Nestled in the Smoky Mountains, in the small town of Black Mountain right outside Asheville, is a small cidery that is having a big impact on a growing culture of craft beverages. David and Jessica Bowman are part of the resurgence of cider in North Carolina, and I sat down to talk to Jessica about their take on this growing industry.
The cider began after a trip to England in 2009, after which the Bowmans reflected on the craft beer resurgence that was happening in Asheville. “We knew cider could be like that too. The ciders that were currently in our market were made to be consistent and to be produced in mass quantities. That was their goal, but it wasn’t what cider had to taste like,” Jessica said.
As stated on their website:
There we attended a street fair in a town called Battle and slaked our thirst with real, Kentish country-style cider made from 100% apple juice (scrumpy). It was dry and still, standing in contrast to the syrupy-sweet industrial brands sold in the English pubs and much of the U.S. Market. Our notion was whetted into conviction: cider needn’t taste like artificially-flavored apple candy, and when made with 100% juice—and without concentrates, corn syrups, or other undesirables—real cider is a pure, yet complex and palatable delight.
So, the couple formed Black Mountain Ciderworks + Meadery in 2013. At the time, I was living in Asheville, and knew Jessica from college, so on weekends I would often wander over to Pisgah Brewing, located right next to their new business, and chat with the two of them while they worked on pressing apples, and setting up their business.
Four years later, the cidery is thriving, and the couple is producing a quality and popular NC product.
“Both David and I come from families of farmers, David’s more recently than mine, in Eastern North Carolina. We were both raised to appreciate what can be grown locally, and we want to be proud of being from NC. A lot of that pride comes from craft beer and farming,” said Jess, about the importance of producing a Carolina product. “We use apples that come from our state, and we believe that you can make good cider from those apples.”
As today’s farmers work on cultivating a strong crop for generations to come, it’s important to realize how long cider would have been around in North Carolina. “Cider would have been all over Colonial America from the beginning… from the time of the Mayflower. Johnny Appleseed was planting trees for cider, which after they were produced, would have registered at about 3-6% alcohol. And cider was important to the colonists. It provided nutrients, and was a way to preserve the apples. Even children drank watered down cider,” explained Jessica of the history of cider.
“Cider would have kept going strong if it hadn’t been for prohibition, paired with the rise of big German breweries in this country. That rise coincided with the rise of trains, because then they could get ice. After prohibition, because of the money that the big breweries had made, they were able to come back strong, where cider didn’t make as much of a comeback.”
Cider also took a big hit during prohibition in the south, with most native apples trees being chopped down and eliminated, but now farmers are bringing back those types of apples, and the Bowmans are working to cultivate a strong relationship with both the new and older generations of apple farmers. “When we first started trying to establish a relationship, the farmers were cautious. After two or three years, we have started getting a real interest in what we are doing from the second and third generation of apple farmers. They are beginning to see cider as part of the future of their industry, and they are starting to become interested in making cider as well. They have to ask themselves what they can do to sell the goodness of their apples.”
Cider today is a rapidly growing industry, and is catching up to the craft beer movement in the state. Apples grow between July and December, with different varieties preferring different months throughout the year. Once they are harvested, they are washed, and chopped to about the size of a pea, and then go through a phase called maceration. The apples sit on barrels in their own skins for a few days (much like wine does) before they get pressed. The cidery will immediately ferment the cider, or kill off the yeast with sulfites to keep the cider longer, and then eventually add their own yeasts back in.
Primary fermentation takes 1-2 weeks, and as the yeast eats the sugar, the cider is transferred off in the following 1-6 months. What is on tap now in December came from August. Cider can be aged for years, and each batch is different. Jessica’s favorite apple to use, from a long list of apples they source, is the Arkansas Black Apple. “They hold up to storage, have a nice, thick skin, and lots of tannins, which gives the mouth feel.”
The hilliness of the mountains, the rain the area gets (parts of WNC are a temperate rain forest), and the soil, aid to the location being a solid place to grow apples. And those who know to carry a jacket in the mountains, even in summer, can attest to the cooler climate, which also aids in the development and growth of apples.
Black Mountain Ciderworks + Meadery offers a variety of ciders on tap, but their flagship cider is Pomona. “It’s David’s baby, “says Jessica about the popular cider. “If you were deserted on an island, that would be the cider you would want. Not too sweet or dry, and always pleasant. It’s a good example of cider. You can tell it’s made from apples, but it’s not apple juice. And the name evokes the original spirit of English cider. Pomona encompasses everything about what a cider is, what it means to people, and how it relates to the earth, and nature.”
If you’d like to visit Black Mountain Ciderworks + Meadery, they are open every day (except Tuesdays), and more information about the growing business can be found on their website. Drop by their tasting room to sample cider, try a flight, or pick up a growler for the road.
Black Mountain Ciderworks + Meadery
104 Eastside Dr., Unit 307
Black Mountain, North Carolina 28711