Autumn is apple picking time. The fall comes alive in area orchards. Autumn is also the season when cider houses are pressing apples to make batches of fresh cider—the hard stuff. If you haven’t heard, cider is cool again.
The Central Coast’s first modern-day cider maker was Neil Collins, the Tablas Creek and Lone Madrone winemaker who made his first batch of cider in Paso Robles in 1994, “which was long before anyone had any interest in cider,” he recalls.
Named after his hometown, Bristol, England, Collins opened Bristols Cider House in Atascadero three years ago; it’s a pub atmosphere with live music and food vendors.
“It started with a lot of ladies drinking it. Then local winemakers. Lately the gluten free thing has become so big it’s a big plus for the cider industry, a viable alternative to beer.”
Collins presses his own locally-grown apples, “so, they are sweet and full of sunshine.” His cider is rooted in tradition but Collins also gets creative, aging small batches in bourbon or spirit barrels. Eight different Bristols ciders are on tap daily.
In Goleta, Ben Schroeder found himself with enough family and friends avoiding gluten that he decided to create a beer-like beverage with gluten-free ingredients. He started Santa Barbara Cider Company and in 2017 opened a tasting room in “the new” Old Town Goleta.
“Cider is kind of an undefined space right now,” says Schroeder. “You can make it like wine or a little bit more like beer. I really like beer, so I make ciders that hit the palate of what I like in terms of tasting things.”
His menu changes daily with 12 ciders on tap, rotating 50 different flavors made with fresh pressed juices and ingredients, nothing artificial. Santa Barbara Cider’s unique flavors include pineapple habanero, gingerbread, and hibiscus currant tea.
“I want people to be delighted with something different they haven’t tried before,” says Schroeder.
Nole Cossart, a professional surfer and brand ambassador for Prana, and Rachna Hailey, an aerial dancer and former chef, also make cider. The health-conscious couple started by botanically-infusing honey-based drinks.
Their motto is “drink your flowers.” Their locally-foraged pink jasmine mead was a popular springtime flavor in their Carpinteria tasting room, The Apiary Ciderworks & Meadery.
“Whatever was blooming we wanted to put into the beverages,” says Hailey. “We literally wanted our mead to taste like jasmine, like you were walking around the town of Santa Barbara.”
They also source organic Santa Barbara County apples and press them behind the tasting room.
“Our all-time favorite cider so far has been Crimson Gold,” says Cossart. “It’s made from a variety of crabapples called Crimson Gold, that are really sweet and pack tons of flavor. When fermented, you get a dry cider that has a really velvety texture and floral aroma to it.”
Winemaker Mikey Giugni‘s cider awakening occurred while working a sparkling wine harvest in Tasmania, where the ciders are very dry and crisp. Giugni has been handcrafting high-end ciders since 2012 under his Santa Maria-based Scar of the Sea label.
Giugni and business partner Michael Brughelli have access to organic “old American” apple varieties, such as Newtown Pippin, from a dry-farmed orchard in Aptos.
“I very much wanted Scar of the Sea cider to be a terroir-driven cider, so it’s all from one orchard, farmed by the same family that’s farmed it for three generations,” says Giugni. “Like wine, using really good apples, you don’t need to do anything to it.”
Giugni guided them in crafting cider in the early days and recently left the partnership.
Schalchlin and Jones now share production duties. Visitors to the Tin City Cider taproom in Paso Robles drink it by the glass, pitcher or flight, fill a growler or buy bottles or cans.
Tin City’s top selling flavors by the can are its original dry hopped cider and the equally approachable Poly Dolly, a pink blend of cider and rosé.
“Cider is allowing people from two camps to come together: beer people and wine people,” says Schalchlin. “It’s easier for beer people to make the leap to cider than wine. It’s lower in alcohol than wine can be. It also goes to that refreshing side like a cold beer.”
Each year, Magdevski makes a different cider/wine co-ferment: grenache blanc cider, semillon cider, grenache rose cider, and her Clementine Carter mourvedre cider, now available in her Los Alamos tasting room.
“I treat them exactly like wine,” says Magdevski. “The cider brightens the character of the wine that you are pairing it with.”
Her next 50-50 blend, a Champagne-style grüner veltliner cider, will be ready in spring 2019.
Keep an eye out for the 4th annual Central Coast Cider Festival in Atascadero in May or June 2019. This event, in the planning stages now, is an opportunity for the public to sample most of the aforementioned ciders and meet many of the Central Coast’s cider makers.
This story was originally published in the Fall 2018 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.