I recently made a trip to visit Scrumpy's, a hard cider bar and restaurant on the North end of College Avenue in Fort Collins, Colorado, and I can't tell you how happy I am that I did. Ok, actually it is quantifiable: I'm very20 happy. This place is amazing, for two reasons: product and people.
Let me ask you something: How many times have you walked into a bar or tap house in the U.S.--well, besides in the Pacific Northwest within the last couple years--and there were 18 hard ciders on tap there? I've been to more than a lot of such establishments, and the answer for me is easy: never.
Not once. Until now.
Even in the UK, I'd see 2-3, and they were usually the same Strongbow, Magner's, or Bulmer's handles that everyone else carried as well (granted, I haven't been there in over 10 years...hopefully it's improved there as well). Now, far be it from me to dis Strongbow, which started my own cider journey all those years ago—and which of course is available at Scrumpy's—it's quite good, but it's only the tip of the iceberg.
For instance, Scrumpy's has several artisanal hard ciders on offer from Blue Mountain Cider Company in Milton-Freewater, Oregon, which were exceptional. The Blue Mountain Dry in particular caught, and held, my attention—it is nothing short of an apple champagne. Bone dry, heady, and effervescent, it has the same yeast characteristics as champagne—I believe they use champagne yeast instead of the ubiquitous English cider yeast—and the aromatic characteristics of the apples that form its substrate. It reminded me in some ways of the home-brewed hard cider I've been making the last couple years, in which the yeast chewed through all the sugar in the apple juice, clarified well, and carbonated well in the bottle, resulting in a champagne-like end product after a bit of aging. Blue Mountain's version, however, is vastly superior to mine. This is not Woodchuck out of a bottle, folks—it's the real deal, and will change your perspective in a hurry if you've had the common misfortune of only experiencing hard cider as a sweet, chemically-manipulated, mass-produced beverage. With cider houses like Scrumpy's around, that will change for the next generation of cider drinkers.
Another cider—one which I was almost giddy to find—was a bottle of Thatcher's Green Goblin, and English-made, Oak Aged cider from 'Sommerset apples'...a generic term which undoubtedly includes tannic, heirloom English cider varieties from the taste of it. Oaky and tannic, robust and nuanced, this is a serious cider that is a perfect reminder of how complex the beverage can be.
Scrumpy's also servers an extensive selection of Redstone Meadery and Hunters Moon Meads—something you will definitely not encounter at most tap houses. It's refreshing to see someone push the bar higher for the availability of meads at such an establishment. A good trend in my opinion...the Norse gods would be proud.
But the real show-stealer here was the people—the owners, Jennifer and Rodney, went out of their way to answer my cider-geeky questions and to show me the premises. Having already read up a bit on them in the Coloradoan and on KUNC's website, I focused more on product-specific questions and on the cider-making process than on the story of how they came to be interested in cider.
They are getting very close to fermenting their own cider (possibly as early as November 2013), having worked through much of setting up their fermentation room, licensing, sanitation, equipment, and a million other details while running the tap house and restaurant side of the business simultaneously—this is no small feat, and it speaks to their and their staff's dedication to this project. They walked me through the process of acquiring their fermenters—this can be very difficult to do these days with the sky-high demand for them due to the craft beer boom—their cooling system setup, the mill, the cider press, and numerous other details. I can't go into them all in the short span of a blog post, but I will say that it is clear that they—particularly Jennifer, whose focus is on the cider-making—are highly educated in the subject of cider, with Jennifer having studied under English cider masters in Washington state and in the UK, and are both highly aware of the current market trends and is anticipating what is to come.
Below is some of the equipment they will be using to produce their own hard ciders.
Not pictured, but also present:
- electric grinder, for grinding the fruit prior to pressing
- filter system
- keg washer
- pump, for pumping cider between the various tanks
I have to say that my visit to Scrumpy's exemplifies why I wanted to start writing about cider and mead in the first place—I wanted to connect with others who are interested in the subject, and to continue to experience and share the cooperation and camaraderie that I first found within the craft beer movement. At Scrumpy's, I learned that this same dynamic is just as alive in the hard cider world, and I appreciated and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of my time there. I highly recommend visiting Scrumpy's, and I look forward very much to the ciders they are about to produce here, as well as the new ciders they will undoubtedly introduce me to. If you haven't been to Fort Collins, I hope the existence of Scrumpy's encourages you to visit...that is, assuming the various, amazing breweries within walking distance of it haven't already convinced you.
Next time, I look forward to trying their sandwiches, which looked amazing but which I didn't get to this time because, you know, cider geekery.
Go. To. This. Place.
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