January can be a bleak month. But if you’re a cider maker, it means boisterous singing to the oldest apple tree in your orchard. “A wassail involves a lot of noise,” Nicole Todd of Santa Cruz Cider Co. says of the traditional English cider ceremony. “In January, we’re already thinking about waking the tree up for production for the next year. You pour cider on the roots and hang toast in the branches to nourish it,” she says. “And you thank it for all it gave you the previous year.” (Hey, whatever keeps the cider flowing.)
As the family-owned company enters its third year of production, it’s racked up a lot to be thankful for. The local cidery, run by Todd and her sister, Natalie Beatie, has more than doubled its production every year—from 500 gallons in their first 2013 batch to a projected 5,000 gallons in 2016.
Last year, they graduated from their so-called “bootleg” operation (making cider homebrew-style) to a professional facility on the Westside. This year, they plan to begin bottling for the beer bars, restaurants and markets that have been clamoring for the effervescent brew. Currently, SCCC’s cider is on draft at Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing, the Cremer House, the Food Lounge, and The Poet & The Patriot Pub.
“Last year we sold out as fast as we could make it,” says Todd. “This year we’re hoping to expand to a lot more local beer bars and restaurants. We’re focusing on Santa Cruz. Hopefully next year we’ll expand production to San Francisco.”
The company’s success belies a slower approach to the craft and a commitment to using local fruit they pick themselves. The vast majority of SCCC’s apples come from a century-old apple orchard in Corralitos, and other local farms.
“We’ve kept it small, and grown piece by piece without investors,” says Beatie, who handles the production side of the business. “It’s just our family out there every weekend.”
The fruits of their labor are hard to resist: dry, crisp ciders that are delicious and thirst quenching—and a far cry from the slick, sugary ciders newcomers to the craft may be familiar with. “We make a dry-style cider using mostly champagne yeast. Sometimes we blend fresh juice back to add body and flavor, but we never add sugar. It’s just apples,” says Todd.
SCCC will be offering their best-selling ciders, as well as some unique blends, at their Second Annual Wassail on Saturday, Jan. 23 at The Poet & The Patriot Pub. Guests will be invited to sample their brews, sing “apple songs” and enjoy live music from the Apple City Slough Band. They’ll supply the toast.