Argus Cidery now opened on Sunday afternoons

Cider lovers now have an additional day they can visit Argus Cidery, on the road to Dripping Springs.

Photo by Heather Gallagher. Visit the picturesque tasting room at Argus Cidery on Sundays starting this weekend.
Photo by Heather Gallagher. Visit the picturesque tasting room at Argus Cidery on Sundays starting this weekend.

Starting this weekend, the cidery will be opened from 1 to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. To celebrate, Argus is offering its draft Ciderkin — the sessionable cider found in six-packs outside the cidery — at a special price of $3 per glass.

Plus, you might find other boozy apple treats in the Argus tasting room that aren’t available anywhere else. That’s where the majority of Argus’ experimental releases and other special-format fruit fermentables (like my personal favorite, the Tepache Especial made with fermented pineapple) get released.

The cidery offers cider flights, as well as bottles of cider that you can enjoy onsite or to-go.

Argus, Austin’s first hard cider company, is located with Last Stand Brewing and Revolution Spirits in the same complex off Fitzhugh Road, where Jester King Brewery and Treaty Oak Distilling are also situated. Many of them share similar tasting room hours, so it’s easy to make a day trip out of visiting these boozy spots.

For more information, visit www.arguscidery.com.

Texas Keeper Cider among Austin Food & Wine Alliance grant recipients

Photo by Ben Sklar. Texas Keeper Cider's cidery in the Onion Creek area of South Austin isn't opened with regular hours yet, but the cider release party on June 20 is a good opportunity to visit the scenic cidery in the meantime.
Photo by Ben Sklar. Texas Keeper Cider’s cidery in the Onion Creek area of South Austin will one day include a tasting room thanks in part to the Austin Food & Wine Alliance grant the cidery just received.

Two local beverage producers and a bitters maker were among the recipients of the Austin Food & Wine Alliance’s 2015 grants program, which this year gave out a total of $40,000, the largest amount since the organization began providing grant money in 2011.

The Austin Food & Wine Alliance awards grants each year to culinary innovators in Central Texas who are seeking to expand their businesses in some way and, by extension, Austin’s own blossoming food and drink scene. The nonprofit gave the largest grant, $12,000 to Texas Keeper Cider. Other beverage-related grant recipients included Meridian Hive Meadery, $8,000, and Salud! Bitters Co., $5,000.

Two Hives Honey, Urban Roots and Manor High School Culinary Arts Program also received grants from the alliance, according to a press release.

Each one has specific uses in mind for the grants. Texas Keeper Cider, for instance, wants to use the money toward opening the cidery’s taproom to the public, a project that co-founders Lindsey Peebles, Nick Doughty and Brandon Wilde have had in the works for awhile.

“We make our ciders on a beautiful 20-acre piece of an old ranch in Manchaca,” Peebles said via email. “Right next door to the tiny cellar that we built in 2014, there is an old stone farm/ ranch house that we are in the process of converting into our taproom. We will serve our own ciders as well as other hand-selected ciders and mostly Texas wines.”

Getting the grant from the Austin Food & Wine Alliance, Peebles said, was an affirmation that Texas Keeper is on the right track. “Having an organization like AFWA recognize your project like that — it was the exact type of encouragement that I think we needed,” Peebles said.

Ultimately, the goal of the Texas Keeper Cider founders is that the taproom be a place for far more than showcasing their ciders.

“The place will be about more than just drinking,” Peebles said. “We have the space there to host local food artisans and chefs for food pairings, supper clubs, etc. We want to use the taproom to throw events supporting local farm and food nonprofits as well. We plan to have beehives, a vegetable garden, and chickens — all of which will be utilized by the food producers coming out there. I see it as a place to really celebrate cider, food, and our local food makers and growers.”

Photo by Ricardo B. Brazziell / American-Statesman. Meridian Hive Meadery plans to double the amount of mead produced per month with the Austin Food & Wine Alliance grant money.
Photo by Ricardo B. Brazziell / American-Statesman. Meridian Hive Meadery plans to double the amount of mead produced per month with the Austin Food & Wine Alliance grant money.

Meridian Hive Meadery, Austin’s first producer of drinks made from fermented honey, has similar plans for expansion. Meadery co-founders Eric Lowe, Evan Whitehead and Mike Simmons are looking to rework the types of meads they make.

“When we started, our business plan was to produce 50 percent corked meads and 50 percent session meads,” Lowe said via email. “Our production has been more like 90 percent sessions and 10 percent corked meads. We’re going the best we can with the equipment we purchased, but we need to retool to make our processes much more efficient in producing the sessions.”

Their plan, which they’ll fund with the Austin Food & Wine Alliance grant, will double the amount they make of both each month, allowing them to spread more deeply into Austin, as well as San Antonio, Dallas and Houston.

“This grant comes at the perfect time for us,” Lowe said.

Opening soon: Total Wine in Cedar Park, Argus Cidery in Dripping Springs

Total Wine & More is quickly expanding into Austin. After debuting the first store in Sunset Valley this past May, the liquor store chain is about to open another location in Cedar Park.

Cedar Park's Total Wine store opens on Sept. 17.
Cedar Park’s Total Wine store opens on Sept. 17.

The new 31,000 sq. ft. space — the tenth one in Texas — is welcoming thirsty shoppers for grand opening sales on Sept. 17, when Total Wine will feature live music; wine, beer and spirits tastings; giveaways and more.

The first few weeks the store will be open is a good time to visit because like last time, Total Wine is planning to donate 10 percent of beer and wine sales to various nonprofits. From Sept. 17 through Sept. 19, Art Alliance Austin is receiving the donations; from Sept. 24 through Sept. 26, Keep Austin Beautiful is getting them.

This second Total Wine is located in Lakeline Plaza, 11066 Pecan Park Blvd, Ste. 117.

Across town, the funky cidery Argus Cidery is about to reopen after almost a year hiatus. The Dripping Springs beverage producer will open its tasting room doors on weekends starting Saturday from 1 to 6 p.m.

“Since we closed the tasting room nearly a year a go to make space for production, our fans have consistently asked about the space’s reopening,” owner Wes Mickel said in a press release.

Every Saturday afternoon, they’ll now be able to sip on a rotating selection of Argus hard cider, either by glass or by the bottle, in Argus’ gorgeous bar area. Current options include the 2013 and 2014 Perennial ciders, Tepache Especial and the Argus Fermentables Ciderkin and Ginger Perry. For more information, visit www.arguscidery.com.

Argus Cidery now releasing latest Perennial cider

If you’ve been at Jester King this weekend relishing the farmhouse brewery’s latest release, the peachy Fen Tao, you might have noticed an Argus Cidery bottle that isn’t anywhere else just yet.

Argus Cidery’s 2014 Perennial hits store and bar shelves tomorrow, but in the meantime, pick up a bottle of it at Jester King today to guarantee that it’ll make its way to your home stash of beer and cider — you’ll be glad you did.  

Jester King Brewery has the new Argus Cidery Perennial before everyone else, so stop by the scenic brewery to pick some up.

The Dripping Springs cidery, located down the road from Jester King, is making Perennial an annual tradition that won’t taste the same every time, thanks to the apples sourced each time. While the 2013 release featured apples from two different Texas terrains, the Panhandle and Bandera County, the 2014 version has fruit sourced primarily from Argus’ grower in Northwest Arkansas.

Even though many of the apples in this blend have originated from another state, the 2014 Perennial doesn’t stray too far from the 2013 Perennial.

“The blend of apples has changed a bit, but the yeast profiles drive a flavor profile similar to that of the last year,” the cidery’s Wes Mickel said. “This release lacks the minerality and vegetal nature of last year, but makes up for it in an added fruity profile, the change coming from the soil composition and growing region.”

According to the cidery’s tasting notes, Perennial 2014 is “a combination of Jonathan, Spygold, Melrose, Red and Golden Delicious apples” that deliver “a straighforward apple palate, with a finish of our natural Hill Country yeast characteristics and the residual flavors from aging in French and American oak cider barrels.” 

Taste it and you’ll pick up notes of cherry, lemon and grass with a tart, dry finish. The cider clocks in at 6.7 percent ABV.

Jester King is opened until 9 p.m. today. When you’re grabbing your two bottles of Fen Tao, don’t forget to add Argus Cidery Perennial to your tab as well.

Texas Keeper Cider to release a cider and wine blend

Photo by Ben Sklar. Texas Keeper Cider's cidery in the Onion Creek area of South Austin isn't opened with regular hours yet, but the cider release party on June 20 is a good opportunity to visit the scenic cidery in the meantime.
Photo by Ben Sklar. Texas Keeper Cider’s cidery in the Onion Creek area of South Austin isn’t opened with regular hours yet, but the cider release party on June 20 is a good opportunity to visit the scenic cidery in the meantime.

Like local beer makers, the cideries in this town are adventurous, playing around with funky apple varieties, heirloom apples that are rarely sourced these days and blending apples with other, occasionally off-the-wall ingredients (remember Austin Eastciders’ brisket cider made with meat from Micklethwait Craft Meats?).

Texas Keeper Cider, the youngest of the trio of local cideries, is no different. Since releasing Texas Keeper No. 1 last August, Texas Keeper co-founders Nick Doughty, Lindsey Peebles and Brandon Wilde have gone on to produce an additional four — including the latest, a cider-and-wine blend debuting at a special release party on June 20 at the cidery.

Called Grafter Rosé, the new cider is made primarily from heirloom Rome Beauty apples. But 7 percent of the beverage is Pedernales Cellars’ Texas Tempranillo that was blended in to bring “a slightly riper fruit profile to the finished cider,” Peebles said via email.

“We think experimentation is at the heart of any good craft, and cider/wine blends are not really being done yet,” she said. “Apples and wine grapes work beautifully together — the chemistry of the fruits are really very similar.”

Introducing wine into the cider wasn’t a stretch for Doughty, a former winemaker. His background with grapes has always brought a “wine attitude” to Texas Keeper’s ciders, Peebles said.

“That’s why our ciders are typically very clean and dry, like an aromatic white wine, and why we seek out interesting heirloom apples,” she said. “Just as you wouldn’t typically make a great wine from Thompson’s seedless, ciders are more interesting when they come from apples that have a bit more tannic weight and better acid structure.”

Photo by Bret Gerbe for American-Statesman. Pedernales Cellars' Texas Tempranillo was used in Texas Keeper Cider's latest cider release, a cider and wine blend using heirloom apples.
Photo by Bret Gerbe for American-Statesman. Pedernales Cellars’ Texas Tempranillo was used in Texas Keeper Cider’s latest cider release, a cider and wine blend using heirloom apples.

The cider makers originally got the idea for the Grafter Rosé — which is going to be just the first in a series of cider and wine blends — when they pressed the Rome Beauties and noticed the juice was a pretty pale orange color, perfect for making a summer rosé with. Peebles said they chose to use Tempranillo grapes for this initial pairing “because it’s a grape variety that grows well in Texas, ripening with notes of strawberries, plums and a hint of vanilla.”

But the next grapes to be used for the Grafter series will be very different: Blanc du Bois grapes from Haak Winery in between Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast. For Grafter Blanc, they’ll be co-fermented with Texas Winesap apples.

“With the Grafter series we get to help showcase the great fruit that’s being grown in Texas,” Peebles said.

Try the Grafter Rosé on June 20 at the Texas Keeper cidery. It’s not quite opened with regular hours yet — Peebles said they’re looking at an official fall opening — but the Texas Keeper trio has been throwing fun Saturday parties there for the past couple months to provide fans with a sneak peek of the scenic space in the Onion Creek area of town.

“It’s a beautiful spot, a little reminiscent of Jester King, with lots of live oaks and a great view of Onion Creek,” she said, adding that in addition to having all of the Texas Keeper products available for tasting there, the cidery hopes to cultivate “a list of our favorite ciders from across the U.S. and internationally in order to expose folks to all the exciting things that are happening with cider.” Food pairings will also be a focus when Texas Keeper opens with weekend tours and tastings.

In the meantime, next Saturday’s event will have much more than cider. The Grafter Rosé release will feature live music as well as a brisket dinner and sides. The ingredients for this feast will have originated from Central Texas farms that were hit hard by the Memorial Day weekend floods. Plus, a portion of the proceeds will go toward Green Gate Farms, which lost a number of animals, roads and crops in the devastating flooding.

Tickets to Texas Keeper’s events tend to sell out in advance, so make sure to grab yours soon.

Texas Keeper Cider Release and Supper, 5 to 9 p.m. June 20. $10-$50. 12521 Twin Creeks Rd., Manchaca. www.texaskeeper.com.

Argus Cidery debuts six-packs of cider, ginger ale this month

Fans of Argus Cidery’s dry cider styles have long been clamoring for a smaller, more accessible way to drink the cider, and their wishes are about to be granted.

Argus, which has always distributed cider in 750 ml bottles, is releasing six-packs of Ciderkin and Ginger Perry this month — and the new Argus Fermentables line is also going to be available in kegs, the first time for Argus to be offered on tap.

Owner and winemaker Wes Mickel “wanted to enter the single-serve market with a product that’s unpasteurized and unsweetened, and very much in the same vein as the ciders we have produced before,” he said in a press release. Ciderkin, he said, was the answer “both for its year-round availability and price point.”

Argus Cidery is releasing a line of six-packs, Argus Fermentables, made from internationally sourced fruit. The line includes a cider and a pear-and-ginger drink.
Argus Cidery is releasing a line of six-packs, Argus Fermentables, made from internationally sourced fruit. The line includes a cider and a pear-and-ginger drink.

It’s going to be like many ciders Argus Cidery has already produced, with a “straightforward apple palate… (that) finishes dry and crisp, not sweet,” according to the press release.

Ciderkin is a sessionable style historically “made from reconstituted apple pomace,” which is “pressed and fermented wild to produce a low ABV,” the press release said, and Argus’ version (clocking in at 4.5 percent ABV) stays true to the tradition by using a house yeast blend that yields a prominent stone fruit nose, strong apple flavor and a dry finish.

But Argus Cidery doesn’t just stick to making ciders. Joining Tepache Especial, a wild-fermented sparkling pineapple wine Argus released last year, is another apple-less beverage. The Ginger Perry was “developed because Jules (cellar master at Argus) and I really, really love spicy ginger ales,” Mickel said in the press release. “So we decided we would put one in a small-format bottle, booze included.”

The 4.5 percent ABV Ginger Perry, Argus’ first unpasteurized fermentation, features pear and ginger in a dry “balance of ginger, stone fruit and citrus flavors,” according to the press release. It’s an easy-sipper you can drink straight from the bottle or add to a drink as a mixer.

One distinct difference between the Argus Fermentables line and the other beverages that Argus releases is the fruit in the Ciderkin and Ginger Perry. They’ve been internationally sourced so that the six-packs will be available all year round.

Look for more of the regional apples Argus Cidery likes to seek out in an upcoming cider this fall. The 2014 Argus Cidery Perennial consists of apples from Bandera County, according to the press release.

The Ciderkin and Ginger Perry are going for $9.99 a six-pack once they hit shelves this month. For more information, visit www.arguscidery.com.

Austin Eastciders’ latest cider, available in cans, features honey

Austin Eastciders' Texas Honey Cider is the second Eastciders product to be released in cans — the perfect vessel for springtime drinking.
Austin Eastciders’ Texas Honey Cider is the second Eastciders product to be released in cans — the perfect vessel for springtime drinking.

Thick in the resurgence of hard cider, Austin Eastciders is fueling our thirst for the apple beverage by continuing to release new varieties — and as always, they aren’t your typical cider blends.

Already on shelves around town after rolling out this month is the cidery’s Texas Honey. The second cider to be canned, it’s a combination of two types of apples, dessert and bittersweet, that are blended with locally sourced honey to create a “subtle, rounded, mellow sweetness, balancing the astringency of the cider apples,” according to a press release.

Austin Eastciders’ take on this Old World cider style (which came about when people started using honey to sweeten their bone-dry cider during the apple drink’s original heyday) is slightly sweeter than Eastciders Original, according to the press release, but it’s full-bodied and easy-drinking, at 5 percent ABV.

Soon to come is Small Batch No. 2, the second in a series of quarterly small-batch releases that aim to showcase “rare, historic apple varieties using traditional and experimental cider making techniques,” the press release said. The cider is made with Arkansas Black, an old Southern apple varietal that’s good for turning into cider. The driest of all Eastciders’ releases thus far, Small Batch No. 2 has “prominent citrus notes” and a long finish. And with only 350 cases of it to be distributed, it might be as hard to find as the apples it’s made with.

Since finally opening his eastcide cidery late last year, Eastciders founder Ed Gibson hasn’t slowed down much, with plenty of plans for more of his favorite beverage. Also on the cider horizon, according to the press release, is another small-batch variety: a bourbon barrel-aged cider, featuring French bittersweet apples, that spent time in Woodford Reserve barrels. Look for Small Batch No. 3 later this spring.

For more information, visit www.austineastciders.com.

Seattle Cider Co. expands to Austin

Seattle Cider Company's two flagship ciders, Dry and Semi-Sweet, are available in cans, and these and two smaller batch ciders from the Washington cidery are rolling out at various Austin bars and stores this week.
Seattle Cider Company’s two flagship ciders, Dry and Semi-Sweet, are available in cans, and these and two smaller batch ciders from the Washington cidery are rolling out at various Austin bars and stores this week.

This week, Austin Eastciders, Argus Cidery and other small-batch cider brands won’t be the only craft ciders you can find in Austin. Seattle Cider Co., offering cans, bottles and on-draft options, is launching at various local restaurants, bars and stores throughout the week with four different ciders. Austin marks the fifth location around the U.S. for people to find the ciders.

Seattle’s first cidery since Prohibition, Seattle Cider is bringing both mainstay and seasonal ciders to town: Dry, Semi-Sweet, Pumpkin Spice and Three Pepper. The ciders have limited sweetness, cidery founder Joel VandenBrink said in a press release, and “are made using all-natural and local ingredients, including fresh-pressed Washington apples.”

He established Seattle Cider in August 2013 to “break the mold of overly sweet ciders,” according to the press release, which are currently on the rise in the U.S. (Craft cider, not craft beer, is actually the fastest growing alcoholic beverage in the country, and Seattle Cider’s Texas distributor, Keg 1, noted in the press release that industry predictions expect “cider to soon claim 3 to 5 percent of overall beer sales in the U.S.”)

“Craft ciders such as those offered by Seattle Cider Co. are changing the way people think about cider. They’re putting out some really innovative things,” Keg 1’s Phil Benvenuto said.

In the Dry cider, you’ll notice flavors of nectarine, under-ripe peach and tart cherry hit the palate with no residual sweetness; the honey-colored Semi-Sweet, the other mainstay cider coming to the Austin market, is light and crisp and will hit your tongue with hints of citrus and cinnamon. Pumpkin Spice, the cidery’s fall seasonal, has been fermented with pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves, and it’ll round out with just a touch of pumpkin. Three Pepper, a small-batch, limited-release cider, features the kick of poblano, habanero and jalapeño peppers.

Here are Seattle Cider Co’s launch events this week in Austin.

Tuesday:  From 6 to 8 p.m., meet the Seattle Cider team at Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden while sipping their flagship ciders, Semi-Sweet and Dry, in 16 oz. cans.

Wednesday: From 5 to 8 p.m., enjoy samples, both year-round and seasonal products, and meet the minds behind the cider at East 1st Grocery, 1811 E. Cesar Chavez St. They’ll also be at Hamrick’s Market in Cedar Park from 3 to 5 p.m., and the ciders will be available in cans and through tastings at the Dig Pub from 5 to 7 p.m.

For more information about the ciders, visit www.seattlecidercompany.com.

Austin Eastciders to introduce small batch ciders this fall

Just after the doors to Austin Eastciders’ long-awaited urban cidery open at an old railroad station in late October, the cider makers will send out limited numbers of a new release using a rare American heirloom apple. Small Batch No. 1, coming out in Texas stores Nov. 3,  is the first in a series of small batch ciders that Austin Eastciders is making to experiment with these hard-to-get apples and with barrel-aging.

Austin Eastciders' first small batch cider, featuring Winesap heirloom apples, debuts this fall just after the cidery opens on the east side.
Austin Eastciders’ first small batch cider, featuring Winesap heirloom apples, debuts this fall just after the cidery opens on the east side.

Founder Ed Gibson wanted to make a couple of single-varietal ciders with the heirloom apples that pre-Prohibition cider all contained, so Small Batch No. 1 features Winesap apples, which were “used in some of the finest ciders made in America” during cider’s heyday just before Prohibition, according to a press release. During that time, the Eastciders press release said, cider was the most popular drink in the U.S.

A lot of the heirloom varieties like Winesap aren’t cultivated for many of today’s ciders, primarily because they aren’t as prolific as they used to be. But an 1895 catalog for a nursery in Hyde Park (then the largest nursery west of the Mississippi River) offered Winesap trees for sale to Austinites, “noting their value for cider making,” the press release said. Gibson discovered that a small amount of these trees are still being grown in Texas’ High Plains region, and he was eager to use the apples they bore.

“It’s fascinating unearthing these celebrated old varieties, some of which are now virtually extinct, and rediscovering all these unique, long-lost flavors from the golden age of cider,” Gibson said.

What are the flavors you’ll taste in the Small Batch No. 1? It’s a very different sort of cider from Austin Eastciders’ two mainstays, Gold Top and Original. Gibson said the Winesap cider has “a strange and lovely cotton candy aroma and a surprising savory note to the taste. It’s citrusy and salty, almost reminiscent of a margarita, with a punchy acidity and a nice, dry finish.”

If that doesn’t sound much like the cider you’re used to drinking, that’s because Small Batch No. 1, he added, is very similar to the ciders of the early 1900s. “I’ve never had a cider quite like it,” he said.

Only 100 cases of Small Batch No. 1 will be distributed to stores, starting with a release party on Oct. 29 at East End Wines. In the coming months, the cidery has plans to make more small batch ciders, including a single-varietal with Arkansas Black heirloom apples and ones aged in bourbon and rum barrels — and they’ll all be created in the East Austin cidery that Gibson has been trying to open for quite some time now.

Austin Eastciders will officially open on Oct. 25 with a big celebration followed by several events during Austin Beer Week. The first public tour of the cidery, at 979 Springdale Rd., will give visitors a chance to see how cider is made. For more information about the opening or the small batch ciders, visit www.austineastciders.com.