With so many breweries and bars located across Kitsap County, a Poulsbo couple wanted to bring something different to the area that would complement their small farm on NW Beaver Ridge — Bushel & Barrel Ciderhouse.
While the company has been around since 2014, co-owners Melissa Kittrell and Joel Atteberry were only producing cider to be sold at local stores. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the couple opened a tasting room next to their home at Beaver Bend Farm, which Kittrell said was “definitely a weird time in the world to open.”
“With the way we designed our building, we were able to keep the doors wide open. It was kind of like a ski lodge,” she said. “It was really fun to actually see our patrons’ faces for the first time.”
Kittrell, 38, is from Texas and Atteberry, 42, from Illinois. They both are ex-active duty Navy sailors and ended up in the area and have since made their home here for the last 20 years or so.
“We just decided to stay and make this our home,” Kittrell said. “I’ve been homebrewing for a long time. When I was in the Navy I got into it. I love the camaraderie and fellowship you find in the brewery environment. Personally, I wanted to do cider so I could complement the breweries and do something different and have different flavor profiles.”
They both had the ambition to create something special that resonated with their farm environment. It is the only cider house in the county.
“With cider, I just love the flexibility with the apples,” Kittrell said. “It’s all about the fruit, which brings us to agriculture, which is another one of my passions. The goal is to be more of an agritourism spot to where we can do fun things, have an orchard, have the kids out and do some more interactive things with our patrons in the future.”
As for cider houses, she said they’re “making a re-emergence. More people are paying attention to their diet and their bodies; cider is a really good option for that.”
Kittrell said her hard cider needs an apple base. They get their apples from Eastern Washington but soon will be utilizing 10 acres to grow their own bittersharp and specialized orchard that will strictly be used for ciders.
“You get some creative flexibility with what you can do to make it special,” she said. “You can do all kinds of different flavors and herbs if you wanted to.”
The cider house offers 12 staples, along with about 15 more creative flavors that are rotated. Some in-season flavors are lavender and rosemary grapefruit. Kittrell said the alcohol percentage doesn’t exceed 6.5 percent.
Describing the process of making hard cider, Kittrell said the top priority is to be clean.
“You have to have the right fermenters and the right vessels,” she said. “Then I get the juice pressed … and do some testing on it. You have to understand the acidity levels and the sugar content. From there, you got to get it pressed and ready for pitching yeast.
“Whenever the time is right and you have all the boundaries ready to go, you pitch a certain type of yeast, depending on the flavor profile you want. You just let it ferment. I ferment it all the way dry, and I’ll backsweet into any flavor that I want.”
She went on to say: “I do not like a syrupy, sweet cider. We do not add any fake chemicals. It’s pretty much just juices and natural ingredients for me. With that, I don’t have very sweet ciders, which most people seem to prefer.”
Since the tasting room opened, they’ve stopped selling at stores. “I’ve had a really hard time keeping up on that. That is a goal for the next year. If they come to the tasting room I’m able to can up anything that we have on draft. That’s kind of the take-home ability besides having the growlers.”
Bushel & Barrel also offers local beers and wines. Kittrell said she might make some wine in the future. Regarding food to complement the drinks, they are utilizing food trucks. The farm used to provide food on a regular basis but Kittrell only does that now if a provider cancels on them.
“That way we can kind of switch up the menu,” she said. “We’ve had a few caterers, pop-ups and food trucks. It works out well for both of us.”
Kittrell said they see a mix of regulars and tourists who like exploring cider houses.
“I see so many regulars, especially from the Poulsbo community, that’s made this their local watering hole,” she said. “It’s definitely expanded our network of friends; we almost consider them family now.”
As for the tourists, “Most people say they haven’t ever heard of us. I’m not quite sure how they’re all finding out but the word is spreading. We’re getting people in the door.”
Unlike a bar or tavern, the cider house is family-friendly so kids and pets are welcome. Kittrell said kids love checking out the alpacas, Icelandic sheep and goats on the farm.
“We have a little outdoor area set up for kids,” she said. “We’re working on making that a little better. Because it’s a tasting room we’re not limited. It’s not like a tavern where they can’t enter or have to stay in certain areas. We just got to make sure they keep them well-behaved.”
Being open just four days a week, Kittrell likes to have a special theme each day. Thursday is open mic night, Fridays they’ll have a local acoustic band, Saturday is karaoke and Sunday offers a private goat yoga session in the morning.
“We got a nice little drumbeat going,” she said.
The cider house also supports local charities and organizations such as North Kitsap Trails Association and Fishline, among others. They also support efforts for Cambodian landmine removals. Kittrell loves to travel, and she met someone in Cambodia who was involved in the project. She even has a landmine cider that’s named after it.
“We’ll take a percentage of our profits and donate to different charities,” she said. “It’s definitely a big part of our mantra.”