By this spring, Moontower Cider Company had introduced a range of dry, nuanced ciders in sharp-looking cans to the Austin market. The local brand was missing one thing, though — a tasting room.
Moontower’s production facility was too much of a squeeze for founder and cider-maker Benjamin Weaver and his small staff of cellar hands, so he made the move this year to a 4,000-square-foot building on Tillery Street. That’s where Weaver and team will host Moontower’s grand opening celebration Dec. 7. The East Austin taproom opened quietly in mid-November with all of its main offerings on tap.
A Pacific Northwest native, Weaver arrived in Austin in 2008 for graduate school at the University of Texas. He decided in 2015 that he wanted to start a cider company. Moontower launched in fall 2017, with a flagship product called Semi-Dry. The 6.5% ABV cider is made with five culinary apples and a bittersweet apple — creating a delicate balance of acid, tannin and sweetness (a very mild sweetness, in this case).
Those three elements are key to making good cider. They’re not so easy to combine in a country where many of the trees producing apples with tannin for cider-making were replaced during Prohibition. In their place came apple trees growing the fruit we find in grocery stores today, like gala and Fuji.
As a result, American ciders tend to be made with those easy-to-find culinary apples, Weaver said. Although they are delicious to eat, they aren’t ideal for creating cider. European cider-makers, on the other hand, prefer bittersweet varieties that add depth to their alcoholic beverage but are often too tart or tannic (astringent, you might say) to be enjoyed as a snack. Weaver decided a blend of both kinds of apples was the way to go.
All of his ciders are blends, and not just of apples. Moontower’s other canned offerings include the Pomme Blush, featuring muscat and ruby cabernet grapes from the Texas High Plains, and the Miel, made with honey mead and lemon. The most recently launched cans contain no apples at all — Perry is an aromatic, fuller-bodied blend of two types of pears.
"The winemaking process has always fascinated me, and that is really what cider-making is — winemaking using a different fruit. You take a juice and ferment it with wine yeast," Weaver said.
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Moontower’s tasting room is, like the rest of the brand, entirely Weaver’s vision — airy, with light-hued woods used for the tables, sloped ceiling and large bar area decorated with small plants and cider cans. The bar is the centerpiece of the room, with a back wall painted a dusky pink and broken up in the middle by a chalkboard menu and a square of white subway tiles housing the eight taps.
The tasting room will be a boon to the business, Weaver said, because it’ll create an affinity for the brand and help to familiarize people with what Moontower offers.
"We finally have a customer-facing part of the business," he said. "We hear from people all the time asking, ’Where is your tasting room?’ We do demos at H-E-B and places like that, and that's often one of the top questions. So there's definitely a market for it."
With the tasting room, he’s now able to sell small-batch, draft-only ciders, as well. On tap at Moontower with the four main products are a couple of others that are far more like Europe’s dry, funky ciders than America’s on-the-sweeter-side versions. Both of the taproom exclusives have been spontaneously fermented: Wickson, a single varietal made from crabapples, and Wild, a blend with the same apples in the Semi-Dry.
"I've been sitting on that one for a while. A year and a half, maybe," Weaver said of Wild. "It’s really fantastic, a spontaneous ferment that has been aged for more than a year. It's bone dry and has this really pleasant farmhouse funkiness to it. ... Having a tasting room is Moontower’s chance to showcase the creative side of cider."
It took several months longer than Weaver expected to get the new location up and running, as permits from the city took time to arrive. Fortunately, he had stockpiled cans before moving out of the previous spot off East Seventh Street, so the supply of Moontower around town never ran out. Now, the cidery has the capacity to produce up to 1,500 cases per month.