Kindred Spirits: Craft Ciders for Apple-Drinking Season
Spend a fall afternoon sipping something tasty from a local orchard-based cidery
by Laurel Miller
Photographs by Lindsey Peebles
In recent years, Central Texas has become a hub for craft cider production. That might seem strange considering Texas isn’t a commercial apple-growing state, but we also love our homegrown beer scene, and most hops are grown in the Pacific Northwest.
While it’s important for consumers and makers to shop their foodsheds, there’s equal value in supporting local artisans who are enabling small growers from other regions to thrive.
Such is the case with Texas Keeper Cider, which has a production space and taproom on 20 acres in Manchaca. It’s the ideal place to while away a fall afternoon; there are outdoor picnic tables shaded by trees, as well as a cozy indoor space for inclement weather.
The cidery is named after an heirloom apple called Hicks Texas Keeper (the state historically had homesteader’s orchards; today, agriculturalists are experimenting with cultivars on the High Plains.). The business is owned and operated by three longtime friends/native Austinites: cidermaker Nick Doughty, his partner and events manager Lindsey Peebles and assistant cidermaker Brandon Wilde.
The trio launched Texas Keeper in 2013, with the goal of producing vintage and often, varietal-specific ciders from fresh apples. The fruit is sourced primarily from a single orchardist in a historical growing region in upstate New York, who specializes in heirloom and dessert varieties. Harvest is in September or October, and any fruit not being pressed goes into cold storage.
“Single-orchard-driven ciders like ours are more popular in the Pacific Northwest and back East because those are traditional apple-growing regions,” says Doughty. “It’s an anomaly in Texas, but working with small growers is the best part of making orchard-based cider. You have a direct, personal relationship with them and learn so much about seasonality and the fruit.”
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Doughty’s passion for cider is perhaps in his DNA; his father is from Somerset, England, and one of his earliest memories is of visiting Wilkins, which he describes as, “One of the last old-school cideries, located in an old barn. It was a formative experience, being surrounded by Somerset farmers drinking and talking in thick country accents, and people serving themselves. It was wild.”
Doughty studied winemaking at Lincoln University on New Zealand’s South Island where Peebles also finished her law degree. The couple resided in New Zealand for eight years (working in apple orchards, vineyards and wineries before returning to the States, where Doughty was employed as a winemaker in Northern California and Oregon) before returning to Austin.
After working at Austin Eastciders under mentor and esteemed British cidermaker Martin Rich, Doughty was ready to do his own thing. “The goal was to take a very traditional, labor-intensive winemaker’s approach to cidermaking, treating it delicately,” he says.
Texas Keeper uses the same methodology as aromatic white wines, including the yeast, which is sometimes supplemented by wild strains. “We also slow-ferment each apple variety, which gives us a lot of different options for blending,” he says. “One reason we barrel-age is to soften the flavors, because heirloom and cider apples can be quite acidic. Our goal is a dry, balanced cider that showcases the terroir and flavors inherent to each variety.”
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Listening to Doughty talk about flavor profiles is damn near poetic. “Cider Noir, a winter release, is made by double-fermenting apples with Belgian candi (an invert syrup made from date sugar). It’s barrel-aged, sometimes in rum or pinot noir casks. “We finish by steeping it with orange peel and Texas pecans before bottling,” he says. “It’s dominated by notes of pear, date, and a Sherry-like aroma.”
In addition to Cider Noir, other hyper-seasonal offerings include Heirloom (made from three American and Old World varieties) and Honey Thief, which release this month. The latter is back sweetened with wildflower honey from the cidery’s own hives, as well as on-site hives maintained by Tara Chapman of Two Hives Honey. The release will coincide with Texas Keeper’s October 19 Honey Fest, which will feature vendors, workshops and hive tours.
Texas Keeper also does seasonal offerings like the Grafter Series, which blends Texas-grown wine grapes with apples, and collaborations like a dry-hopped style called Hey Bud, Sabro!” made with Zilker Brewing Company. Says Doughty, “We’ve chosen to remain small so we can experiment and play around with collaborations. We’re having fun.”
Visit texaskeeper.com for taproom hours; tours by appointment.