Just after the doors to Austin Eastciders’ long-awaited urban cidery open at an old railroad station in late October, the cider makers will send out limited numbers of a new release using a rare American heirloom apple. Small Batch No. 1, coming out in Texas stores Nov. 3, is the first in a series of small batch ciders that Austin Eastciders is making to experiment with these hard-to-get apples and with barrel-aging.
Founder Ed Gibson wanted to make a couple of single-varietal ciders with the heirloom apples that pre-Prohibition cider all contained, so Small Batch No. 1 features Winesap apples, which were "used in some of the finest ciders made in America" during cider’s heyday just before Prohibition, according to a press release. During that time, the Eastciders press release said, cider was the most popular drink in the U.S.
A lot of the heirloom varieties like Winesap aren’t cultivated for many of today’s ciders, primarily because they aren’t as prolific as they used to be. But an 1895 catalog for a nursery in Hyde Park (then the largest nursery west of the Mississippi River) offered Winesap trees for sale to Austinites, "noting their value for cider making," the press release said. Gibson discovered that a small amount of these trees are still being grown in Texas’ High Plains region, and he was eager to use the apples they bore.
"It’s fascinating unearthing these celebrated old varieties, some of which are now virtually extinct, and rediscovering all these unique, long-lost flavors from the golden age of cider," Gibson said.
What are the flavors you’ll taste in the Small Batch No. 1? It’s a very different sort of cider from Austin Eastciders’ two mainstays, Gold Top and Original. Gibson said the Winesap cider has "a strange and lovely cotton candy aroma and a surprising savory note to the taste. It’s citrusy and salty, almost reminiscent of a margarita, with a punchy acidity and a nice, dry finish."
If that doesn’t sound much like the cider you’re used to drinking, that’s because Small Batch No. 1, he added, is very similar to the ciders of the early 1900s. "I’ve never had a cider quite like it," he said.
Only 100 cases of Small Batch No. 1 will be distributed to stores, starting with a release party on Oct. 29 at East End Wines. In the coming months, the cidery has plans to make more small batch ciders, including a single-varietal with Arkansas Black heirloom apples and ones aged in bourbon and rum barrels — and they’ll all be created in the East Austin cidery that Gibson has been trying to open for quite some time now.
Austin Eastciders will officially open on Oct. 25 with a big celebration followed by several events during Austin Beer Week. The first public tour of the cidery, at 979 Springdale Rd., will give visitors a chance to see how cider is made. For more information about the opening or the small batch ciders, visit www.austineastciders.com.