Cider House Rules
Colorado is rightly known as a beer mecca, and there are some excellent spirits and some fine wines produced here, too, but there is also a cadre of cider makers that are attempting to bring cider back into the mainstream - and it might just be working.
When Prohibition went into effect on Jan. 17, 1920, the manufacture, importation, sale, and transportation of alcohol became illegal, however, the Volstead Act did allow wine and cider to be made from fruit at home. That much is true, however, what follows is often an amalgamation of myth and fact.
Some say that overzealous temperance supporters and FBI agents destroyed many apple orchards and along with them heirloom apple varieties that had been providing the raw material for cider since colonial times. Others put the decline of cider down to beer becoming more economically attractive thanks to industrialization, grain being less perishable and easier to ship and store as well as German and Irish immigrants bringing beer making traditions to the US with them.
Whatever happened, cider fell out of favor after being widely popular with everyone from working people to presidents - several of them in fact.
Here are six cider producers west of 105 that are producing everything from modern flavor combinations to ciders that follow old world traditions - and a mix of the two.
1. FORBIDDEN FRUIT HARD CIDER
Forbidden Fruit Hard Cider is a sister brand to Varaison Vineyards and Winery in Palisade. Launched under the Varaison Vineyards winery license in 2013, there was just one flavor initially - Apple Cinnamon that used Saigon cinnamon sticks for their version of apple pie in a bottle. Production was quickly outpaced by sales, so the team took a step back and cidermaker Andy West went back to school and got a Master of Science in Food Science. The brand relaunched in 2015 with four flavors. The ciders at Forbidden Fruit aren’t overly sweet, thanks to a mantra that flavor should not be sacrificed for sweetness, and are produced much like wines - some are spiced, some flavored and others oaked.
13 Brix Cider Bistro in Palisade is the tasting room for Forbidden Fruit Hard Cider where the following can be found (along with wines from Varaison): Apple Cider (fermented with Champagne yeast on American Oak and spiced Saigon cinnamon sticks), Cherry Cider (an apple juice base, fermented with Champagne yeast on American Oak and flavored with dark sweet cherries post-fermentation), “Just Peachy”
(Palisade peaches are pressed and fermented with Champagne yeast on French Oak and aged with Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Beans for thirty days) and Cranberry Apple (sweet apples contrasted with tart cranberries fermented with Champagne yeast). There is also a hard pear cider (or perry) and a very interesting sounding blueberry lavender cider.
2. SNOW CAPPED CIDER
Snow Capped Cider, or at least the apple growing aspect of it, has a history going back around 100 years when James Howard Williams and his wife Bertha moved his family to Cedaredge in the early 1900’s and began growing apples and various stone fruits. The family was in growing, packing and shipping fruit for around a century until Ty (the great-grandson of James) and his wife Kari created Snow Capped Cider in 2014.
Snow Capped currently have seven canned ciders: Sour Cherry, Colorado Peach, Plum Lemongrass, Honeycrisp, Magna Vino, 6130’ Dry, and a perry called JalaPEARno with, as you may have guessed jalapeño; and two bottles, the Cider Makers’ Reserve and Habanero Lime.
3. TALBOTT’S CIDER COMPANY
Talbott’s Cider Company has a history dating back to the early 20th century when the great-great-great-grandfather
of Talbott’s Cider Company founder Charles Talbott (with Christopher Leader as co-founder) moved to the Grand Valley and became one of the first people to plant an orchard in the Palisade area. The first cider mill was constructed in 1983, and as production increased in the 1990’s a larger mill was built.
Today, Talbott’s produces seven canned ciders’ Alpine Start (a semi-sweet cider), IPC (a hopped cider), Scrappy Apple (a tart dry cider), the Colomosa (Talbott’s cider version of a mimosa), Grow a Pear (a perry with splash of riesling), Summer Sunset (a peach cider), and Alpine Winter (a cloudy cider mulled with cardamom, cinnamon, ginger and clove). Talbott’s also have three special releases: the Finn Iced Cider which is aged for six months in rum barrels; Neva, an iced dessert cider; and Opal, a delicate iced cider that highlights the light and tropical aromas of opal apples.
4. BIG B’S
Big B's, which is one mile west of Paonia, was started as a juice company in 1973 by Bernie Heideman and stayed that way until 2002 when the company was bought by the Schwartz family.
With a solid foundation to build on, the Schwartzs expanded into hard cider making among other things. The orchard that is the foundation of Big B’s was planted in 1965 by Bob Kokes and became part of the company in 2006. Today, Big B’s has a wide range of products including a good number of hard ciders including some flagship products as well as some creative ciders including a semi-sweet, a cider with tart cherries, a straight up dry cider and a peach and apple cider. Then there is Awesome Sauce, a cider with blood orange that has been fermented with saison yeast, and the Ciaison Grand Cru, a limited edition that is made with organic West Elk Winesap apples, tart orange peel, coriander seeds and is fermented with a traditional French saison yeast before being aged in French oak chardonnay barrels.
5. NEW AVALON GROWER CIDERS
New Avalon Grower Ciders, much like Forbidden Fruit, come from the same fan of fermented beverages that produce Jack Rabbit Hill Farm Wines in Hotchkiss, namely Lance Hanson. The three ciders and one perry are classic ciders that are fermented dry. Each one is single origin, which is to say made from apples or pears from a single orchard with the fruit being crushed and whole fermented (juice, pulp, skins and seeds) which, Hanson says, gives the ciders (and the CapRock brandies that are distilled from what’s left) layers of complex flavors. Hanson likes to compare his ciders to wines in that there is distinct fruit expression in these old-world-style ciders.
New Avalon Filigreen Cider is a biodynamic cider that is both complex and rich and is made from classic heirloom apple varieties grown at Filigreen Farm in Boonville, CA, for which it is named. The organic New Avalon Pale Cider is made from whole
Braeburn and Jonathan apples grown at Ela Family Farms, which is just six miles down the road, with a sprinkle of dried hops grown at Jack Rabbit Hill Farm and pink rose buds. And the Spitzenburg Cider, made with what is said to have been Thomas Jefferson’s favorite apple, is a dry cider made in an old-world style that has layers of complexity. The apples for the Spitzenburg are also grown at Ela Family Farms.
6. FENCELINE CIDER
Fenceline Cider in Mancos is dedicated to reviving America’s cider tradition by working with historic local orchards to build quality cider from the apple up. Those apples undergo cold, slow fermentation that produces a drier, more delicate apple flavor. With varietals that date back nearly 100 years, Fenceline crafts ciders that hark back to classic versions from England and France.
Current ciders include: Seedling, Fenceline’s take on the modern American classic cider, is slowly fermented during cool autumn days, Seedling is off-dry with a light apple aroma; Thunderbolt, which utilizes wild native yeast, is a cider that brings together Dolgo crabapples and cellarconditioned late-season fruit, which is then aged in French oak casks to mature to its full potential; and Whip & Tongue, Fenceline’s interpretation of a bittersharp cider which is made with Colorado-grown, English-style cider apples aged in French oak casks. Balanced and fruit forward, this cider has rich layers of tannin and malic acid.
Fenceline also has some special ciders that are the product of very limited quantities of very unique and interesting apples that never leave the property. They are only available on tap at the cider bar, so stop by and see what creations are available that day.