Hard cider was one of the most popular alcoholic beverages in the United States prior to prohibition, when the practice of cutting down apple trees popular for cider-making was adopted. After prohibition, beer grew wildly in popularity. Then in the 1970s, the California wine market boomed.
Patrick Kwiatkowski said that’s why cider faded into the background, but over the last decade it’s been making a comeback. He thinks Houston is the perfect place for cider to flourish.
“People are discovering that it’s a wonderful, refreshing drink,” Kwiatkowski said.
Kwiatkowski, along with business partner Mat Smith, both engineers, have deep roots in the Great Lakes region. They’ve teamed up to create City Orchard, 1201 Oliver St., a cidery in the heart of Houston that is set to open in late November.
“I grew up in western Michigan, which is apple country,” Kwiatkowski said. “I also grew up around apples and apple culture. I also lived and worked in Normandy, France, which is one of the largest cider-making regions in the world. I was really turned on to the hard cider culture when I lived in France.”
Apples have also been part of Smith’s upbringing with his family’s orchard, Smith Brothers Farms, located on the shores of Sodus Bay on Lake Ontario. Kwiatkowski said Smith had always wanted to get back into the family business, and that cider making was a more attractive alternative to farming.
“I’ve been an amateur cider maker for over five years, and also amateur beer maker for longer than that,” Kwiatkowski said.
As a chemical engineer, Kwiatkowski said he’s always had interest in opening a brewery or something similar. Combining his background as a chemist along with his other experiences, he said it made sense for him to pursue opening a cidery in a city where the drink is not well-established.
Initially, Kwiatkowski played with the idea of opening a small operation, but after meeting Smith they decided to go bigger in creating City Orchard. The location is 8,000 square feet, 2,000 of which will be used as a tasting room. In the shop, 2,000-gallon tanks will hold the cider.
“We’re making a space big enough to handle Houston,” Kwiatkowski said.
Having access to apples and apple juice straight from the apple country of the Great Lakes will be City Orchard’s pulse. Most of the apples will be sourced straight from Smith Brothers Farms, and other apples will come from neighboring and friends’ farms.
“I want people to come into our cidery and taste ciders they’ve never tasted before and be surprised at how complex and different and how wonderful ciders can be,” Kwiatkowski said.
Cider is fermented just like wine, and depending on the type of apple, the taste from one cider to the next will be different. Cider made with golden russet apples tastes different than cider made with fuji apples.
“My favorite apple is the golden russet,” Kwiatkowski said. “It’s kind of an ugly apple, but it’s a fantastic eating apple, it’s a fantastic baking apple and it really makes wonderful cider.”
City Orchard will have at least a dozen types of ciders on tap, including four staple flavors it will try to recreate each year. They business also will brew beer and work with a winery to be able to provide wine.
“Every year is a different harvest, which produces different kinds of fruit and some years are better than others,” Kwiatkowski said. “So every year we’ll have something new to make.”