Until recently, the founder of Madison’s newest cidery, Restoration Cider Co., called himself “a beer guy.”
“I kind of hated cider,” said Paul Asper, founder of the cidery that distributed its first batch to discerning spots in Madison, including Heritage Tavern and Brasserie V, just a few weeks ago.
Most American ciders Asper has tried “taste overly apple-y, like a Jolly Rancher or something,” he said. He never knew it could be different, until he took a trip to Northern Spain with his wife in 2012 and stumbled upon Spanish cider in a local wine and cheese shop.
“It was totally dry, super funky, with a barnyard flavor, and no residual sugar,” he said. “It doesn’t taste like apples, like wine doesn’t taste like grapes, right?”
So, after getting buy-in from his wife and co-founder, Lissa Koop, Asper set out to learn how to make cider and open a cidery.
He read up on apples, brushed up on the rules and regulations of opening a cidery and traveled to the West Coast to take a class in cider-making from “this fancy English cider master.”
What followed was an intense period of trial and error as he attempted to replicate the funky, barnyard-y flavors of the Spanish cider he and his wife had enjoyed so much.
“It was a daunting task,” Asper said.
In the end, they settled on two varieties of cider that aren’t so much Spanish-style as inspired-by-Spanish-style. He calls it “new American cider.”
The two ciders, called Starkweather and Sugar River, have been picked up by a handful of higher-end and beverage-focused establishments around Madison, including Heritage Tavern, Brasserie V, Lombardino’s, Gib’s Bar and Grampa’s Pizzeria, HopCat and Tipsy Cow.
“We tried to go with the fancy people first,” Asper joked.
He figured the customer bases at those spots were more likely to embrace a drier, less sweet cider than many are used to.
“He brought them in here a few weeks ago and gave us samples and we decided right away we wanted to sell it,” said Josh Ruffin, bar manager and alcohol buyer for Brasserie V, of Asper’s cider. “It was that good.”
Ruffin was especially impressed by the Starkweather, the drier of the two ciders.
“It’s very dry — it’s got almost a farmhouse sort of funk to it,” he said. “In that way, it resembles traditional Spanish, even French farmhouse ciders.”
Brasserie V quickly ran out of both ciders, but Ruffin said he plans to have Restoration Cider Co. ciders on tap again soon.
“The response was pretty overwhelmingly positive,” he said. “It was not only a great and different cider, but it was made here in Madison and people responded really well to that — they want to support their local artisans, and they really want to support it when it’s good.”
Asper said he has some cider left over from his first batch that’s ready to leave his warehouse. He’ll start work on a new batch when fall apples become available in late October or November. That batch should be ready after the new year, he said.
He hopes the business, which aims to donate five percent of its profits to stream restoration projects, as Asper is an avid fly fisherman, will continue to grow.
“A tasting room would be great,” he said. “We think that would be great to have someday. We don’t know what that looks like … we’ll be working on the fancier business plan. I’d like to make a living off this – and if I could restore a stream or two, it would be a dream come true.”