by Sabine Rhyne
So, a wine merchant, a farmer, and a chemist walk into a bar… No, really, it’s not a joke! When Kris Nelson, Justin Heilenbach, and Bryan Holmes made small batches of hard cider in Bryan’s basement, they were creating the modest beginnings of Citizen Cider, now a thriving Burlington hard cider business with an inviting cider-pub overlooking Lake Champlain. And these modest beginnings were only four years ago; the meteoric growth of this inventive and robust cider business has gone from a single run of 5,000 gallons to nearly 100,000 gallons this year.
“It all started with being into what was local,” said Kris, with whom we sat down in the comfortable environs of the tasting room. “I knew wines, knew wine producers, and although we have some very fine and wonderful regional wines, it is a difficult proposition in our climate. Meanwhile, not a lot of cider was happening and, as Michael Pollan noted in The Botany of Desire, America was built on cider!” Cider would have been a much bigger part of all of our lives, were it not for the success of the temperance movements and Prohibition; the beverage never really recovered from this period. So, Kris and his mates tried some different types of cider, liked some of them very much, and began to see the potential with this idea. After buying a vintage press, they made the legal limit in the fall of 2010, bottled some of it, and promptly sold out. They started talking with a nearby apple grower, Stan Pratt from Happy Valley Orchards in Middlebury, who was already pressing juice from a wide variety of apples, and a fruitful partnership was born. Citizen Cider began its official life from Fort Ethan Allen in July of 2011, after Justin was convinced to move across the country from Oregon, where he was farming vegetables. Then, things really started rocking.
“We’re always working to create new ciders,” explained Kris, as we perused the ten ciders on draft in the tasting room. “Over a year, we might make 16 types of cider.” Some are infusions, like the Dirty Mayor, made with ginger and lemon, some are co-fermented fruit ciders, like the Unified Press bRosé made with blueberries, or the AmeriCran, with cranberries. There are ciders made from specific orchards, like the Cidre Bourgeois made with organic apples from Kent Ridge Orchards in New Haven, VT, or Stan Up, made with a blend of heirloom apples from Happy Valley Orchards. And we mustn’t forget the bourbon barrel-aged cider made using barrels from Smuggler’s Notch Distillery. It’s quite clear that partnership is central to Citizen Cider’s mission. “There’s really no end to the partnership possibilities,” says Kris. Whether it’s to push the boundaries of the industry, or to develop fair market kinship with local producers, the results benefit many. “Dry or wild, barrel or bottle, we’re always game to try new things.” And some are even solid: look for the Lake Champlain-Happy Valley Orchard-Citizen Cider milk chocolate caramels this holiday season!
Join the folks from Citizen Cider on Friday, September 12 from 4:30-6:30 pm (with a valid ID), and taste for yourself. If you are not a hard cider aficionado, you may well be one at the end of the tasting!