Six packs of cider could be on shelves by early 2016.
9550 Distribution Avenue, San Diego
Since its debut in spring 2013, Miramar brewer Saint Archer has expanded square footage, distribution range, production volume, and its roster of beers. Pending approval of a winemaking license, the craft beer company aims to be San Diego's first to commercially produce hard cider.
The company recently added 10,000 square feet of space to its production facility, and has dedicated a chunk of it to cider. The need for a winemaking license reflects a difference in the fermenting process between beer and cider — brewing beer requires heat, while making cider (or wine) does not.
The different process won't entirely be uncharted territory for Saint Archer's brewing staff. Head Brewer Kim Brisson-Lutz has a background in wine, including a degree in oenology and a two-year stint as a vintner at J. Lohr winery in Paso Robles. "I've always been interested in it," she says about hard cider, "It's almost the median between beer and wine."
She says a research trip to Portland and Seattle — cities where hard cider has begun making strides alongside beer consumption — provided valuable insights into the breadth of ciders. "It kind of blew my mind of what it can be...what it should taste like. They're doing some wild fermentations, some barrel aged — I think my favorite right now is Spanish cider, which is spontaneously fermented. It has that brettanomyces flavor to it: super dry, pretty acidic."
While the new license will allow Saint Archer to experiment with these varieties as well as cyser — a combination of mead and cider — for the time being, the focus will be a clean, semisweet hard cider — something dry that matches the palate of their beers. They anticipate something around 6.8 ABV that drinks like something much lighter.
Whereas beer requires formulating a recipe involving several ingredients, cider-making relies primarily on apple and yeast selection. As with hops, Yakima, Washington produces high volumes of apples, so Saint Archer will order a custom blend from a juice company in the region. "We've been tasting as many apples and juices as we can," Brisson-Lutz says, "which is exciting for me."
Yeast options range from traditional cider yeasts to strains used in champagne. "I actually consulted with winemakers in the central coast," she says, "and picked their brains on what kind of yeast and profile they like in their white wines. I'm a big fan of viogniers and sauvignon blanc...something that has a huge aromatic fruity character to it, with some nice acidity."
While Saint Archer will be the first beer producer in San Diego to branch out into cider, two existing labels call the county home. Julian Hard Cider, which actually doesn't produce cider here, and the small batch Julian Cider Works, the only one to use 100 percent Julian-grown apples. Brisson-Lutz describes the hard cider community as small but coming up, "Kind of how the beer industry was compared to the wine industry 20 years ago."