By Carol Viau- The Biltmore Beacon
Ahh, fall. It’s a time to enjoy refreshing coolness in the air — and all things apple — especially apple cider.
A little history
Cider been an American staple since the Pilgrims brought apple seeds and a cider press to the New World. Because water supplies were not sanitary, early American settlers turned to drinkable beer, cider and wine.
“During the 18th century, Americans realized that the prolific, hardy apple tree, which arrived from England in 1623, offered a solution to their drinking dilemma,” noted Slate online magazine.
A refreshing alternative
Fast forward to today, and hard (fermented) cider is a welcome beverage alternative for those who are gluten-free; those who say they don’t like the taste of beer; or those who simply love the refreshing taste of cider.
Western North Carolina, situated in a great apple-growing region, is poised to reap (or shall we say ‘press-out’) the benefits of delicious locally-grown apples.
Urban Orchard arrives
Urban Orchard Cider Company (UOCC) was born from Josie and Shiloh Mielke’s interest in home-brewing cider, Josie’s gluten-free diet and their intuition on cider becoming a trend. The Mielkes, plus Josie’s family — parents, Lori and Thom Miller, and her brothers — opened Urban Orchard Halloween Eve, Oct. 30, 2013, in West Asheville.
The Haywood Road intimate tasting room and outdoor green space quickly became a favorite hangout and must-see stop for cider lovers.
In its five-years, Urban Orchard has won numerous awards, including Best Place to Drink Cider in America by Food & Wine Magazine in 2017; one of the USA Today, 2018 Top 10 Best Cider Bars;Best Local Cidery (for the fourth year-in-a-row) by the 2018 Best of WNC X Reader’s Poll; and Josie Mielke, Best Brewmaster, WNC X poll.
The Urban Orchard difference
The cidery has produced nearly 100 styles of cider and does not filter its ciders, preferring the more lengthy and expensive “self-racking” method — which ages cider for eight months, letting sediment settle to the bottom. The process produces the clarity of Urban Orchard’s ciders.
“Urban Orchard sources all apples from Hendersonville,” said Jeff Anderson, UOCC marketing and creative director. “The blend is a balanced variety of sweet/dessert-style apples and those bitter/sharp apples that you taste in the drier styles of our ciders.”
All ciders made by Urban Orchard are from the same, carefully melded blend.
“We do this intentionally to showcase the vast difference that our yeast selection makes in the final product,” Anderson said.
Importantly, Urban Orchard does not sweeten its ciders with high-fructose.
“Our craft ciders are only as sweet as the juice from a pressed apple can be,” Anderson said. “This is because we begin with fresh-pressed apple juice and back-sweeten with the same.”
And if you think ciders are all sweet, think again. Urban Orchard crafts ciders for the middle-to-dry tastes.
“We’re educating palates,” Anderson said. “The marketplace has shifted away from sweet ciders. Fruit is involved, but many of Urban Orchard’s ciders are not sweet — they’re dry.”
Urban Orchard’s line-up
UOCC’s flavorful flagship ciders are: Sweet English, semi-sweet traditional; Dry Ridge, semi-dry, green apple and tropical fruit notes; and Ginger Campaign, semi-dry effervescent, infused with ginger.
Rising in popularity is Sidra Del Diablo, semi-sweet made with fresh habanero, vanilla and creeper spice.
But come the holidays, Anderson said Kalikimaka,a semi-sweet seasonal, infused with cranberry, will outsell the others for its “bold and tart taste and beautiful red hue.” The name comes from “Mele Kalikimaka,” which is Merry Christmas in Hawaiian.
Onto the South Slope
With Urban Orchard’s success, more production and tasting room space was needed. This month UOCC opened its second location — now in Asheville’s growing South Slope, at 24 Buxton Ave.
This allows Urban Orchard to double its production capacity with an 80-barrel fermentation system — and provide a downtown Asheville cidery for locals and tourists.
People strolling the South Slope will be struck by the massive mural on the Buxton Avenue side of the building. Painted by local artists Ian Wilkinson and Ishmael, it harkens to old Havana (and the building’s original use as the Hav-A-Tampa cigar factory). Most recently, Eagles Nest Outfitters (ENO) occupied the building.
Guests will enjoy the 4,000 sq.-ft. tasting room, with its clean, fresh look, reminiscent of the crisp, refreshing taste of apples.
The tasting room is a palate of grays, with cushioned wormy maple booths, and pops of color throughout.
Oversized letters, spelling “Art of Fermentation” (designed by Jeff Anderson), are the focal point of the wall, a nod that cider is “the star of the show.” The letters of ‘Fermentation’ are dressed with apple-green clumps of preserved moss, giving a touch of nature.
There are comfortable booths, high tops and sofa seating groupings, for more intimate seating in the back. A garage door opens to the front along Buxton Avenue for great people-watching.
The long bar itself is a work of art, with a soft, smoky mural by Asheville’s renown mural artist Ishmael.
The tasting room has 30 taps — 20 will offer Urban Orchard cider. The remaining 10 taps will rotate nine beers from industry partners and one for cold-pressed nitro coffee.
Light food will be served — and by the way, the South Slope tasting room is pet-friendly.
With a capacity of 210, the tasting room is well-suited for events. Bookings are being taken for the holidays. Email Katy Luquire at [email protected].
Grand Opening party
In keeping with tradition, Urban Orchard has thrown a Halloween/ Anniversary party. This year, it will be a combo 5thanniversary, Halloween and grand opening party for the South Slope location.
The “Triple Threat Throwdown” party goes from noon Saturday, Oct. 27 – 2 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 28, at 24 Buxton Ave. There will be something for everyone, including corn hole games and seasonal activities from 1 – 4 p.m. sponsored by Asheville Sport & Social Club, free live music on the outdoor stage in the evening and DJ Malinalli’s Dance party until close.
Try a Fire Flight of six craft chili ciders to get Halloween off to a spicy start.
Party admission is free. The party is meant to ‘give back’ to Urban Orchard’s new and old friends.