So 2 weeks ago Martin and Fin arrived in town. Martin is our cidermaker and Fin will be building our production facility. We still haven’t decided what we’re going to refer to it as…’Cider Farm’ is too rural, ‘Cider Factory’ is too industrial, ‘Cidery’ doesn’t really do it for us, ‘Cider Works’? Any ideas? Suggestions gladly received.
Anyways, the first thing we wanted to do was to get out on the road and gather a really good understanding first hand of where the craft cider industry and the apple growing industry (particularly heirloom apple growing) stand right now. Meet the growers, meet the cidermakers, have a drink, spin the yarn…I know, I know, it’s a dirty job but someone’s gotta do it.
Our first stop was Idalou, TX, where our Texas apples come from. There we met up with Cal, who does an incredible job of growing fantastic fruit in one of the most challenging environments you could imagine, given the super hot, super dry, super windy conditions that tend to prevail up there in the Texas Panhandle.
Cal and Martin got on just great, chatting away about all things appley for a couple of hours. We checked over his cider press, a squeezebox kind of design very different to what we’re used to in England, then took a walk around the orchard. Cal has about 6,000 trees, all ‘bush trees’, and is growing about 20 varieties, one of which is Winesap an old Southern heirloom variety very popular for making cider back in the day. Cal only has a tiny amount of Winesap right now, but given that it seems to grow pretty well in his harsh environment up there, that looks like the best option for an heirloom variety which we can work with him to increase production of over the coming years. As soon as we get our local facility open we’ll begin some test fermentations with Winesap and start exploring what unlocked potential lies within this wonderful old fruit.
Our second stop in The Panhandle was the Mcpherson winery in Lubbock. I particularly wanted to take Martin & Fin to Mcpherson’s, not just because of their amazing wines (!) but also because of the incredible job they have done on their facility, which is a beautifully renovated old Dr Pepper Bottling Plant. The feel is similar to the kind of thing I want to create with our place, something that is both a functioning work environment and a fantastic social/event space.
By coincidence as we arrived we bumped into owner Kim Mcpherson, who in true Texas fashion proceeded to show us some incredible hospitality. Kim took us around his whole facility and gave us all sorts of useful information on where to get all the equipment we’re going to need, saving us a whole lot of hard work researching this stuff. We then took Kim to the Triple J Brew Pub around the corner for a drink, where he and Martin enthused to each other at length about the different kinds of flavors their respective fruits can produce, which presented a great analogy to explain what we’re trying to do with Austin Eastciders…
Say you tried to produce a decent tasting bottle of wine with the kind of grapes you buy at the supermarket, the results would be really average at best, right? You’d probably have to throw all sorts of stuff in there just to disguise the taste, or if you were really clever maybe use some interesting yeasts to turn it into a just about palatable drink, but whatever you did it still wouldn’t be a good bottle of wine. On the other hand, if you had the right kind of grapes to start with you wouldn’t need to do all that, and with a little bit of time and patience you’d naturally begin creating some incredible, complex flavors. It’s exactly the same with apples. If you use eating apples, which is what 99.9% of all hard cider in the US is currently made with, you’re going to have to throw all sorts of stuff in there, whether it’s artificial flavourings, syrup, stout yeast or whatever, in order to make it drinkable. If on the other hand you use the right kind of apples, bittersweet and bittersharp cider apples, then with nothing more than a little time and patience you will naturally start to produce some delicious, incredibly complex flavors.
So that’s what we’re all about and that’s what these road trips are the start of. We’re going to hunt down the right kind of apple varieties, wherever they may be, we’re going to bring them to Austin and we’re going to make some amazing tasting ciders with them, using some very simple, natural processes. Then over the coming years, we’re going to work with apple growers all over the South, from Texas to Virginia, to recultivate true Southern cider apple varieties in enough quantities that everyone can enjoy great cider, real cider, at an affordable price.
Next stop, New England…