Catching Up With Carlton Cyderworks

Time flies...  Back in the summer of 2011, I interviewed Keenan Bailey of Carlton Cyderworks. At the time, his cidery had been in operation for nearly two years. Since then, they've launched some exciting new lines of cider and assumed ownership of a taproom / growler station. I checked in with Keenan to learn more...

What has Carlton Cyderworks been up to during the past few years?

Keenan Bailey:  We started as, and still remain, a family run cidery. Basically myself, my parents, and my wife. As everyone in a family business knows, that presents its own set of advantages and also challenges. Over the last couple years our family lost a few members. That took its toll on all of us, especially my father, and of course the cider business suffered. For us the cidery is a labor of love, so it was a sad time for a variety of reasons. That has shaped us though and helped with perspective. Incorporating our family story into the company will be critical as we refocus and get back to making great cider.   

I see you have opened up Growlers Tap Station in McMinville. How did this come about? Can you tell us a little about it?

KB:  To a certain extent, Growlers Tap Station fell right into our laps, and we’re really happy to have it. It was opened in 2013 as a beer focused tap house and growler fill station. The location is within walking distance of my house and always had a great tap list, so it became my preferred spot in McMinnville to grab a pint. It’s very much a neighborhood joint with a lot of loyal patrons. Earlier this year we discovered the owners were interested in selling, and we immediately knew it would be a great fit for us. Our production facility isn’t in the best location for a tasting room, so buying Growlers Tap Station instantly gave us an outlet for our cider.  We took over in July, and didn’t change much - why try to fix what isn’t broken? Currently we have 23 beer taps, 9 ciders, and also wine, kombucha, and soda available by the glass or growler fills.  Of course, we mainly have Carlton Cyderworks on the cider taps, but we do have a couple rotating guest taps for cideries in our region.

Having a tap house allows us to experiment a little more with our cider making. We’re making more one-off ciders, maybe even just enough to fill a barrel. We can focus on the process, on the ingredients, and just have fun too. For instance, we’re about to tap a cider that involved making traditional New England Boiled Cider - something we’ve never done before. We also are working with smaller apple orchards in our area, making cider from just a few trees here and there.  If our customers don’t love a particular cider, they can give us that feedback immediately, and then as cider makers we say “OK lets adjust this, or improve that, or maybe scrap this concept.” On the other hand, if we make a cider that everyone loves, we can make it on a larger scale with confidence that it will be a success.

An unexpected benefit has been the opportunity to make contacts with brewers in our area. We get to meet them, try their beer, put it on tap - and then we have a chance to tell them about our cider. We’ve have a couple cool relationships start that way.

Your winter cider, Sugar & Spice, is now on release for the holiday season. I've always found balancing spice to be challenging in beer and cider.  What was your approach to making this cider?

KB:  For us, it’s just a process of trial and error. There are a few basic rules we stick to, and I think those principles help keep us out of trouble.  With Sugar & Spice, we’re using whole spices that we grind before adding to the cider.  It’s easier to become unbalanced when you add extracts or “natural flavors” or even artificial flavors.  Sadly, that happens in the cider industry.  So we try to use the ingredients at their truest, most basic form.   

Pairing cider and certain spices can create familiar and comforting flavors. Apple pie, apple crumble, baked apples - those are well loved dishes where spices are used and most people are familiar with those flavor profiles. It’s a logical step to include those spices in an apple cider. For quite a few of our ciders, I usually start by thinking about food, and how the ingredients I’m using would be used in the kitchen.   

What's in store for Carlton Cyderworks?  Can you share some details about upcoming releases or future plans?

KB:  When we decided to start Carlton Cyderworks in 2008, the first thing we did was plant an orchard of traditional English cider apple trees. Then we went to the UK, where we have family, and experienced the cider culture there. So looking back, that’s what we wanted to be - a cidery in Oregon making English-style traditional cider. That’s what we love. So getting back to that original vision; the orchard, pressing our own fruit, playing with wild fermentation, that’s what we’ll be doing.  

Over Thanksgiving weekend, we released a few premium ciders which are available in 750 mL bottles at our tap house. We’re really excited about these products and have had great responses to them. The labels also feature artwork by my grandfather, Oliver Bailey, who recently passed away. He was responsible for our logo and all our other artwork. It’s nice to be able to recognize his influence this way.

At the beginning of 2017 we will also be releasing our first estate cider, French Lane Press, in 750 mL bottles. It is a blend of all the apples from our orchard in Carlton, primarily English bittersweets/bittersharps, and some American heirlooms. The labels of these premium ciders show the percentage of each apple variety used, similar to what you might find on a wine label. That’s something I am passionate about. There is a lack of transparency in the cider industry. For instance, when I go wine tasting they tell me exactly what grape varieties are used, where they came from, sometimes even down to the exact vineyard. That doesn’t happen with cider. Where do the apples come from? Oregon? Washington? Which region? What varieties are used? We expect that information with wine, and to a certain extent we expect that from beer - at least with the varieties of hops used. That hasn’t translated to cider for some reason. So hopefully we can get cider drinkers to start asking those questions.  

A big thanks to Keenan for taking time to chat! It's exciting to see how Carlton Cyderworks' has evolved over the years. I promise to not wait 5 years until the next check-in! For more details, please visit the Carlton Cyderworks or Growlers Tap Station & Cider House websites.

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Photo courtesy of Carlton Cyderworks

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