Houston Cider Co. made a splash last January when it opened Houston’s first craft production cidery. Owner Justin Engle said year one of the company saw a lot of growth and he’s looking forward to the growth that year two will bring.
“All of the ciders prior to us were developed by out-of-state cider companies and re-labeled for the Houston company,” Engle said.
With a lot of the out-of-state cider being sweeter, it caused some of the Houston market to shy away from cider because of a reluctance to drink it. Engle said the company had to taste-test people to help them realize that not all ciders are as sweet.
Houston Cider Co. accomplishes its flavoring by using, as Engle put it, no nonsense ingredients and adjunct sugars. They use all-natural ingredients to make cider.
“Initially we released our dry and semi(-dry) ciders,” Engle said. “The Houston market was very young and we used these ciders to judge the market.”
The difference between the dry and semi-dry is the sweetness level. While the cider company uses pure, non-GMO apple juice to back-sweeten its ciders, the difference is in the eight grams of sugar per 12-ounce serving in the Semi. From there Houston Cider Co. added cherry.
“We tested over 10 cherry orchards for the cherry juice we wanted for our cider,” Engle said. “We settled on an orchard in Michigan and use a tart Montmorency cherry for our cherry cider. In mid-summer, we released our rosé.”
Most rosé ciders use grape to give the cider a wine-like flavor and aroma profile, but the company wanted its rosé to have more of a floral aroma and flavor. They ended up working with Granel Spice Shop on Airline Drive to get hibiscus and rose buds for the rosé.
“I think the most fulfilling thing is the shear demand of a high-quality cider with no BS ingredients,” Engle said. “When you get a rosé cider, why do you want to drink beet juice and hibiscus extract from our national competitors with a high sugar content? Because of the demand over the year, we had to take beer fermentation tanks and convert them to cider fermentation tanks.”
Houston Cider Co. worked with HopDrop to provide its Hazy Hopped Cider to people who would usually order NEIPA-style beers. Most people were surprised they were drinking cider and said they’d drink it again.
While the year has brought clarity on what Houston wants in a cider, the company has also faced some changes that weren’t part of the initial plan. One of those being Brandon Baldridge’s departure this past summer to move back to Colorado to be with family. Baldbridge was Houston Cider Co.’s head cider maker.
Along with missing a good friend at the company, Engle said Baldridge taught him a lot during the start-up phase of Houston Cider. He hopes to keep his memory in the ciders by putting out innovative ciders.
While the company first opened in the same space as its sister company, Town in City Brewing Company at 1125 W Cavalcade St., it was going to move to another space as soon as it was plausible. A year later and the move is needed because the space is becoming crowded, but the opportunity hasn’t arisen.
“It is no surprise that property taxes are eating in to our bottom line,” Engle said. “As a property owner in the Heights, we are fighting for a proper tax value and production area. We only have so much room to grow on our little lot that we are looking at other locations as well as trying to maximize our property’s potential.”
Houston Cider’s first year brought cans of its dry, cherry and rosé and as the second year begins, it looks forward to producing a variety of cider in cans, including a style using Texas Ruby Red grapefruits as well as Hazy Hopped and Pieders.
In early February, Houston Cider is throwing a luau and releasing several tiki-style ciders. You may be able to grab a Singapore Sling cider in the taproom. Also new for the company will be its Tea for Victory styles that will move from Cream Earl Grey to a Thai Tea as well as working with several breweries and brewpubs in the area to bring grafs, which is half-beer, half-cider.
Houston Cider Co. is taking all that was learned in the past year, moving on to the next and excited for those to come.