and Mickey Mouse memorabilia from 60 years ago. Go there for 21 kinds of pie — and four scoops of vanilla ice cream, if you ask for it a la mode. And don’t overlook the Chimacum Corner Farmstand at the crossroads. Shelf-talkers point you to all the “food from here”: just-picked produce, eggs and cheese; frozen meat and fish; even plant starts. Bring a cooler.