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Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Seventh annual Cider Fest at BelleWood Acres

By Emily Erskine

The sunlight peeked through parted clouds as guests arrived at BelleWood Acres for the seventh annual Ciderfest on Saturday, Nov. 10.

Local Gypsy Blues band Hot Damn Scandal serenaded the crowd as guests were welcomed to sample up to ten different, uniquely-crafted ciders from mostly local vendors. Upon arrival, guests were given a shot glass that read “Cider Over Beer” and ten drink tickets for sampling.

The local cideries that participated in the event included Lost Giants Cider Company, Herbs Cider, Schilling Hard Cider, Honey Moon Mead & Cider and Bellingham Cider Company, as well as one cidery from New York called Eve’s Cidery.

“There’s a lot of good local places here,” said community member Ryan Kinney. “[Herbs Cider] is here and [Schilling Hard Cider] is here. I was excited about the opportunity to taste some of their stuff, this is a cool event.”

The main entrance of BelleWood opens up through an indoor marketplace full of the farm’s apples, merchandise, assorted snacks and gifts. Next to the market area is their cafeteria where they sell their famous “Cider Slush.” Just as the name implies, it is a non-alcoholic apple cider slushie made from BelleWood’s own fresh apples. Visitors also have the choice of purchasing hard cider or ales on tap.

As the new owners of the farm, the Abel family has worked hard to maintain BelleWood’s reputation of being a family-based farm with a community-oriented atmosphere.

Eric Abel and his son both have houses on the BelleWood property and a growing family to help sustain the farm for generations to come.

“One of the reasons why we are on the farm is to become more of a family-oriented business, and really just have a legacy,” Abel said. “I not only have my son working with me and my daughter in-law and wife, but we also have grandchildren who are here on the farm, which is fun.”

The event, although centered on hard cider, also had child-friendly activities. Picnic tables, cider donut samples, face cut-out photo frames and an assortment of pumpkins for free picking were open for visitors to enjoy.

“The sunny day brought us here,” said Bellingham resident Liesl Schwerin. “We like cider, and we really enjoy this location. I usually come out for apples at least once a year.”

Guests also had the opportunity to bring their own home-brewed cider to be reviewed by a panel of judges in hopes of winning an award and prize money. The prize money was the collection of Cider Fest entry ticket costs, at $15 per ticket.

BelleWood employee Tom Smith said that every year the home brew judging is done anonymously in a closed room by three judges. This year, the panel was made up of two judges from Lost Giants and a representative from BelleWood Acres. Smith said that there are usually around ten contestants each year and anyone can register for the event up until the starting time. According to Smith, it can really be right down to the wire.

All of the alcoholic cider at the event is provided by the individual cideries or from home brewers.

“We don’t make hard cider here, we make what is called ‘soft cider’ which is non-alcoholic,” Abel said. “Many home brewers actually use our soft cider to make their hard cider.”

Through a large garage door is an open outdoor area with seating and bonfires overlooking the fields of corn and seasonal pumpkins. Guests are encouraged to eat their food outside and enjoy the views of the farms.

“We try to get up here at least a couple times a year for events like this. It’s a good ambiance out here,” Kinney said. “When the clouds clear up, it’s got a nice view of Mount Baker.”

With just a quick tractor ride on the “Apple Bin Express,” visitors are invited to venture over to the orchard where they can pick from the apple trees, which according to their website is one of the largest apple orchards in western Washington.

Harvest season for apple picking at BelleWood begins Sept. 1 and runs through to early November.

“This time of year is great to be around farmland, because it’s the harvest time,” Abel said “It just works out well with the picking of our apples in September and October. Now Cider Fest is kind of a result of that, since we make cider from many of our apples that we’ve picked.”

Of the many apples offered at BelleWood, there is a large selection of Honeycrisp, Gala and Fuji apples. A few of their apples even have unique names such as Sunrise Magic and Mountain Rose.

The Abel family plans to continue this tradition of the Cider Fest and even more community events for people to come see what BelleWood is all about.

On the first of December, BelleWood will be receiving their Christmas trees for selling and festive Christmas decor and treats for the community to enjoy. Information on this event is located on their website, as well as their Facebook page.

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