Sean Harris was hiking in the desert with girlfriend Lish Omlid when they settled on the name of their new business: Serpentine Cider.
"She and I were hiking looking for tortoises," recalls Harris. They'd been discussing potential names for the cidery when Harris says he stepped on something squishy: a sidewinder rattlesnake. Fortunately, the cold-blooded creature lacked the energy to strike. "It was a really cold morning, so it was too cold to do anything except be really pissed off," he recounts. Nevertheless, the serpent made an impact. "After ten minutes of cussin’ and screaming and my heart racing, I said, ‘Well I guess Serpentine Cider is what it's going to be.’”
The couple was looking for tortoises as part of their work as desert biologists. That job originally brought Harris to San Diego. "They pretty much told me that I'll be working a couple days a week in the desert, and when I'm not, I can live by the beach," he says. "I thought that sounded like a great idea."
While San Diego is the land of the craft-beer homebrewer, the Pacific Northwest native had divergent interests and has been busy making cider at home the past seven years. "There's big craft associated with cider up there," he explains, which inspired him to work toward bringing that craft down here, to fill what had been a void.
However, when Serpentine Cider opened on October 6th, it joined a suddenly active local cider scene. Not far from Harris's cidery in Miramar, Newtopia Cyder opened early this year. In a North Park storefront Harris briefly considered for Serpentine's location, Bivouac Ciderworks plans to open by the end of 2017.
8665 Miralani Drive #100, Miramar
Ultimately, Harris, Omlid, and third partner Tom Linthicum opened Serpentine on Miralani Drive, now being referred to as the Miralani Makers District due to the high concentration of beverage businesses operating in two adjacent business parks. Neighbors include several breweries, urban wineries, and a sake brewer. Serpentine itself shares a business suite with a mead producer, Lost Cause Meadery, and a counter-service restaurant, the Good Seed Food Company.
The shared tasting room features two points of sale: order from the left side of the counter for mead and cider on the right.
Serpentine's ciders range from dry to semi-sweet. Harris explains that while they all start with the same juice blend, the use of different yeasts yields different results for a variety of natural flavor infusions. Cider made with a saison yeast is spiced with the likes of lemongrass and ginger; cider made with California ale yeast lends itself to fruitier beverages featuring passion fruit or guava.
The juice used in Serpentine's cider is sourced from Washington and Oregon, but he gets a lot of other fruit locally, including from Naz Athina Kallel's Save Good Food marketplace. "She sells ugly fruit that you can't sell at farm stands or in grocery stores, but they taste the exact same," Harris explains, “so we get a lot of ugly fruit."
Ugly fruit or not, Harris splits each 15-barrel batch into five blends to maintain a varied cider selection. And in a nod to local beer fans looking to embrace craft cider, one version of Serpentine's dry, 7.5% ABV cider gets the dry-hop treatment.