High foot traffic, yes, but also lots of beverage competition in North Park
Bivouac Ciderworks has opened in North Park. San Diego's latest craft-beverage business becomes the tenth in San Diego to make hard cider and the first to follow a sort of cider brewpub model. It doubles as a full-service farm-to-table eatery along the neighborhood's restaurant row (3986 30th Street, North Park).
A flight of Bivouac ciders
3986 30th Street, San Diego
Matthew Austin, a ten-year homebrewer, had originally thought to open a beer business. But as he saw San Diego beer grow saturated with well over a hundred breweries, he switched to another favorite: cider. Inspired by ciders he experienced on trips to France and England, Bivouac's ciders are made from a blend of French bittersweet apples and sweeter fruit from Central California and the Pacific Northwest.
"There are a ton of people who have never had cider or have only had Angry Orchard or one of the bigger manufacturers," says Austin. Such sweet, macro-produced hard ciders don't reflect the depth and breadth of dryer cider styles — “The same way craft beer is different than Bud Light,” Austin adds.
With both 30- and 15-barrel tanks, and 165 barrels of total capacity, Bivouac can make a wide variety of dry, aged, and fruited ciders, and Austin has enlisted the help of an experienced (for the moment anonymous) winemaker, who's worked with several cideries in the Pacific Northwest.
Cider tanks in the back, restaurant and bar in the front.
Making cider was always part of the plan for Bivouac — serving food wasn't. When Austin partnered up with cofounder Lara Worm two years ago, they both imagined a production facility with a cider tasting room, with an eventual expansion to someplace with food. But once they settled on the high-foot-traffic North Park location, they realized a kitchen could help the cider business thrive in what's become a very competitive San Diego craft-beverage market.
So they adjusted their business model and tapped three generations of San Diego restaurant experience to simultaneously create a complementary restaurant concept. "My family's been in the restaurant and catering business in San Diego for 60 years,” explains Worm, "so we decided to do the restaurant first and production facility later."
With the help of Worm's brother Scott, executive chef of the family business (Bekker's Catering), Bivouac built a kitchen and attracted the services of popular local chef DJ Tangalin, previously of Whisknladle, JRDN, and Tidal restaurants. He's put together a menu of California cuisine featuring gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan options, occasionally influenced by the flavors and ingredients of his native Philippines.
While food may provide a draw to get people drinking cider, operating a restaurant also allows Bivouac to augment its house cider menu with draft beer, wine, and several intriguing fruit-based spirits.
"We're able to serve brandy, eau de vies, and spirits derived from fruit," says Austin, "so that allows us to do some creative stuff on our cocktail side."
Thus, a cocktail menu designed by mixologist Jesse Ross of Sycamore Den doesn't feature the usual liquors, such as bourbon or gin. Instead it serves drinks created with grape-based brandies, aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels or distilled through a gin basket to emulate the respective spirits.
For now, these spirits represent out-of-state brands, but Austin says Bivouac is setting up an alternating proprietorship with a local distiller so it can produce its own. "We're going to be doing both a bourbon-barrel-aged brandy and a gin brandy in the next eight months or so."