Bold Rock Hard Cider Founder Praises Hendersonville’s Apple Culture

Major cidery Bold Rock, founded by John Washburn, left, and Brian Shanks, has found a natural niche in Henderson County. Photo by Steven McBride.

Major cidery Bold Rock, founded by John Washburn, left, and Brian Shanks, has found a natural niche in Henderson County. Photo by Steven McBride.

What began as a scrappy clan of beverage enthusiasts in a small mountain city has grown to a full-fledged cider movement, highlighted by the arrival of Bold Rock Hard Cider in Mills River (not far from big-name “small” brewery Sierra Nevada).

A Virginia-based cidery co-owned by founders John Washburn and Brian Shanks, Bold Rock is known for its creative ciders and ongoing devotion to local orchards. But Washburn traces his passion for apples back much further.

He recalls halcyon days spent at summer camp in Henderson County, just miles from Apple Wedge Packers in Hendersonville — a fifth-generation orchard where Bold Rock will source its North Carolina apples. A visit in September brought back a rush of memories.

“I was in the orchard,” Washburn says, “and I just couldn’t believe it, because I’d been there as a little boy, and I was just spellbound with déjà vu.” His summers were marked by simple pleasures that instilled a life-long appreciation for Henderson County’s celebrated apple orchards.

“I was thinking about being a young 10-year-old boy swimming at camp and going hiking into the orchards and drinking the apple juice in the morning. It’s very nostalgic for me.”

Bold Rock Hard Cider is a big fish in a growing pond of cider producers that have found a home in Henderson County (the company projects it will eventually employ around 50 people). Three Sisters Cidery and St. Paul Mountain Vineyards in Hendersonville, as well as Naked Apple in Flat Rock, produce hard cider at a quickening pace, alongside smaller cider companies just beginning to grow .

“Henderson County will probably become the hard-cider capital of the East Coast,” he predicts. “I just see the quality of the apple growers, the mood there, and the embracing of different tastes like in the craft brew [beer] scene.”

Washburn notes the region’s experienced apple growers, excellent soil, and temperate climate as an ideal combination for cider making. “It all points the arrow to Henderson County. What a future. It’s unlimited.”

Washburn expects the new Mills River facility to open in early December: “It’s a matter of days until we hear those bottles clink,” he says. As one of the fastest-growing cider companies in the U.S., Bold Rock is poised to make a significant impact on Henderson County’s swelling cider scene.

“We’re ecstatic over Mills River,” he says with a gentle laugh. “We could not have found a better place on the planet Earth.”

Bold Rock Hard Cider’s Henderson County facility is located at 72 School House Road. Visit for updates about the cidery’s official opening in December.

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