As apple season wraps up and favorite varieties of the fruit are pressed for hard cider, two local producers who started on different ends of Asheville are expanding into second locations downtown.
“We feel like we’re trendsetters in a lot of ways,” says Jeff Anderson, marketing and creative director for Urban Orchard Cider Co.
In addition to establishing Asheville’s first cider-focused taproom, the West Asheville operation uses local ingredients, works closely with area farmers, ages its product eight to 12 months and uses a variety of yeasts — practices that Anderson says few of its peers follow due to cost and time constraints.
The company has now blazed another trail, becoming the first craft cidery in Asheville’s South Slope brewing district. Doors to the new 24 Buxton Ave. location opened Sept. 28, and on Saturday, Oct. 27, Urban Orchard will host its grand opening, a celebration that doubles as its fifth-anniversary party, typically held on the Saturday closest to Halloween.
Previously home to Eagles Nest Outfitters, the building was also once a Hav-A-Tampa cigar factory, signage for which remains on the interior walls of the space’s production side. By the end of November, Anderson expects 100 percent of Urban Orchard’s output — which will soon be triple that of its current figures — to be occurring at the new location. Cider will also be aged on-site instead of at a warehouse down the street from its original spot.
Other key behind-the-scenes features include new 2,500-gallon, glycol-jacketed fermenters, a drive-in production cooler and a sizable cooler to feed the tap system, whose short lines from kegs to tap handles make them easier to clean. The company also plans to eventually bottle its product.
“We’ll have to have a few months under our belt to figure out, ‘What is it going to take to feed this location with cider?’ Once we have a good grasp on that and can make an educated decision based on hard data, then we can start planning how much production we need to handle packaging,” Anderson says.
Driving those numbers will be the building’s taproom. Of its 30 draft options, 20 will offer ciders from Urban Orchard’s nearly 100 styles, some of which will be exclusive to downtown. The other 10 will pour a selection of beers from industry partners, with one reserved for nitro coffee.
Customers can enjoy these beverages at a bar just inside the main entrance and at a long primary bar with a view of the taps surrounded by attractive custom tile and sleek shelves built out of reclaimed wood from the owners’ Weaverville family estate. There’s also a mural above the taps by local artist Ishmael, who collaborated with Ian Wilkinson on a portrait on the building’s exterior that Anderson says is inspired by 1920s Havana.
The room’s base color palette of grays, including a Venetian plaster back wall, welcomes pops of color such as the chartreuse green of certain giant stylized letters spelling out “Art of Fermentation” high on the right wall. The word “Fermentation” is dressed with moss, clumps of which were individually placed by Anderson over the course of two and a half weeks.
The space also features a large custom lighting piece at the entrance by metalworker Warren Perdue, who’s additionally doing the location’s sign work, and custom-built booths by carpenter Peter Scheuerman with upholstery by Erin Hardy, whose studio is next door to the cider’s West Asheville location. “We like to help out our neighbors and employ anybody we can that’s already doing [a trade] locally,” Anderson says.
The new location will not open with food, as originally intended, but will have a small stage for live music in the taproom’s back right corner and an outdoor stage on the loading dock by Millard Avenue. At the open-air spot’s test run during Xpand Fest in June, Anderson says Leicester-based sound and lighting engineers Stewart Sound praised the acoustics created by the brick wall to the left and that of Green Man Brewery’s across the street. Using that setup, the stage will host two bands at the grand opening, then six free outdoor shows, likely once a month, from May to November 2019.
By adding the South Slope taproom, Urban Orchard seeks to provide locals with more options and offer accessibility to customers from outside the area. Anderson notes that downtown tourists have a tendency to want to stay within a set number of blocks instead of venturing to West Asheville, despite it only being 2 miles away. Meanwhile, little will change at Urban Orchard’s original location, which will host its usual anniversary party on Saturday, Oct. 27.
“We want to make sure that we’re always catering to our locals in West Asheville,” Anderson says. “It’s near and dear to our hearts. It’s where we got our start. It’s because of that community that [we’ve gotten] to this point.”
Shortly after Trevor Baker moved to Asheville in 1994, he took a shine to the historic Tyler Building that’s flanked by Rankin Avenue, Lexington Avenue and West Walnut Street. That appreciation grew while he worked for a furniture importer on the building’s ground-level Lexington side and whenever he ventured to the top floor on Rankin to peruse the secondhand store.
“I’ve always liked that building, and it was sad to see it empty for the most part for so long,” Baker says. “It’s always been underutilized, in my opinion, to have such a cool building in downtown Asheville right across from the parking decks.”
As the city grew and Baker co-founded and became general manager of Noble Cider, he kept an eye on the building. Then in fall 2017, he saw a “For Lease” sign in the window of the Rankin side’s primary space and investigated it for the company’s second location. With the shell work complete and permits in place, he expects Noble’s new restaurant and taproom to be open by late January.
“Our mission, basically, is to inspire and innovate the entire cider experience, which in our minds includes food and cocktails and the story behind how the tree is grown and the fruit,” Baker says. “That whole experience of what cider can be, just to educate people about what it is, is more effectively achieved, I think, if you can provide more than just a taproom.”
Noble plans to elevate customers’ understanding of its beverages through pairing opportunities, cooking with cider and creative cider cocktails. The new location will feature 14-16 taps, among them a couple of beers, as well as a full bar and a few red wines. The 100- to 120-seat space will also offer a food menu that Baker describes as “modern American bistro” with the chef “pulling flavors from all over the world.”
The generous amount of glass on the exterior means plentiful natural light for the restaurant, and there will also be a glass wall offering views into the kitchen. Baker envisions the “vibe of an old-school, ’50s garden room,” achieved through plants, custom-made banquettes, tables and a mix of other comfortable seating.
Once the restaurant opens, it will be business as usual for Noble’s current Leicester Highway location. It will remain the company’s sole production facility, though Baker says the new place might have a cask or small wood barrel with some aging going on at the bar. He also sees plenty of potential connections between the two locations as hubs for the local cider industry.
“You might have someone that comes into your downtown spot and becomes interested, and they want to come [to the Leicester Highway location] and check out where it’s made or make their way down to Henderson County and be inspired to go to a U-pick orchard,” Baker says. “I see it as a way to be more inclusive of the experience and be able to educate in the way we do out here, but in a different way downtown. It’s always a moment to get cider across to people in a way that’s fun and approachable and enjoyable.”
The grand opening party for Urban Orchard Cider Co.’s new location at 24 Buxton Ave. is Saturday, Oct. 27, noon-2 a.m. Free to attend. Live outdoor music 4-8 p.m. Dance party begins at 10 p.m. Noble Cider’s new restaurant and taproom are scheduled to open in January at 45 Rankin Ave.