Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider, the Portland cider company beloved for its inventive approach to American cider fermentation, will close on September 24 after 12 years. Founder Nat West attributes Rev Nat’s closure to the difficulties of pandemic recovery, leaving behind a legacy within the city’s beverage scene both in terms of his process and the way he incorporated activism into his business.
The blog Beervana broke the news on September 5, also announcing a goodbye party at Reverend Nat’s Southeast Division Street taproom on Saturday, September 23. West told Beervana founder Jeff Alworth, who interviewed the cidermaker for his 2015 book Cider Made Simple, that Reverend Nat’s sales had still not grown back to pre-COVID figures. Reverend Nat’s taproom moved to Division Street in March, which reduced the cidery’s size by 75 percent.
West is an award-winning experimental cider maker, growing a loyal following by bending the once-rigid rules of what makes a cider American. West started Reverend Nat’s as a stay-at-home dad in 2011, after first brewing cider in 2004. After he moved from his basement to his garage, West used Kickstarter to help open Reverend Nat’s original and longtime taproom in 2013. At its height, Reverend Nat’s was available in grocery and liquor stores across 10 states and four countries, but was still local enough to offer weekly home delivery for Portland customers.
West played with fermented ingredients and processes, and developed limited edition, small-batch ciders; he often used nontraditional yeasts, wild ones or those reserved for sake and beer. The Hallelujah Hopricot, Reverend Nat’s flagship blend, is billed between cider, beer, and wine, while Reverend Nat’s style of “fire cider” comes from boiling apple juice for eighteen hours. Coveted one-offs from Reverend Nat’s annual “tent show” series used ingredients ranging from rum, bourbon, wine, and cola to kiwi, dragonfruit, and ghost chile. The Night of 1,000 Tepaches saw imaginative blends highlighting coconut, banana, chocolate, Champagne, strawberries, mezcal, mint, and cilantro.
Reverend Nat’s also fermented limited run, collaborative brews for charitable causes. The 2018 release Electric Red Coffee Sour Cherry Cider mixed Groundwork Coffee’s Bitches Brew blend with cherry and green apple juices to benefit Café Femenino Foundation, a nonprofit benefiting women in coffee-producing regions. The Benefaction Tap program launched in 2018 donated a portion of sales to nonprofits including PICA, Basic Rights Oregon, and Northwest Abortion Access Funds. Reverend Nat’s supported local environmental causes, as well, donating to the Forest Park Conservancy, Oregon Wild, and Growing Gardens.
Outside of his work in cider, West was active in the 2020 protest movement. He and his daughter, Beck, were among the thousands injured while protesting police brutality and systemic racism, after federal officers began using crowd control munitions on protesters. Reverend Nat’s released protest-inspired ciders for the 2021 Tent Series (many named by protest medic Chris Wise) and West is still a vocal critic of Mayor Ted Wheeler.
The faithful and the first-timers can join West for one last tent series, a three set with Reverend Nat’s two soft ciders. The tent series features West’s take on a torch song. The Swan Song is Reverend Nat’s last fire cider.
“I recreated forgotten cider styles and practiced juicing and fermenting techniques long out of fashion,” West wrote in a statement published to Reverend Nat’s website. “Permeating all these experiments was a desire to make ciders that no one else will make. I would cook a dish, eat at a restaurant, drink a beer or a cocktail, or peruse the farmer’s market, and be unable to contain my excitement for flavors. After making cider for nearly a decade, I concluded that, while apple-only ciders define cider for most of my fellow countrymen, my passion was in creative flavor combinations making cider in the spirit of craft beer geeks.”