We recently stopped by Sociable Cider Werks in Minneapolis (which you can read all about here) now we had a chance to chat with Jim Watkins one of the founders.
Check out what he had to say below…
So how did you get your start in cider?
My long time friend and now business partner, Wade and I started making small batches of cider in the garage after being inspired by the dry bubbly northern french style cider his father in law had been making for 20 years. His ciders were these crisp, bubbly, bottle-conditioned masterpieces made out of MN’s high acid Haralson apples. We couldn’t get anything like it in our area liquor stores, so kept coming back to that style. We caught the bug, and it has pretty much consumed us ever since.
You had some pretty interesting types of cider on tap when we came to visit… what’s the weirdest thing you’ve tried?
We are all about the weird. I would say two of the most unique are Burnout Cucumber Habanero and Spoke Wrench Java Apple. Burnout was inspired by a randall infusion experiment, and it has become one of our most popular offerings. The lingering heat of the habanero really balances the intense fresh flavor of cucumber, all while being grounded in a crisp apple backbone. Spoke Wrench is on its second iteration. It’s a malt adjunct cider, so we brew in crystal and chocolate malts to give it this great roasted toffee flavor that is reminiscent of a dry, effervescent tootsie roll. The newest incarnation also includes a small amount of fruit forward coldpress coffee beans from a local roaster, Dogwood Coffee. That addition contributes this great earthy-sweet bean flavor.
What’s the one thing everyone should know about Sociable?
By next fall (regulators willing) we will have all three TTB manufacturers licenses, wine and beer and spirits! This expands on the spirit of creativity and convention-breaking that was the inspiration for Sociable. It affords us the flexibility to really be creative and make a wide variety of traditional ciders, malt adjunct hybrids, and fortified apple wines. We are, after all, Decidedly Different… and Delightfully Sociable.
Seems like you are expanding pretty rapidly – what’s next in the works? (pardon the pun)
2018 is going to be all about the barrel aged releases for us. With our core (we can get punny too) brands we are hustling to keep up and continue to grow demand in MN. A lot of our out-of-state peer cideries are splashing out to lots of new markets in what we assume is an effort to grab market share. Our model is a lot more steady-as-she-goes. More mile-deep, inch-wide than the inverse. We want to really expand people’s expectations of what to expect from cider in Minnesota and then in 2018 we are going to start applying that same model to a yet to be named new market.
What are some of the biggest challenges in the industry right now?
“Crafty” beer, Budweiser, $105 kegs of juice concentrate ciders. We’ve got a whole country of distribution infrastructure trying its damnedest to stop the erosion of macro portfolios. A lot of the associated pricing tactics don’t work in more sophisticated urban markets, but are very successful in many suburban markets. If buyers in heavily populated suburban rings respond to customer demand for cider with some lazy, alcho-pop approximation of cider, I think it reaffirms many drinkers biases against the category. That hurts our ability as independent producers to solidify what is still a nascent category.
Where do you see craft cider going in the year ahead?
I think we are going to continue to see more crossover from craft beer-land especially as this national love affair with sour beers continues to heat up. I mean sour beers & ciders, from a flavor perspective can be extensions of one another. They’re both high-acid, fruit-forward, great with food & fantastically refreshing. We’ve got a cool cousin now that I think can really help us get more people on this cider train.
Where should we be drinking cider in Minneapolis? (aside from at Sociable of course!)
Unfortunately the tasting room/ taproom infrastructure for cideries isn’t quite where the breweries are yet. But as far as great places in twin cities to find cider the top contenders are The Republic and all the Town Hall Brewery locations. The crews at those respective spots always have a pile of cider on draught. Once you get there my top 5 MN made ciders are (in alphabetical order with the oxford comma): Keepsake – Wild, Milk and Honey – Kingston Black Cuvee, Number 12 Cider House – Chestnut Semi-Dry, & Yellow Belly – Ginger
If you weren’t in the cider industry what would you be doing instead?
I’d still be teaching math. My first job out of school was trading for a big investment bank in New York. After a couple of years of that I traveled south to Miami to teach remedial math, geometry and calculus at Miami Central Senior High (Go Rockets!). I ended up moving back to Minneapolis because my then fiancee, now wife was finishing medical school up here. My teaching license didn’t transfer, so my evening work schedule of teaching GMAT, GRE and SAT prep gave me the day-time flexibility for my garage cider habit to get really out of hand. While I think it’s wrong from a policy perspective, MN licensing requirements that keep qualified mathematicians and scientists out of the classroom are the reason why Sociable exists. So I guess I’d encourage your readers to write their local school board a letter while enjoying a pint from Sociable.