The Asheville area may be famed for its craft beer scene, but in Mills River, Bold Rock Hard Cider has made its mark with the mighty apple, which is in plentiful supply in Henderson County.
Since opening in November 2015, Bold Rock has emerged as the premier local producer of hard cider. Cans, bottles and kegs of its products are shipped from Mills River throughout the Carolinas, Tennessee, Kentucky and Georgia. A separate Bold Rock facility in Virginia serves another five states.
In Mills River, Bold Rock has added its own canning line and expanded the capacity of its bottling system, while increasing its production space by 5,000 square feet. This spring, staff also began pressing apples into cider every Wednesday. There’s plenty of entertainment in the taproom, too, from Tacos and Trivia on Tuesdays to a music jam on Wednesday nights and more music on either Fridays or Saturdays.
Starting in May, the new Sunset Series will offer music every other Thursday, plus a spectacular view of day turning to night from the cidery lawn. In addition to the weekly tacos, Bold Rock operates its own food truck, the Feed Trailer, which serves a menu of barbecue, burgers and a cider-braised hot dog.
Along with neighboring Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. and Mills River Brewery, the cidery has become a popular attraction in the area, not only with locals but with visitors, says Kim Chappell, Bold Rock’s retail development manager. “The locals come 12 months out of the year, and the tourists are here May through October. When people take a beer vacation, they stop by Bold Rock,” she says.
The Bold Rock tasting room keeps a full line of ciders on tap, including the top-selling Carolina Apple brand and such selections as pear, citrus and India Pressed Apple. Two premium options — Vintage Dry and Vat 1 — are sold on draft and in 750-milliliter bottles under the Crimson Ridge brand. Small-batch ciders are also available exclusively at the tasting room, including current offering Wild Cherry. Like beer, hard cider has a shelf life that similarly depends on the variety. Most will be good to drink from eight to 15 months after being produced.
The Mills River ciders are made with North Carolina apples, and the ciders from the Virginia operation use fruit sourced within a 30-mile radius of its property. A blend of apples goes into the Bold Rock products, the specifics of which, Chappell says, are strictly confidential.
Bold Rock has a team of cidermakers who are responsible for the products. Among them are New Zealand native Brian Shanks, who has more than three decades of experience in cidermaking and partnered with John Washburn to open Bold Rock. Ward Beveridge serves as senior cidermaker in Mills River.
Chappell believes the interest in craft brewing and a desire to eat and drink local have brought attention to craft hard ciders. “The food industry brought hard cider right along with it,” she says.
In turn, cider has been booming across Western North Carolina, with such producers as Noble Cider and Urban Orchard in Asheville, Black Mountain Ciderworks + Meadery in Black Mountain, and Flat Rock Ciderworks and Wallace Ciders at St. Paul Mountain Vineyards, both in Hendersonville. “We all have a different spin,” Chappell says, noting that most Bold Rock ciders are “sessionable,” coming in at under 5 percent ABV, making them easier to drink more than one in a single sitting. “Many of our customers have more than one favorite,” she says.
Bold Rock Hard Cider is at 72 School House Road, Mills River. The taproom is open 2-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday, noon-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and noon-8 p.m. Sunday. The Feed Trailer food truck is open 5-8 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday and noon-8 p.m. Friday-Sunday and closed Monday. For details, visit boldrock.com/mills-river/.