A New Brew: Craft Cider Finds Its Place in Idaho
Hard cider, the British tavern staple and preferred tipple of Colonial Americans, is back big-time. While most folks are familiar with the sugary sips that line store shelves—market mainstays like Angry Orchard and Woodchuck—the craft cider category is also booming. In the Northwest, craft cideries and cider bars are sprouting up like seedlings. Craft ciders can vary as wildly as the apple varieties inside: Some are tart and dry while others are fruity and fizzy or semi-sweet and boozy. Though it took Idaho a while to jump on the cider bandwagon, there are now four cideries scattered across the state. Here are some juicy details about Idaho’s core four.
Longdrop Cider Co.
3705 ID-16, Eagle, ID 83616
Founded by husband and wife duo Chris Blanchard and Carol Crosswhite, Longdrop Cider Co. started distributing in Boise in March of this year. Blanchard, a former research director and adjunct professor at Boise State, said he decided to open a cidery because he was looking for a new opportunity outside of his professional career.
“It’s just a whole new thing for me—learning how to sell, learning how to make a product and how to market a product and forecasting,” said Blanchard. “It’s just stuff I didn’t spend any time thinking about as an academic.”
Longdrop Cider partnered with Crooked Fence Brewing and set up its stainless steel fermenters in an empty warehouse on the sprawling Crooked Flats estate in Eagle. Now, Longdrop is cranking out 5,500 gallons of cloudy, scrumpy-style cider per batch.
“The scrumpy cider is one that’s a little bit more of a natural-looking cider,” explained Blanchard. “I grew up in the Northwest and I’d go to cider stands and it would be this cloudy drink. It wasn’t like this Sauvignon Blanc–looking stuff that everybody else is doing… All of our three products that we launched with were in that category.”
Longdrop currently offers a Semi-Sweet, a Semi-Dry and a Vanilla Honey cider. All three are made with pre-pressed dessert apple juice— a blend of Granny Smith, Galas, Fujis, Golden Delicious and Red Delicious— sourced from the Yakima Valley. “The Yakima Valley in Washington has tons of cold and conditioned storage so they can keep fruit year round,” said Blanchard. “We use fruit on a year-round basis, not just a seasonal basis, so we can call up and get apples pulled, it gets turned into juice, brought down to us and then put in the fermenter. … By the time we put it in a keg, it was an apple 19 days ago.”
Longdrop’s ciders are available on tap and in bottles throughout the Treasure Valley.
3884 N. Schreiber Way, Unit 201, Coeur d’Alene, ID 83815
For Summit Cider owners Jason Fletcher and Davon Sjostrom, their cider making adventure grew out of a common health concern.
“My business partner realized that gluten was a health problem for him and switched from drinking beer to drinking cider and he didn’t like the ciders that were out there,” said Fletcher. “So he actually started home brewing his own cider and he did that for a couple of years. Along the way, I got involved and thought it would be a fun thing to try to make a business at so we started really trying to scale up and make something that was commercially viable.”
Both Fletcher and Sjostrom are avid snow skiers, so the Summit Cider brand reflects their love of mountain sports. Their Coeur d’Alene taproom opened in March and features a big chandelier made out of skis and a bar crafted from a snowboard.
“We call it a taproom because we really like the brewery model. We serve cider in pints. We don’t sell bottles; we sell growlers. Cideries usually follow more of the winery model, where you’ll taste a few and then you’ll buy a bottle and take it with you. We wanted to create a place where people actually like to hang out.”
Summit Cider makes a standard set of four ciders using prepressed Washington apple juice—including the off-dry Corduroy, the more acidic Fall Line and the sweeter Greenhorn—along with rotating seasonals like the Sundance made with fresh raspberries.
“Overall, I think the most important thing is that it’s very drinkable,” said Fletcher. “None of them are incredibly dry. We don’t make any that are really, really sweet or high in sugar content. We really focus on a fundamentally good and drinkable cider that has a lot of mass appeal.”
Summit Cider currently produces around 400–600 gallons a month and has broad distribution in the Coeur d’Alene area.
North Idaho Cider
11100 N. Airport Rd., No. 5 and No. 6, Hayden, ID 83835
A short jaunt away from Summit Cider, husband and wife team Greg and Mara Thorhaug are crafting ciders in Hayden under the name North Idaho Cider.
“We did some traveling around the world for a year and [my husband] just started becoming interested in growing apples and making cider,” said Mara Thorhaug. “We explored a couple of different cider regions and we came back and realized that this is a great place to grow apples and it’s a region that—at the time—didn’t have a cidery so we figured it would be good to start one.”
North Idaho Cider started producing cider in December 2014 and began keeping regular hours at its Hayden taproom in February. The taproom is currently open Fridays from 4 to 8pm and Saturdays from 2 to 6pm. The space can comfortably fit 20–30 people and features a repurposed bar made from an old bowling alley lane propped up on two wine crates, along with pictures of different varieties of apples and world maps of cider regions.
“Mostly we’re specializing in dry ciders,” she said. “Currently we have a hopped cider that has a little bit of pear sweetness but it’s still pretty dry, and then we have our Lake City Dry, which is just a very simple, straightforward cider. Then we also have our Renaissance, which is a lot more complex and it uses a blend of over 25 varieties of traditional cider apples. So it’s more of a bittersweet cider. We eventually want to move towards more of that different palate, with more tannins and a bit more complexity than people might be used to.”
North Idaho Cider currently sources its bulk apple juice from Washington’s Wenatchee area and procures its traditional cider apples from a grower outside of Moscow. In addition, the Thorhaugs have planted over 100 varieties of cider apples on their family orchard in the town of St. Maries. Thorhaug says North Idaho Cider’s production varies right now because the company is just getting things started.
“Currently we’re still pretty small—we’re on tap at about a dozen places in town,” she said. “Right now it’s just kegs and growler fills, we haven’t started bottling, but at some point we do hope to do that.”
5272 Chinden Blvd., Garden City, ID
Meriwether Cider, formerly known as Leadbetter Cider, is currently a small scale wholesale operation that plans to open its Garden City taproom by late November. The family-run operation’s new name is a nod to their ancestor Meriwether Lewis, the first non-native American to cross the continental divide into Idaho alongside William Clark.
“My parents are college professors and they just retired and then my sister and I did wildland firefighting and we were kind of looking for a new direction,” said Kate Leadbetter. “My dad is a brewer of beer and a maker of wine and more recently he started making cider and came up with a really good product and my mom kind of saw a future in it so she pushed us in that direction.”
Like Longdrop, Summit and North Idaho Cider, Meriwether is sourcing bulk apple juice from Washington and fermenting it on-site.
“Nobody in Idaho has a juice press as of yet. When they do, we will be able to get all of our apples from Idaho,” said Leadbetter.
Meriwether Cider launched with five ciders: Foothills Semi-Dry, Cherry, Ginger Root, Hop Shot (a hopped cider) and Strong Arm Semi-Sweet. The company will also craft some unique seasonal ciders.
“We have an apple pie, we have a gin botanical, we have an oaked, we have a couple of other fruit ciders,” said Leadbetter. “We have a cranberry that’s awesome at Thanksgiving. We’re just going to get real creative with it and maybe use some of the fruit orchards around the area to source some of our fruit.”
Meriwether is currently selling its bottled ciders at the Capital City Public Market. The company is scheduled to open up a taproom and fuller scale operation in late November at Chinden Boulevard and 52nd Street.
Editor’s Note: As this issue was heading to press, North Idaho Cider announced that it officially changed ownership: “Like many small companies that start with a group of people that are working together, we’ve gone through some changes and restructuring. … Greg and Mara [Thorhaug] are no longer a part of North Idaho Cider, we purchased their portion of the business,” said Keith Allen, chief marketing officer for North Idaho Cider.
Tara Morgan is a freelance food and booze writer. She's the Boise Weekly's roving food writer, an Editor at Edible Idaho and runs the website Boise Feed.