The cider craze sweeping the nation has hit WNC, ahem, hard. Over the past year, four local hard cideries have emerged on — nay, created — the scene: Noble Cider, Urban Orchard Cider Company, Black Mountain Ciderworks, and Flat Rock Cider Works. Henderson County’s first cider brewery, they launched their Naked Apple Hard Cider brand this May. According to the newest kids on the block, there’s room for even more.
“We think cider is a product that’s here to stay,” says John Coker, Flat Rock Cider Works’ sales guru and a business partner alongside Tom Davis, Jim Revis, and Jim Sparks. “Obviously, there will be more competition that comes into the area, but in our mind, that just creates a lot more excitement around the category. If you look at what’s happened in the craft beer industry, all the [local] production — whether it’s Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, Oskar Blues — it raises the business of all.”
Not to mention, notes Coker, the boom hasn’t yet translated to a big boon, numbers wise. “In Europe, hard cider is maybe 25 percent of the beer market,” he reveals. “In the U.S., it’s less than one percent, so there’s an incredible amount of growth opportunity as we see it.”
In addition to spotting and seizing the opportunity to help usher in a cider sea change, the foursome also saw the chance to give North Carolina’s apple country a brand it could call its own. They set out to make Naked Apple a truly Henderson County product, starting with the fruit.
The company has its own orchards — one they lease and one they own. It’s this vertical integration that makes the cidery unique: They can take their cider from the orchard, through the production process, through bottling, and to the final customer.
This is where partner Jim Revis comes in. He’s a longtime Henderson County apple grower who is now the cidery’s farmer and fruit-procurement guy. Mark Williams, executive director of Agribusiness Henderson County (AgHC), introduced Revis to Coker, Davis, and Sparks — friends for decades.
Revis isn’t solely responsible, though, for providing all of the apples — from Crispins to Winesaps — to create their ciders. The beverage biz also buys from a handful of other Henderson County apple growers eager to sell.
“We take the lower-grade ‘juice’ apples that can be a problem for them to move,” explains Coker, adding, “And we’re local, so they don’t have to spend a lot of money in freight to haul these apples out of the market area.”
Currently, the Henderson County-grown apples get pressed and brewed into one of two flavors: Wicked Peel, their original cider, and Blackberry Gold, their apple-blackberry blend, which features local berries grown by Revis.
To ensure drinkers know they’re enjoying cider made with 100-percent Henderson County fruit, Naked Apple labels include the Southern Mountain Fresh logo, AgHC’s brand for Henderson County farm-fresh products.
But the cidery doesn’t just work with local farmers and ag nonprofits: They hired Empire Distributors of Arden to launch Naked Apple into every county in WNC, and they turned to local Sonya Klepper of Truly Twisted Marketing to help with branding and awareness.
“We’re all community minded,” says partner Jim Sparks, a Henderson County native who notes that the company plans to give back whenever possible.
And despite technically making wine, they’re thrilled to be rooted in a beer mecca. “We’re thankful for the craft-beer industry, because they spent a lot of years paving the way for people to find out that there are more choices,” says Coker. “When people have more choices they’re willing to try new things, and the hard-cider industry has been a big beneficiary of that.”