Stan Sisson’s love affair with hard cider dates back even longer than his decades-plus homebrewing career. Inspired by his grandfather-in-laws forays into tangerine wine-making using bread yeast, Stan added champagne yeast to apple juice to create what turned out to be the world’s driest, most flavorless cider. Even adding sugar didn’t work. It just made it sweeter instead of bringing out the absent apple flavors. Funny enough, it took getting into brewing to master cider-making.
In 2001, Stan joined local homebrew club, QUAFF (Quality Ale Fermentation Fraternity), where he got to talking about his fruitier pursuits with a fellow cider enthusiast, who suggested he use beer yeast. One vial of White Labs English Ale yeast later, he had something tasty and up to his expectations. He’s spent the past 13 years getting better and making sure he always has his cider on tap at his residence. Soon, it will be available for the public at Julian CiderWorks (17552 Harrison Park Road, Julian).
But wait, doesn’t Julian already have a big eponymous cider producer in Julian Hard Cider? Yes and no. It’s true that Julian Hard Cider has been highly visible for years, but despite having a tasting room in Julian, the cider is made elsewhere. In addition to producing cider on site, Stan will be doing so using local fruit from orchards tended by business partners Brian and Kathleen Kenner.
Stan and Brian met when the latter was at Linda Vista’s Home Brew Mart asking a staffer if he knew of any local cider makers. Stan’s name came up and, as though it were “a message from God,” Stan happened to walk through the door. The duo formed a fast friendship that evolved into the partnership for Julian CiderWorks, which is scheduled to open next year on the Kenners’ ranch off Highway 79 between Julian and Lake Cuyamaca.
In addition to two apple and pear orchards, that 207-acre property is home to three barns, one of which — the 3,000 square foot “hay barn” — is being converted into a tasting room-equipped cidery. Early on, this will be the only spot to sample and purchase Julian CiderWorks’ products. The cedar structure’s high ceilings make it ideal for tall fermentation tanks. An old root cellar roughly 300 yards from the barn will be used for finishing and aging ciders. Initially, Stan and Brian will utilize low-capacity equipment and produce between 1,000 and 2,000 gallons of cider this fall.
“We want to imbue our ciders with the rich history of traditional cider-making, but we also want to incorporate some of today’s playful melding of flavors that would not have been associated with traditional ciders by adding premium vintage cider apple trees to our established orchards and developing new lines of cider apples,” says Brian.
The Kenners have planted more than 30 varieties hailing from England, France, and other European countries. Those include Kingston Black, Brown Snout, Niedzwetzkyana, and Medaille D’Or. Brandy, Gin, Yellow Huffcap, Gelbmostler, and numerous other pear trees have also been planted for use in making perry (a fermented beverage made from pears).
“Cider apples are extremely hard to come by in the U.S., [so] many cider producers opt for common juice,” Brian explains.”Our mission is to develop and expand the variety of U.S. cider apples and to make them the manifold centerpiece of fermented cider. Developing cider trees this way is daunting, but the approach does protect the cider makers from the potential, eventual homogenization of their craft and product.”