Leaving behind his cider bar in Bristol, England, Ed Gibson arrived in Austin in 2011 with a dream of producing Texas cider – a not too-sweet, not-too-dry cider in the style beloved by Americans before Prohibition. To test the market, he released Gold Top, a cider made from bittersweet and bittersharp European apples, which quickly sold out. He knew he was onto something.
While fermenting more cider in a shed on the grounds of the Flat Creek Estate Winery in the Hill Country, Gibson located a facility in East Austin that was once a U.S. Foods Distributions Center and moved his operation there in 2013 to take advantage of the old ice cream cooler. A year later, Austin Eastciders opened to the public as the first urban cidery on Austin’s East Side, using real ingredients and bittersweet apples to create traditionally inspired ciders.
By 2016, Austin Eastciders had become the number one craft cider in Texas, expanding to a 33,000-square-foot production facility in Southeast Austin capable of quadrupling output and housing the company’s 56 employees. Today, it is the fastest selling brand in the state and the main driver behind the rapid growth in the expanding Texas cider category.
Austin Eastciders products are available in retailers, bars and restaurants throughout Texas, Oklahoma, Philadelphia, D.C, the Carolinas, Nashville, New Mexico, Iowa, Arizona, Georgia, New York and other markets across the Mid-Atlantic. There are seven year-round varieties, including Original Dry Cider, Texas Honey, Rosé Cider, Blood Orange, Pineapple Cider and Ruby Red Grapefruit, as well a recently released Brut Super Dry. The cidery also produces a rotating line of limited release seasonal flavors like Watermelon, Spiced Cider and a lovely Sangria flavor.
“We choose seasonal flavors based on a few factors,” says Brittnay Perlo, Austin Eastciders master cider maker, who joined the team in 2015. “First and foremost, it needs to be a great tasting product and one that we all get excited about. Consumer feedback is super important to us – we do research to determine what flavors our fans would be most likely to purchase.” Seasonality is also important to the team. “Our seasonal flavors should match the time of year they come out,” says Perlo. “Spiced for fall, Watermelon for summer, and so on. Even though our seasonals are around for a limited time, we still want flavors that people will enjoy.”
If fans love a flavor, they try to bring it back for another round. For example, they launched a Pear Rosemary product as a small batch at the tasting room, to great success. “About a year later, we canned it and it sold more broadly as part of our Maker’s Stash Series,” says Perlo. “Our Spiced Cider was a huge hit last year, so we brought it back this year as well.” Another example is the Rosé, which was a hit with its light floral overtones and refreshing crispness.
“Our recently launched 100-Calorie Super Dry Cider line is in response to consumers’ desire for better tasting products that fit into their low-sugar, low-calorie lifestyle,” says Dave Rule, Eastciders’ vice president of marketing. “We believe listening and responding to consumer needs is a key factor to our double-digit dollar sales growth versus last year,” he adds. In 2017, Austin Eastciders became the number three craft cider in the United States.
Another reason for these ciders’ success and popularity is their versatility. Local bartenders are using them in cocktails when they need a hint of sweetness and flavor without adding excessive sugar, and a pleasant effervescence and freshness. The ciders seasonality allows them to make creative cocktails year-round, which can also be easily reproduced at home. Plus, the can presentation makes them super portable and a welcome addition to any gathering.
After the production facility moved, the original location became the Austin Esatciders Collaboratory. The dog-friendly 1,960-square-foot community space opened to the public in 2017, hosting events and parties for seasonal and special releases, many of which are exclusively available at this laid-back tasting room.
With New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day coming up, you may enjoy these recipes for cocktails that can help you usher 2020 in a festive mood, or aid in your recovery while you watch some college football.
Brut Holiday Punch
Austin Eastciders Brut Cider
Combine a ratio of 1.5 oz rum, pomegranate juice, and lemon juice to each can of Austin Eastciders Brut Cider. Garnish with rosemary sprigs.
Blood Orange Mimosa
Austin Eastciders Blood Orange Cider
Fresh blood orange juice (regular orange will do in a pinch)
Champagne or sparkling wine
You know what to do. This could also work with Ruby Red Grapefruit cider and fresh grapefruit juice.
Brut Plum Thyme Spritz
1.5 oz gin
One plum, sliced
½ a blood orange
Austin Eastciders Brut Cider
Add first three ingredients to mixing tin and muddle. Shake and strain into wine glass filled with ice. Top with Brut Cider. Garnish with slices of plum, mandarin, and sprig of thyme.
Bourbon Spiced Pear
1.5 oz bourbon
1 oz. apple brandy
.5 oz maple syrup
One pear, sliced
Austin Eastciders Spiced Cider
Muddle first four ingredients in mixing tin and strain into couple glass. Top with Spiced Cider.