Ash & Elm Cider Co.

Rooted in Tradition. Crafted for Today.

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The Flow of Culture

We have a guest blogger today - our fantastic Assistant Cidermaker, Joseph Kilbourn. Take it away, Joseph!


As a citizen of our fine modern city and the world, I regularly think about what defines culture. Culture is often a mix of blending current trends with unique ideas. Beyond society at large, a good share of personal culture is explained through stories and myths. I accepted the job of Assistant Cidermaker at Ash & Elm because of how the company has blended both sides of culture within its business plan and its story. It's summed up in the slogan, "Rooted in Tradition, Crafted for Today" and it shows in our first two limited edition releases, the Oaked Imperial Headlong and Del Camino tepache.

Microbrewers Festival lineup.

Microbrewers Festival lineup.

The Oaked Imperial Headlong debuts during the VIP hour at the 21st Annual Indiana Microbrewers Festival as an homage to the craft beer scene. I would've never pursued cider making without the influence and culture of craft beer -- where you can always try something new, and you can even try your own hand at homebrewing with loads of support from a community of artisans. And now craft cider has a chance to take off in Indy because of road paved by microbrewers. With nods to some of our brewing heros, like the intensely Citra-hopped 3 Floyds Zombie Dust and fond memories of enjoying a Tequila Barrel-Aged Fistful of Hops from Sun King, we oak-aged and tripled the Citra hops in our dry-hopped house cider, Headlong.

To stand up to the quantity of hops and smooth vanilla notes of french oak, we bumped up the ABV by blending it with an Ice Cider made with fresh cider from Tuttle Orchards in Greenfield, IN. The Ice Cider style was invented in Quebec and uses cryoconcentration to remove some of the water from the apple juice before fermentation. After our careful blending, we arrived at a subtle yet powerful ABV of 9.2% for the Oaked Imperial Headlong, which we offer as a sincere 'thank you' to everyone who has created a culture of craft in Indiana.

At the other end of the cultural spectrum, we created Del Camino based on a drink of culture that my wife, Jennifer Delgadillo and I had while traveling in Oaxaca, Mexico last year. Jennifer and I had just visited a traditional family textile business in the smaller village of Teotitlan del Valle where they loom fabrics from scratch on their goat farm. As we traveled back to Santa Lucia Del Camino, we saw a vendor selling a drink from a barrel by the side of the road and pulled over to try some. It was a homemade traditional tepache with pineapple rinds floating in it and bees swarming around it. My wife's cousin who lived there said that you know it's good when the bees want it. The vendor garnished the rim of our cups with a chili powder, salt and lime mixture and skimmed a few bees out for us. While we rode in the back seat of the car, we enjoyed the tangy fermented pineapple tepache. It was bursting with the flavors of piloncillo (Mexican brown sugar with notes of molasses), tamarind (a tart and sweet plant used in many Mexican candies that are coated with chilli powder and salt), and some hints of other spices.

Authentic Mexican tepache from Oaxaca.

Authentic Mexican tepache from Oaxaca.

Aaron and I recreated this experience as closely as any Hoosier could with a wild-fermented pineapple cider sweetened with piloncillo and Mexican spices. It came out just as tangy and sweet as the original (bees not included) with an ABV of 3.2% that makes it refreshing to drink on a hot summer's day. Ours also comes with the option to garnish it with a dash of adobo/cayenne chili powder, dried tamarind, lime and salt for an extra kick. I can't wait to see how Jennifer thinks Del Camino compares to the tepache we had from the street when it debuts as a refreshing treat for the patrons of the Microbrewers Festival.

Things get a little crazy around here sometimes...

Things get a little crazy around here sometimes...

So as Ash and Elm endeavors to become ingrained in the cultural landscape of Indianapolis, we will continue to convert our own cultural experiences into drinkable form so you can taste the ancient, growing, and fresh culture that flows through us.

Stay tuned for information about a special release of both the Del Camino and Oaked Imperial Headlong in our tasting room in the coming weeks.

What's Happening in the World of Craft Cider

Aaron and I have spent almost three years now living, breathing, thinking, and drinking cider. We’ve been to CiderCON twice and both have Google alerts set up for Hard Cider, along with a growing library of books to use as resources for every part of our business.

There's a growing library of information online, too, by way of blogs, newspapers, and online journals. If you’re new to the world of craft cider and want to learn more about what’s happening out there, here are some great articles that have come out over the last few months:

1.       Everything You Need to Know About Cider (And Why You Should Stop Calling it “Hard”) – This is a great overview about the latest trends in the cider world. Use it to learn why people in the industry don’t like the term ‘hard’ cider, how ciders differ from region to region, and why cider should fall more in line with the wine than the beer category. 

2.       Is Chicago Ripe for A Cider Boom? – This article outlines the growth of cider in Chicago since 2012 and likens it to the craft beer boom that we’ve all gotten familiar with. It addresses some of the barriers to entry for cider-makers, such as the all-too-common ‘cider stigma’ and how craft cideries are adapting their methods in order to enter a market dominated by craft beer. Plus, with Chicago just being a hop, skip, and a jump away, this might be helpful if you’re a cider fan that’s headed up north any time soon.

3.       Raising the Bar on the Cider Trend - A little different than the rest, this article focuses on two cideries in the Chicago region: Virtue Cider and Uncle John’s Cider Mill. Both Greg Hall and Mike Beck make really great ciders that you can find at some specialty liquor stores in Indianapolis. We’re particularly fond of Mike Beck and Uncle John’s Cider Mill because he’s one of our orchard partners that provides us with juice. Once we open, you all may be fans of Uncle John's as well if you like what you get!

4.       Critical Drinking – Are Craft Brewers Cutting Craft Cider to its Core? – This is a really thoughtful and challenging article from the folks at Good Beer Hunting (a great podcast to listen to if you’re into craft beer). The premise is that the trend of craft breweries jumping onto the cider bandwagon is doing harm to the craft cider world, since the craft cider movement is still in its infancy. Since both the market and some producers are ignorant about the history and tradition of cider, ‘bad’ ciders are turning people off of the industry before ‘good’ cider can turn them on. Choice quote: “In many cases, brewers are making all of these compromises at once in the pursuit of profit, or in their ignorance of another person’s craft, and hitting the gas peddle on production hoping they can cash in on another exponential growth trend adjacent to craft beer. In other words, craft brewers are co-opting craft cider the way craft brewers claim macro brewers are co-opting craft beer.” Oof!

Hopefully these articles have been enlightening to both current and future cider nerds. If you want to learn more about cider and the growth of the industry, give us a shout and we’ll connect you with some of our favorite resources. Happy drinking!

Five Things We've Been Working On

Hey cider fans! Things have gotten really busy for us over the last month, and they will only continue to be so. Now, we have great intentions of a few blogs related to the cider-making process, but before we delve in, we’re going to ease back into blogging with a snappy Top Five list so that we can all get on the same page with each other. Deal?

Here are five things we’ve been working on over the last two months:

5. Permits – Truly, ‘permits’ will probably be in every top five list we ever write about our progress. Since the last blog a month and a half ago, we’ve applied for and been granted a sign permit, an encroachment license, a construction permit, and some sort of elusive ‘electrical upgrade certificate’. As of today, we actually HAVE all of these permits!

4. Production Space – Our production space is 90% finished! Right now, most of what we’re waiting on is simple and not totally necessary for the production of cider. For example, we still need to put in a couple of sinks, wire the walk-in coolers, etc. But, our tanks are set, the coolers are built, the floor has been epoxied (twice!), so we’re almost ready to show the space off to visitors.

Look at those pretty fermentation tanks and unfinished floor drain!

Look at those pretty fermentation tanks and unfinished floor drain!

3. Tasting Room Décor – Finally, the fun part of a build-out! We’ve been scouring websites and taking weekend trips to Ikea to get light fixtures, plan out the bar, get the right draft system, and build tables. Our bar and tables are being built by Matthew Osborn (check out his website – he’s awesome!), and seeing them built has been a blast.

Parsons table for the tasting room.

Parsons table for the tasting room.

2. Paint Parties – We have some good friends and family in town who have graciously showed up several times to help us paint our space. It’s amazing what a fresh coat of paint will do for a dingy old warehouse, not to mention that it’s really nice to share our business with the people who care about us.

Wes is good with a roller and a ladder.

Wes is good with a roller and a ladder.

1. Test Batches – While we’ve been not-so-patiently waiting for our electrical upgrades that will allow us to use all of our fancy equipment, we’ve been doing some recipe tweaking. Aaron will have a full blog about yeast trails in the next few weeks to outline the process.

Aaron's ideal evening - doing science-y things mixed with alcohol-y things.

Aaron's ideal evening - doing science-y things mixed with alcohol-y things.

0. Merchandise – Woohoo, we have some merchandise! Tasting room glassware, shirts, coasters, and stickers are here and ready for the sharing. Thanks to Amy McAdams for her awesome designs.

Heyyyy...A&E Shirt Selfie!

Heyyyy...A&E Shirt Selfie!

Alright! We're caught up with each other! Stay tuned for some blogs about the actual cider-making process and news about our grand opening!

Working for the Weekend: Our Visit to Blake's Hard Cider

Since we started this business, Aaron and I have been itching to spend some time in a large-scale cidery to get our hands dirty and have a bit more exposure to the day-to-day operations. We’ve visited countless cideries around the States, but finally got our chance to work a couple weeks ago when we visited Blake’s Hard Cider in Armada, Michigan.

Blake’s Hard Cider is a really great place – a family-owned orchard for decades, one of the sons, Andrew, decided to add hard cider their already bustling business. Not surprisingly, the cider part of the company has grown by leaps and bounds in the first couple of years, and now they’re neck and neck for the largest cidery in Michigan. We reached out to them to see if they might be interested in some weekend day-laborers, and they responded with great interest and warmth. Our trip was planned!

The night before we left, we decided that, instead of getting a hotel nearby, we’d camp out at a local park. It was beautiful, relatively serene, and the price was right ($25/night). We’d definitely do that again – for a weekend spent working, it was nice to also feel like we were on vacation for a few hours each evening.

Campfire

On Saturday morning, we met up with Rob, their production manager, to learn about the processes involved in running a large-scale cidery. We saw their tanks, canning line, coolers, concrete pads, loading docks, and their expansion plans. After the tour and lots of questions, Rob put us to work labeling and filling bottles.

Intense focus while labeling bottles of cider.

Intense focus while labeling bottles of cider.

Aaron taking care of business.

Aaron taking care of business.

We did a pretty good job, and cut down the amount of work Rob had to do on a Saturday. They treated us to lunch in their tasting room and let us try a sampling of their house and seasonal ciders (tasting notes: YUM). Spending time in the tasting room was great – it gave us a lot of ideas about the design and function of our soon-to-be tasting room.

Some good ciders in the tasting room at Blake's Hard Cider.

Some good ciders in the tasting room at Blake's Hard Cider.

We spent Sunday morning talking with Robert, the cidermaker, who cut his teeth in Napa Valley and New Zealand working in wineries. He and Aaron hit it off, and spoke about all things fermentation/yeast/clarity while I chatted with Andrew about the business side of things: staffing, HR compliance, pricing, and distribution.

We headed back to Indy on Sunday afternoon, tired, buzzing with new ideas, and grateful for the generosity of our new friends at Blake’s. If you are in Michigan, seek out some of their cider – it’s great!

Brew-Ha-Ha Festival

Last month, we had the opportunity to share our cider at the 20th annual Brew-Ha-Ha Festival. Tied with the Indiana Microbrewer’s Festival for the longest-running beer festival in the state, Brew-Ha-Ha is a fundraiser put on every year to support the programming at the Phoenix Theater. We were really thankful that they let us be a part of their event before we were even open!

One of the benefits of having a name that starts with an 'A'.

One of the benefits of having a name that starts with an 'A'.

We had done several events prior to Brew-Ha-Ha, including another fundraiser, an opening gala, and a few weddings, but this was by far the largest (and most knowledgeable!) audience our cider had ever had. It was important to us that we came off well especially since so many other great breweries would be mere steps away.

After spending some time thinking about what ciders would be the best to bring to a beer festival, we settled on bringing six!

BHH Lineup 1
BHH Lineup2

On the day of the festival, we loaded up our compact car to the gills with cider, signage, our jockey box, a CO2 tank, and a couple coolers and drove the mile to the festival.

Overall, we had a great time and were able to talk with so many people who were excited to hear about a new cidery coming to Indianapolis. Some of the highlights included convincing die-hard beer fans to try a craft cider for the first time and hearing them say, “Hey, this is actually pretty good.” On the other range of the spectrum, it was also great to find out just how many people have been looking for a way to get more cider and who loved ours. We had a woman from France who said she’d been looking for a good cider to drink in the States for years and had finally found it in our Dry cider, and we had other people who came back multiple times in an effort to get a taste of the pumpkin cider, which we didn’t tap until halfway through the day. Another great part of the day was sharing cider with several bar and restaurant managers who expressed interest in carrying our ciders at their location in the future.

Aaron BHH

Thanks to the handful of a friends and family who helped us serve that day, and thanks to the Phoenix Theater for a great event. We hope to be a part of it next year and for many years moving forward.

The Many Styles of Cider

Think of some of your favorite beverages: Wine. Beer. Juice. Soda.

One thing that all of these beverages have in common is that they are general categories. You can drill down into each of them and come up with wildly different styles: Merlot versus Chardonnay; a hoppy IPA versus a rich Stout. Coke versus Ginger Ale. Strawberry Kiwi or fresh-squeezed orange juice. I could go on and on, but I trust you get the point.

Cider is no different. It represents a general category – a beverage made with fermented apple juice, in the most traditional sense. Right now, as we experience the rebirth of the cider tradition in the States, we’ve just scratched the surface of the cider styles that exist. Generally speaking, the majority of cider consumption in the States comes from one style of cider – the very sweet, carbonated, controlled-yeast type. The exciting thing about the growing craft cider movement is that there are just as many styles of cider as there are of wine and beer, and we have much to discover! Here’s a little tutorial on some of the more common cider styles found around the world:

Scrumpy (English Style) – English-style ciders are usually fermented to quite dry and have a bit of funk to them (sometimes called ‘farmy’ because it can smell like hay or horses.) They tend to be carbonated, and if you’ve done much traveling in England, this is the cider you would have tried.

French Style – French ciders also have some farmy notes, but they’re more champagne-like than Scrumpy ciders, meaning they have a lot of tiny bubbles. The French don’t force-carbonate their ciders, and instead bottle condition them to achieve the champagne-like quality and a natural sweetness. These ciders are traditionally served with savory buckwheat crepes, often for breakfast!

Spanish Style – These ciders are super-tart and acidic. If you’ve never tried one, you may think it’s a bit off, but give it a chance! They’re like sour beers – a little funky, a little tart, and an acquired taste.

New England Style – New England style ciders are usually fermented to dryness and have a higher alcohol content than most other ciders because of the amount of sugar in the apples used.

Wild (Spontaneous) – Ciders that are ‘wild’ or ‘spontaneous’ mean that no yeast is added to the juice. Instead, the juice is pressed and left to ferment based on whatever wild yeast strains happen to be in the juice. These ciders take longer to ferment and can be a bit unpredictable – either the yeast offers a complex flavor that really works, or it doesn’t, in which case…cider vinegar!

Ice Cider – Similar to ice wines, ice ciders are made from freezing the juice and removing the water, leaving a highly concentrated, very sweet dessert cider. They’re labor intensive, and very much worth the effort!

These ciders are all made with few additional ingredients outside of apples, yeast, and sometimes a bit extra sugar. The variety comes from the way the blend of apples used from the start and the way the cider is fermented, stored, and aged. Variety also comes from the vintage of the apples as well, just like wine - some years are great growing years, others aren't, and the soil and ecological conditions where apples and grapes are grown affect the flavor of the cider or wine from year to year.

Ash & Elm cider lineup for a recent event. 

Ash & Elm cider lineup for a recent event. 

Then, there’s a whole new world of cider styles coming from the craft beer movement. These styles are nearly limitless, but a few categories are starting to settle into their own:

Hopped Ciders – Like hoppy beers? Try a dry-hopped cider if you get a chance! The aroma is hoppy and there’s a bit of that bitter aftertaste, but the sweetness of the cider mixed with the hops gives a totally different flavor than a standard IPA.

Barrel Aged Ciders – Cider aged in bourbon barrels have that same vanilla and alcohol-y finish that a bourbon barrel aged beer has. A variety of different barrels can be used with ciders: white wine, bourbon, rum, and more!

Fruity and Herbal Ciders – Ever had a jalapeno or bell pepper cider? They exist and they’re good! Ginger Cider, Blackberry Cider, Lemongrass and Basil Cider, Pumpkin Cider, the list can go on and on.

We’re excited to bring some of these styles of cider to Indy when we open. We have our standard semi-sweet and dry ciders that will be available all the time, but we’ll also have a rotating selection of seasonal and limited release ciders. Sure to be in the mix are hopped ciders, herbal ciders, barrel-aged ciders, and plenty more. We’d love to know what cider styles sound good to you, so feel free to drop us a line or leave a comment!

Deciding to Start a Cidery

A lot of people ask us why we decided to start a business focused on cider. It’s off the beaten path just enough to assume there’s a reason other than, ‘We like it.’ To be honest, it’s true. Here’s how we came to the idea of starting Indianapolis’ first dedicated hard-cider company.

Like a lot of other cider-makers around the States, Aaron found his way to cider via the craft beer world. He went to grad school in the mid-2000s near San Francisco. While the craft beer boom hadn’t really hit in Indianapolis at that time, it was big business on the West Coast, and Aaron jumped in full-force, seeking out different beers and starting to homebrew. He moved back to Indianapolis in 2006 with a couple years of brewing under his belt and a desire to open a brewery. But, like a lot of other people, he had student loans and bills to worry about, so it wasn’t an option. A few years later, when craft beer started to pick up steam in Indy, he again had fantasies of opening a brewery, but wasn’t able to convince himself to take the risk.

Around that time,  Aaron and I got together. Aaron realized that, while he loved craft beer, his interest in exploring other beverages had grown. I was game for an adventure, and we brainstormed what skills we each had, what would be a good business idea, and what we were interested in. A few years before, we'd traveled to Ireland and had a cider unlike anything we'd ever had in the States, opening our eyes to the possibilities of different styles. We’d already been making wine, and added cider to the mix too. As we brainstormed about their business ideas in the spring of 2014, cider quickly rose to the top. The growth in the industry over the last couple years around the US was incredible, the skills from brewing beer and making wine transferred well to making cider, and, important to both of us, apple trees grow well in Indiana, meaning not only could we make a truly local product, we could support farmers in our community through the business. And of course, the fact that cider is delicious and we still had so much more to learn about it got us excited about the challenge ahead.

What followed were months of research: drinking as many ciders from around the world we could get their hands on and making batch after batch to perfect our recipes. We took trip to cider hotspots like Portland, Seattle, and Michigan. We visited local orchards to talk with farmers about their perspectives. We conducted market research. Each step along the way, all signs pointed to this being the right business idea at the right time.

It’s been a whirlwind trip already, and we haven’t even opened yet. We hope you’ll join us on the next phase of our journey!

Copyright Ash & Elm Cider Co.