Country Boy Brewing tapping into growing hard cider market

jpatton1@herald-leader.comJuly 22, 2014 

Country Boy Brewing has gone fruity: The Lexington craft microbrewery is adding hard cider to its beer lineup.

There are two versions: a tart and a sweet, both with an effervescent apple taste and a bit of a kick, at nearly 7 percent alcohol, or 14 proof.

Why cider?

Several reasons. One is that customers ask for it, said Jeff Beagle, co-owner of Country Boy. Apparently a surprising number of brewery patrons want something besides beer.

Also, with a recent change in state law, Kentucky brewers can make cider that is as much as 7 percent alcohol by volume. Previously, only wineries could make cider, said Daniel Sinkhorn of Country Boy.

Sinkhorn, who worked for four years at a Kentucky winery, said the processes are the same and that cider can be made from any fruit using a variety of yeasts.

In fact, Sinkhorn said, Country Boy plans to experiment with hard cider, making it with pears and peaches, and blending it with other Country Boy brews, such as their Cougar Bait blonde ale.

They also want to try barrel-aging some cider in bourbon and rum barrels, including some from Wilderness Trail's sorghum rum, said Daniel "DH" Harrison, Country Boy co-owner and general manager.

One of the limiting factors will be the availability of apples: This cider, billed as Kentucky Proud product, is made with apples from Evans Orchard and Cider Mill in Georgetown.

"We'll buy every apple we can get," Harrison said.

They might have a lot of competition: Although sales are still small compared to craft beer, hard cider is the fastest-growing category of alcoholic beverages, more than tripling in volume from 2011 to 2013 to about 32 million gallons, according to The Oregonian newspaper. (Portland, Ore., with more than 50 craft breweries, bills itself as the epicenter of the cider craze.)

Kentucky wants a piece of that apple pie. Besides Country Boy's cider, Blue Stallion Brewing also made an experimental cider that customers could sample Tuesday afternoon. Blue Stallion's version resembled a fruity dry white wine.

Country Boy will debut its ciders Thursday at the tap room on Chair Avenue, then it will feature them at a "tap takeover" of Two Keys Tavern, where it will be served with ultra-popular Fireball cinnamon whisky in special glasses.

Right now, Harrison said, the cider will be on tap only, but Country Boy is anticipating releasing the cider in cans or bottles soon.

Janet Patton: (859) 231-3264. Twitter: @janetpattonhl.

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