January can be a bleak month. But if youâ€™re a cider maker, it means boisterous singing to the oldest apple tree in your orchard. â€œA wassail involves a lot of noise,â€ Nicole Todd of Santa Cruz Cider Co. says of the traditional English cider ceremony. â€œIn January, weâ€™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,â€ she says. â€œAnd you thank it for all it gave you the previous year.â€ (Hey, whatever keeps the cider flowing.)
As the family-owned company enters its third year of production, itâ€™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 yearâ€”from 500 gallons in their first 2013 batch to a projected 5,000 gallons in 2016.
Last year, they graduated from their so-called â€œbootlegâ€ 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, SCCCâ€™s cider is on draft at Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing, the Cremer House, the Food Lounge, and The Poet & The Patriot Pub.
â€œLast year we sold out as fast as we could make it,â€ says Todd. â€œThis year weâ€™re hoping to expand to a lot more local beer bars and restaurants. Weâ€™re focusing on Santa Cruz. Hopefully next year weâ€™ll expand production to San Francisco.â€
The companyâ€™s success belies a slower approach to the craft and a commitment to using local fruit they pick themselves. The vast majority of SCCCâ€™s apples come from a century-old apple orchard in Corralitos, and other local farms.
â€œWeâ€™ve kept it small, and grown piece by piece without investors,â€ says Beatie, who handles the production side of the business. â€œItâ€™s just our family out there every weekend.â€
The fruits of their labor are hard to resist: dry, crisp ciders that are delicious and thirst quenchingâ€”and a far cry from the slick, sugary ciders newcomers to the craft may be familiar with. â€œWe 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. Itâ€™s just apples,â€ 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 â€œapple songsâ€ and enjoy live music from the Apple City Slough Band. Theyâ€™ll supply the toast.