Colorado is home to nearly 230 breweries, which means practically every kind of beer a person could crave can be found with a little legwork.
But let’s face it — beer isn’t for everyone.
For those with a more diverse palate or just looking to step away from beer for a while, cider might just be the right fit.
“I fell in love with the light and effervescent flavor profile of hard cider,” remembers Ian Capps, head cider maker at Denver’s Stem Ciders. “I think it can be much more nuanced than typical beer profiles, and I was excited about getting into something new that wasn’t beer.”
Stem is just one of a handful of cidermakers that have popped up in the Denver metro area and beyond. Aficionados can also sample the Colorado Cider Company and C Squared Ciders, both in Denver, head north and stop by Longmont’s St. Vrain Cidery, or head south to Monument to the Ice Cave Cider House, or go to the Western Slope and see where some of the apples are grown at places like Big B’s Hard Ciders in Hotchkiss.
“We have such a strong craft brew scene in Colorado, that cider was the logical next step,” said Brad Page, who founded the Colorado Cider Company with his wife. “When you add in the interest in farm-to-table and local foods, it makes sense that so many people would get into this drink.”
When many people hear the term cider, they think along the lines of apple juice. But hard cider, unlike beer, which is made from hops, barley and other ingredients, is more akin to wine.
As Dan Daugherty, cidermaker at St. Vrain Cidery explains it, cider ferments completely dry to zero residual sugar, meaning that to sweeten it, makers have to either arrest the fermentation before completion or sweeten afterwards. The next step is to stabilize the cider to prevent the yeast from waking back up and consuming the remaining sugars.
“Cider is similar to beer in terms of ABV (alcohol by volume) — commonly around 7 percent — and in consumption and packaging formats,” he added.
One of the biggest misconceptions most cidermakers deal with is a fear that the drink will be too sweet — like boozy apple juice.
“A lot of people who haven’t tasted cider are expecting a super sweet drink, so when I hand them one of our drier ciders, they say, ‘I didn’t know it could taste like this,’ “ said Shawn Larson, head cidermaker at Big B’s. “We’re all cowboys here in America. We add flavors like apricots, cherries or hops into some ciders to see how they change the taste, which is something traditional European cideries wouldn’t.”
There’s a sense of camaraderie in the cider industry, and that has been furthered by the creation of the Rocky Mountain Cider Association. The group helps facilitate events like Colorado Cider Week in May, the Colorado Cider and Beer Circus in August at Copper Mountain, and this weekend’s Lakewood’s Cider Days, where various cideries can show off their skills and latest creations.
“We have felt incredible support not only from other cideries, locally as well as nationally, but also from the craft beverage industry here in Colorado,” Daugherty added.
For the makers, it’s the infinite possibility of the fruit that keeps the scene exciting.
“My favorite thing about cider is the vast array of unique flavors and aromas that can come from fermenting fresh pressed apple juice,” Capps said. “Whether it’s aged in a barrel, co-fermented with other fruits, or wild fermented with natural yeasts from the orchard, the resulting flavor profiles are limitless.”