What goes into making hard cider? "Apples and yeast — and love," according to Humboldt Cider Company's Darren Cartledge. Well, that and some cash. He and wife Michelle Cartledge, along with fellow co-founder Jamie Ashdon, launched a Kickstarter campaign last fall. In 45 days, supporters donated more than $37,000 and set the fledgling company on course to establish the county's first hard cider production facility and tasting room.
Michelle says donors included friends and family, but also strangers from around the world. "They just give you money because they want to be supportive and be a part of what you're doing. Which is really awesome."
Owners of the Local Beer Bar in Eureka's Old Town, the Cartledges are entrenched in Humboldt's tight-knit beer community. They met Ashdon through his homebrew store, Humboldt Beer Works. Because it is made from fruit, cider is technically a wine, but fits in well with Humboldt's beer drinking crowd.
The trio has settled into a small business incubator space at Redwood Acres Fairgrounds in Eureka, alongside other startups like Ohana Organics and Natural Decadence. Over the past few months, the old milking barn has gotten a fresh coat of red paint, and the inside has been transformed into a rustic/contemporary tasting room and super tidy production facility. They've torn down walls, put in a swanky new bathroom and are working on an outdoor seating area complete with fire pit and thornless blackberry bushes.
Just about everything used for the remodel came from reclaimed materials. Nature Joe of Turtle Mountain Design did the woodworking for the project, including installing a bar he found on the side of the road in Eureka years ago. It was falling apart, but he pulled it from storage and revived it for the tasting room.
Shit got real when eight tons of apples were delivered to the production facility last fall. "The majority of the apples come from a family farm in Boonville," says Michelle Cartledge. In addition, they do back yard picking with friends and source apples from places like Mitchell Grove in Eureka, formerly Arrington Apples.
The cider is good. Very good. The Sierra Beauty Blend is crisp, clean and semi-dry with a nice edge of sweetness. Trouble is, can they make it fast enough?
The process of turning apples into cider takes no less than two months. First, you wash the fruit, then you mash it into pulp with a grinder and move the pulp to the press for juicing. After a few weeks in fermentation tanks, it's time to transfer the juice into the maturation tanks. This is where flavors develop and the cider really comes to life. Then you filter it, put it into kegs and enjoy it on draught. Production is limited by the tank space, and demand is high. "It's an awesome problem to have," admits Michelle Cartledge. "But we don't want to run out."
Until the supply situation improves, there's no cider take-out option. No selling kegs or filling growlers for the public. In fact, because cider falls in the wine bracket, the shop can't fill growlers at all. Instead, it may fill bottles to go in compliance with wine regulations.
They plan to bottle in the future, but bottling equipment is brutally expensive and they have their hands full for the moment.
The wildest flavor they've concocted to date? Sour cherry, which the team introduced at last year's StrangeBrew BeerFest. "People loved it," says Darren Cartledge. He's having fun pitching different ingredients in the mix to keep things interesting.
The grand opening for the tasting room is Saturday, Feb. 14, and it'll be open from noon to 9 p.m. on weekends after that. A number of blends will be on tap at the opening, including relatively straightforward recipes like the Humboldt, Wild Beauty, Single Varietal Macintosh, Single Varietal Jonathan and Sierra Beauty. Those with an adventuresome palette might try the more exotic pineapple, cherry, blackberry or dry hops blends. For now, you can find Humboldt Cider Company on tap at Six Rivers Brewery, Mad River Brewery, Richard's Goat Tavern, Crush, Humboldt Bay Tourism Center and, of course, the Local Beer Bar.