[John Valls Photography]

In 2009, Jeff Smith was just a regular guy who loved beer. Then, one day, he got a notion: Casual beer bars and bottle shops were popping up everywhere. Would the same model work for cider?

Jeff and his wife, Erin, opened Bushwhacker Cider, the nation’s very first cider bar, in 2010. How did it feel to do something so new? “It was scary, but it was also comforting,” he says. “Nobody had done it, so nobody could say how it should be or how it was supposed to look.”

It’s a classic Portland story, and Bushwhacker still exemplifies that quirky, individualistic, DIY-ethos that’s made the city famous. A visit feels like hanging out in a friend’s tricked-out garage. It’s relaxed, comfy, and not the least bit fancy, with a concrete patio out front and classic rock on the speakers inside. “We started on a shoestring budget. We have no investors,” he says. “It’s just me and Erin, so we have the luxury of not having people to answer to.”

But don’t let the casual vibe fool you: This is probably still the best place to drink cider in the United States. Eight cider taps and more than 300 bottle choices make finding something to love easy, and the selection can’t be beat. When Bushwhacker Cider first opened, it stocked every bottle of cider available in Portland at the time—about 30. Today, it has somewhere around 340, including ciders from the Northwest and around the world.

Smith says local cider is still the most popular, despite the proliferation of cider making around the country. “In Portland, people are still driven by wanting to support small and local,” he says.

“I don’t think we could have started Bushwhacker in any other city. Cidermakers from England and Brittany, France, come here and are blown away by the selection and the questions our customers ask—their ability to discern good cider. That’s why I’m proud of what we’ve done.”

After introducing people to Northwest cider for almost 10 years, here are a few of his favorite starting points in the category:

  • Baird & Dewar’s Farmhouse Cider, a traditional native yeast-fermented cider made in Dayton, Ore., from a blend of traditional cider apples
  • OR/WA QPA, made with a blend of quince, pear, and apple by a crew that also operates a cider apple nursery
  • Thompson Creek Wickson, a single-variety cider from certified organic orchardists Thompson Creek in southern Oregon