Sociable Cider Werks rules
What's in a graff? Would a cider by any other name taste as sweet? Actually, the answer to the latter is no, as we learned after tasting these beer-cider hybrids. But the former question is one that Jim Watkins has been hearing a lot since he and co-owner Wade Thompson flung wide the taproom doors at Sociable Cider Werks' cider house, a first-of-its-kind operation in the Twin Cities. They've been turning out dry, crisp hard ciders made from locally sourced apples and brewed with malts, hops, and other grains typically used for beer, but Watkins says that they have not yet released their full line of ciders. And since those are the focus of their brewing business, he still considers Sociable to be "softly open." Regardless, that hasn't stopped the customers from coming in droves to their new Northeast facility.
"Honestly that's been the biggest surprise so far," says Watkins. "Just how many people we have in the taproom every weekend who are interested in what we're making. When you're in the planning process this is the kind of turnout that you hope for, but don't necessarily expect."
Thompson's father-in-law first introduced Sociable's owners to craft hard cider and the process of making it as he had done for nearly 20 years, using Haralson apples. "Wade and I asked ourselves, 'Why isn't anyone making this on a larger scale?' We figured it was better us than someone else, so we just started experimenting with cider and using these other brewing ingredients in our garage."
What they eventually came up with were their two flagship ciders. The first is Freewheeler, a dry and effervescent cider made from Haralson, Honeycrisp, and SweeTango apples and brewed with lightly hopped cane sorghum. It's currently on tap and ready for drinking at the cidery. The other is Broken Spoke, a funky stout-cider blend fermented with English ale yeast. Watkins seems particularly enthused about Broken Spoke, which is nearly ready to make its debut. "It's a bit out there, but I think it showcases just how much range there is to exploring this space of graffs. People ask if we'll ever make a straightforward yeast and apple cider, but I just frankly don't find that interesting." Watkins estimates they'll be pouring Broken Spoke by the first week in January, at which time they'll also start selling growlers of their ciders.
In the meantime, they have just released a dry-hopped cider they're calling CHOPper, which Watkins describes as having "almost no sweetness to it. Very aromatic and the finish is not apple forward. It tastes more like a sparkling pinot grigio." They'll also have a rotating selection of their own small-batch beers. Right now there's an English-style bitter, a lime-spiced saison, and a black saison — which no one else is making in Minneapolis at the moment. Watkins says that unlike the ciders, Sociable has no intention of distributing the beers outside the taproom, but that they still serve a specific purpose for their customers.
"A cider is really only as good as the beer you can follow it up with," says Watkins. "For example, I enjoy sour beers but I don't want to go out to a bar and have three of them. I want to experience a range of tastes. If you have our CHOPper or Freewheeler, they are really dry and intense and so you might want to follow it up with something maltier. I consider all our ciders and beers to be on the same spectrum. They're all meant to co-exist and complement one another."
Though graffs specifically might be new on the scene, craft cider seems to be having a moment across the nation. Many attribute this to gluten-free diets becoming more mainstream. Sociable makes some of its products naturally gluten-free from the get-go, while others have an added enzyme to remove gluten, the same one that popular breweries like Omission use in making gluten-free beer. It opens up a new market, yes, but Watkins is quick to point out they aren't simply cashing in on a trend.
"That would be such a bad business model for us, to base our whole company around a shift in consumer's diets," Watkins reasons. "Our goal is to make great-tasting ciders that offer something new, something a little different in the craft beer and cider arena."
It may not be Sociable's main motivation, but for people with Celiac disease or gluten sensitivities it's a nice perk to be able to get the taproom experience and not feel like they are being singled out. For their friends who prefer beer to cider, it's nice to be able to get everything all in one place.
To cater to its growing audience even more fully, Sociable has started booking food trucks like Simply Steve's, Cajun 2 Geaux, Gastrotruck, and some other staples of the taproom community, and will continue to do so throughout the year. Their outdoor area includes a bocce court that is set to debut this spring, but intrepid locals are making use of it even with snow still on the ground by organizing games of Kubb, a Swedish lawn game that's sort of a combination of bowling, chess, and horseshoes. If the already convivial (if sometimes crowded) feel of the current softly opened taproom is any indication, Sociable will be a bit of a madhouse by the time we hit the warmer months.
"Wade and I thought we could run this place ourselves, at least for a little bit," says Watkins. "But even with the days of the week that we are closed so that we can actually brew the cider and the beer, there's so much to do." The short break for the holidays has given them a little time to focus on their next goal of getting their product to liquor stores where it will be sold in four-packs of 16-ounce cans. And though they aren't ready to name the exact bars and restaurants that will be carrying their ciders, you can bet they'll be springing up in Northeast.
"We'll be starting in our own backyard," says Watkins. "We're just excited that other people are excited."
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