New cider taproom coming to South Hill this summer
South Hill residents, you’re getting a cidery taproom this summer. Fierce County Cider, the three-year-old South Hill based cidery, is expanding to its very own tasting space at 9918 162nd St. Ct. E., which is across from Thun Field. If it seems like there’s a lot going on locally for cider, that’s true. Last month, I wrote about the new Cider + Cedar tasting room coming to Tacoma. Tomorrow, I’ll have another story about a local cidery that just opened.
The cidery’s owners hope for a summer debut, but what that looks like depends on Pierce County’s phased reopenings from Covid-19 restrictions.
While they figure out that opening timeline, co-owners Tolena and John Thorburn are focused on building out the 2,600 square-feet space that will allow them to triple the size of their hard cider operation.
Rewind back to 2017 for their debut as cider makers. They opened their cidery in a tiny 97-square-feet space in their South Hill home. They started with a two-barrel system before upgrading to a three-barrel.
But as is the case with nano-cideries, they ran out of room. “We decided we needed the flexibility to grow the business,” said John.
“We needed the flexibility to create new things without disrupting the ones that we have to crank out, our flagships that go to Total Wine and elsewhere,” added Tolena, the cidery’s brewmaster. They’ve scored some pretty big accounts, including Tacoma Boys and Total Wine, and have had success with selling their cider through local taprooms, including Rainier Growlers and CaskCades in Puyallup, and Red Hot, Wingman and more in Tacoma.
In fact, they consider Ken Thoburn, head brewer and co-owner of Wingman, a major part of their success. “Wingman has been a huge help to us as we launched the business and saw it grow over the past 2+ years. They were the first place in the world to put Fierce County Cider on tap, and the support has continued throughout the current pandemic. Our entire bottled cider lineup has been available through delivery or pickup from Wingman since March, and we are grateful that Ken always has time to give us tips and guidance as we’ve navigated this next step in our journey.”
SCALING UP CAPACITY
The problem with operating in a 97-square-feet space is that scaling up capacity is impossible on such a small system.
“We need to bottle those and keep production up for the big accounts. That doesn’t give us flexibility with the smaller batches. In our new space, we can still crank the things out that people know and love but also create new versions,” said Tolena.
And then there’s this: “We can crowdsource opinions in the tasting room in creating the new ciders,” she said.
Seeing the first-hand visitor reactions to their ciders is something they’ve long wanted to experience in their own space. “Sitting there and watching people enjoy it and react to it is absolutely my favorite part,” said Tolena.
The move to the bigger facility has allowed them to invest in a 10-barrel system that will give the boost to the capacity they think they’re ready for.
FAMILY FRIENDLY CIDER SPACE
They also will have plenty of room for a family-friendly tasting venue. “We’re making something family friendly and a gathering place for the community. That’s something we fell in love with over the years,” said John.
Their kids were 10 and 7 when the family started its cidery and now that those kids are older, they’re fully invested in the business. “They’ve had their hands on the space. We have them over here working regularly. They feel this is a (place) for them as well,” said John.
The Thorburns count CaskCades in downtown Puyallup and Rainier Growlers in South Hill as two of their favorite places for gaming and spending time together as a family (and also they can usually find their cider on tap there).
That’s the style of space they’ll create at their South Hill tasting room and cidery.
“We intend to have 5-6 ciders on tap, 1 beer on tap from a local brewer,” said John. “Our capacity is 47 people.”
They won’t offer food beyond snacks, but they welcome outside food. They note that Round Table Pizza is nearby, as are countless taquerias and family-style Mexican restaurants, Chinese restaurants and burger spots.
On that larger system, they intend to cycle through seasonals and unusual flavors for experimenting. There always will be something new and interesting to try and they intend to keep a high turnover in the tasting room.
“With greater flexibility and greater volume, one of the things that John pushes me to do, but I can’t do in our 97-square-feet space, is to do a series of flavors. Like taking our mango and adding pineapple or raspberries. I can use a common base but then have them try all the flavors side by side. In our new space, we can do fun iterations of things,” said Tolena, who takes the lead on cider brewing in the family.
For those new to the cidery, their flavor profile is fruit heavy. Their focus is in allowing the natural fruit flavors fuel their ciders.
“None of our ciders have been overly sweet at all,” explained John. “We lean to the middle of the scale on sweet versus dry. If anything, we lean more toward the dry side than sweet.”
However, because they include luscious fruit-forward flavors, such as raspberries, their ciders impart the impression of being sweeter than they are.
“Berries can trick you. It draws conclusions in your head. Using natural fruit to flavor natural apple is what we love about it; you don’t have to rely on sugar to do that flavoring,” said Tolena. Her method is to source juice from apple producers across the mountains and then flavor the fermented ciders with a wide range of secondary fruits.
Their flagship ciders are mango, rosé with pineapple and raspberry, cranberry-raspberry, ginger-cranberry and boysenberry. A seasonal that was my first introduction to Fierce County Cider is Everything Nice. It’s like a mulled cider, the kind of cider perfect for a Thanksgiving dinner. Expect a full lineup of seasonals as they experiment on their new system.
What their opening looks like and when is still in flux as they navigate the reopening phases in Pierce County. For certain, they intend to open this summer. If that means opening for take-out and delivery, that’s what they’ll do. However, they’re hopeful they’ll be able to open the taproom for on-site consumption sometime in the near future.
FIERCE COUNTY CIDER
South Hill Taproom: 9918 162nd St. Ct. E.
DID YOU HEAR WHAT ELSE IS OPENING IN SOUTH HILL?
Costella’s is opening in the old Hub location by South Hill Mall. Costella’s is a combination Italian restaurant, deli and market. Read more about that here. Also, Los Amigos Taqueria is just about to open its brick-and-mortar location. The taco truck has operated for years in South Hill. Read more about that here.