Beer Scout: Cider City, USA?

HARDCORE GROWTH: Bold Rock Hard Cider co-owners John Washburn, right, and Brian Shanks expected to rent a temporary production space while seeking a more permanent cider-making facility. Unexpectedly, the two found the perfect home for Bold Rock, complete with growing space and an agricultural ambiance, in Mills River. Photo by Tom Daly

In Asheville, Highland Brewing Co. was the craft beer pioneer. Yet it didn’t take long for other entrepreneurs to see the demand and open breweries of their own. Now, 20 years later, we have more than 20 breweries in Buncombe County. Will hard cider shape up the same way?

Urban Orchard Cider kicked things off for the area when it opened on Haywood Road in 2013. Black Mountain Ciderworks opened its doors the following year. Now, two more cideries will open local taprooms in the next two months.

“We’re at the point where we’re about maxed out [in production] trying to meet the increase in demand,” says John Washburn, co-owner of Bold Rock Hard Cider. “We were originally looking at building a brand-new cidery in Mills River. … But the timeline versus the growth for us, and the growth of hard cider in general, meant it was going to take too long.”

With that in mind, Bold Rock’s team worked with Henderson County to find a temporary site it could rent until the new building was up and running. Turns out, they found a building perfect enough to buy and move into for good.

“The building at 72 Schoolhouse Road appealed to us partly because it was an old farm and we’re agricultural,” says Washburn. “It has these big old oak trees and a beautiful view out back. And the size, 22,500 square feet, was big enough for us to move into now and have some room to grow on that same site.”

The whole build-out-and-grow philosophy is comfortable for the company as it did the same thing at its first cidery in Virginia. “We started in barns there, and eventually we built out a beautiful new facility as well,” says Washburn. “When you stop by, it’s just right. … People can taste and sample cider, but there’s also an outdoor deck and extra land for events. We will eventually do the same thing in Mills River.”

The company was beyond excited to find the right space without leaving Mills River, says Washburn, noting that many of the apples Bold Rock sources are right in its own backyard — less than a half-hour drive away.

In July, Bold Rock wrapped up a busy month. It more or less finished the installation of its equipment, including the large fermentation tanks that were delayed in shipment from Italy. Now it’s just a matter of walking through the rest of the installation and permitting, which Washburn says should be complete by mid-August.

The construction team has been working on the taproom simultaneously, taking out a section of wall so taproom visitors can look right into the brewery space. Washburn says there will be a rustic bar, and a mezzanine is planned as well. He’s hoping the space will be ready for visitors by early September.

“We’re very dedicated to welcoming people and making sure they enjoy our facility. We’ll make it a great place for families to come … [and] bring your dogs and your kids. It’s all about fun and good times.”

Noble Cider’s New Leicester plans

Asheville’s first homegrown hard cider producer, Noble Cider, is making a big move soon as well. While its products are available on draft at many bars and restaurants around town, the company has been pressing and fermenting in Fletcher — with no public tours or tasting room.

Once Noble knew it was going to expand, it acquired a building in town at 356 New Leicester Highway. The goal was not only to move its production facility, but also to welcome guests with a complete tour and taproom experience. If all goes as planned, the company will welcome the first guests to that new space within the next few weeks, says Joanna Baker, co-owner of Noble Cider.

“Just like any business, we’re excited to throw the doors open. … We may not be 100 percent finished with the space — meaning the New Leicester location won’t yet be fully producing from apples to cider — but we want people to come and hang out,” she says.

Baker says the tasting room itself features a beautiful handmade bar from Lief Stevens, a Noble Cider partner and carpenter, as well as 20 taps. “We’ll have several of our ciders on tap, a few craft beers and a nonalcoholic libation when we open,” says Baker. “We won’t have any exciting new flavors the first day, but we will be doing small-batch ciders at the new space. … We’ll eventually have different and more experimental ciders than we’ve had in the past.”

Baker says the taproom will eventually be a showcase for the full range of Noble ciders as well as all sorts of specialty hard ciders from the U.S. and abroad. It will also offer a full tour program, complete with live apple pressings. “We really want people to be able to understand hard cider like never before,” says Baker.

Noble Cider is at 356 New Leicester Highway. Look for updates on its opening at Facebook.com/NobleCider.

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About Thom O'Hearn
Thom O’Hearn is a writer, book editor and homebrewer. Twitter: @thomohearn

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2 thoughts on “Beer Scout: Cider City, USA?

  1. Jess

    Fortunately, there are already two cidery tasting rooms open in the Asheville area not mentioned in this article: Urban Orchard and Black Mountain Ciderworks. Their tasting rooms have been open nearly two years! These other new tasting rooms that will be opening will certainly contribute to an already thriving “cider city.”

    • Thom O'Hearn

      Sorry for the omission, Jess–it was not meant as a snub to those businesses. Typically the new brewery debut articles don’t list the existing breweries. However, with just two cideries open we could have mentioned them. Those businesses are now in the article!

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