Noble Cider : Straight To The Core

Noble Cider : Straight To The Core

Lately we’ve seen a sort of renaissance when it comes to hard cider. It seems as little as five to ten years ago there may have been a handful of notable hard cider makers. It also seemed the more predominant selections on the market tended to lean more one-note, and with that, I mean heavily sweet. Needless to say, things have changed. Craft beer festivals, while not exactly lacking in popularity, are making way for cider festivals- where consumers can sample hard ciders from across the nation, offering as much versatility and flavor nuance as their craft beer counterparts.

The craft hard cider business is booming, and as such, a new influx of producers and entrepreneurs getting their hands in the mix. I attended my first cider festival last year, and the crowd mass was stunning. There are some serious hard cider fans out there.

We talked a little with one of Asheville’s premiere hard cider purveyors; Noble Cider. The owner’s product is also a featured cocktail recipe in Farmer and Chef Asheville, courtesy of Rhubarb restaurant. Turns out, cider makes an amazing mixer. Noble Cider also cares about community, coupled with sustainability. The majority of their apples are sourced locally from Hendersonville, NC. Our own backyard friends, Hendersonville is the number one producer of apples in the state: contributing heavily to North Carolina’s ranking as a leader nationwide in apple production.

We have it pretty good here.

CSL: What gave you all the idea to launch Noble Cider and how did it happen?

NC: Well, it all kind of started when I got laid-off from my job! I was able to take a couple of months to determine the next phase of life. I told myself to come up with three solutions–launching a cider company was one of the three. With the help of my wife Joanna and Lief Stevens, Noble Cider was born. It made total sense–right product, right time, right market. Use local apples to make cider in Beer City USA. Pretty simple really, as far as ideas go.

CSL: Having a top apple producing region here in WNC I know comes in handy for sourcing. What local farms do you work with?

NC: We have worked with several growers in the area. Skytop Orchard, Apple Wedge, Coston Farms, Staton Farms, Owenby Orchard to name a few. We have also gone out on rouge missions to abandoned orchards to collect interesting apple varieties. There’s nothing quite like shaking a tree and standing under a downpour of crabapples as they fall to a plastic sheet laid out underneath! Good times, hard work.

CSL: I’ll admit again, I always thought of hard cider as somewhat overly sweet, that is until I tasted this new generation of cider makers, such as yourself ,where it ranges from light and effervescent to bold and flavorful–are the possibilities on flavor combination seemingly endless?

NC: That would depend on who you ask! Yes, we believe that flavor combinations and experimentation serve the growth of the cider industry well. Other producers (and consumers) are purists. There is certainly room for both. Cider is taking the fast-track that craft beer has been on for decades. As a producer, we like to do both. One of our flagship cider’s is a very straight-ahead cider that we hope appeals to the purist set. One of our popular seasonals is a delicious experiment into what cider can be—fermented blueberries and apples, finished with honey and rosemary. It’s always a hit anytime we tap it a festival, freakishly so. The cider market is vast and growing, so there is definitely a place for experimentation. More so here in the USA. Traditional European style cider is less prevalent, and therefore we have less preconceived limitations as to what cider is.  It takes all kinds, as they say! It would be foolish not to cater to the market, so long as you make something that you believe in and enjoy yourself.

CSL: Mixology is a big trend in this area, and we have a recipe in Farmer and Chef Asheville that features a recipe from Rhubarb with your product. What other ways are you seeing it incorporated?

NC: There are certainly a few classic cocktails that feature cider, such as a Stonefence, and many mixologists are incorporating cider into modern drinks as well. A lot of bars today will make you a ‘Snake Bite’ or a ‘Cider-mosa’. Another interesting trend is cooking with cider, both savory and sweet. The next time you make barbecue, braise the pork with cider. It’s a natural fit. You can use cider for cooking as you would any white wine. Chefs also enjoy pairing cider with cheeses and main dishes to help accentuate subtle flavors. Cider is yet one more amazing ingredient to add to the ever-expanding American palette!

CSL: Any plans for the future you are willing to share?

NC: Our future plan for the company is growth! Cider is a ‘happening’ product right now, and we hope to be a mainstay of the regional cider scene. We plan to have at least four year-round ciders and at least four regular seasonals in mass production, not to mention any one-offs and small batch ciders that will be available at our taproom. Folks can expect to see cans and bottles on retail shelves in the near future as well. Our new facility will allow people to see fresh apples being pressed on one end and cider from the tap on the other end.

CSL: Lastly, what would you say to someone who has never tasted a great hard cider- and perhaps has a a bit of a preconceived notion on what it should taste like?

NC: Preconceived notions and being a ‘grown up’ go hand in hand. Often times we take other people’s experiences as our own, forever tainting our own enjoyment of life with another person’s opinions. With cider, most consumers expect it to be sweet and taste and smell like apple juice because a lot of the mainstream cider producers in the USA perpetuate that myth. And why not! Who doesn’t want more sugar, more salt, more fat! Our bodies crave it, so let’s give in. Right?  But would those same consumers expect their wine to taste and smell like fresh grape juice? I bet not.   Well, cider is technically a wine. At it’s core, it’s fermented fruit juice. In it’s most basic and stable form, cider is dry. The sugars found in apples are completely fermentable, and because of the natural level of sugars present in apples most yeast strains have no trouble converting all that sugar into alcohol. Straight up and straight ahead dry, dry, dry. Unless you are halting fermentation, there is no residual sweetness in a base cider. Any sweetness or fresh apple flavor that you may taste is usually added back in to the product. So much for preconceived notions and myths! These days, a lot of folks are interested in the process of how things are made and produced. There is a bonafide consumer revolution happening, and I hope cider finds it’s niche in that cultural shift.  That being said, the artistry of a craft cider, or any product really, is balance. Balancing sugar with acid, sour with salt, spicy with cool, yin with yang. If we take that notion of balance to heart, then only you as an individual can determine what that means for you. Leave behind preconceived notions and opinions. What do you like? Sweet cider is a perfectly fine thing to enjoy and prefer. Dry cider is just as fine and dandy. Personally, I prefer an off-dry cider. That’s why the Noble ‘Standard Bearer’ is what it is! It’s our version of balance.

Noble Cider’s taproom is located at 356 New Leicseter Hwy in Asheville. To find out taproom hours, and where to buy, visit www.noblecider.com.

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