Lexington’s popular Pepper Distillery campus is getting another alcohol-related tenant: Wise Bird Cider Co. plans to move in later this year and open to customers next spring.
Owners Tim Wright and Greta Pittard moved to Lexington from Washington, D.C., to be near family and to go pro with their cider-making hobby.
Married, with a 10-month-old son, they wanted to “be part of the maker economy,” Wright said.
And the collaborative atmosphere in Central Kentucky seemed especially suited to support their love of making cider, he said. They plan to create a very family-friendly environment at Wise Bird for customers as well as for themselves.
“Cider connects back to our story as a couple. We fell in love over cider, amongst other reasons,” Wright said. “Part of it is our desire to be part of the maker economy.”
“We both love having projects and being hands-on . . . we definitely wanted to participate in something that was bigger than us, that you could actually see the results of your labor,” said Pittard, a former documentary filmmaker. “Cider was one those things we both really loved.”
They’ve been discussing their dream for years with local apple growers and are finally able to begin buying fruit to turn into slow-fermented heritage-style ciders.
The cidery will set up on the ground floor of the Rickhouse building at the former Pepper Distillery campus on Manchester, in a corner next to Town Branch that will one day be on the Town Branch Trail.
The campus is one of Lexington’s hottest dining and entertainment districts, home to restaurants such as Middle Fork Kitchen Bar, Goodfellas Pizzeria and Crank & Boom Ice Cream Lounge, as well as several bars. Ethereal Brewing, Barrel House Distilling and the new James E. Pepper Distillery also make spirits at the revamped historic property.
Inside, the cider operation will be on display, with apples being crushed and cider fermenting just off a taproom lined with reclaimed barn wood that will preserve the industrial feel of the former bourbon barrel warehouse. The taproom will feature beer-garden style tables inside and out, with garage-style doors that can open to the creekside patio.
This is the second spirits maker coming to the Rickhouse: Wise Bird will back up to Fusion Brewing, a brewery that is expected to open this fall on the other side of the building. Former Eastern Kentucky University professor Christian Paumi, who will operate Fusion, said earlier this year he hopes to have beer ready to serve sometime in November.
Pittard and Wright plan to open Wise Bird with their own ciders in April. Construction on the interior will begin this month. The first year they hope to brew about 6,000 gallons of cider, which works out to under 200 barrels.
“We’re going to be small; compared to beer, we would be a nano-brewery,” Wright said.
Wright, who studied hard cider-making at Cornell University, said they plan to ferment seasonally “as with wine,” so will have tanks set up and making heritage-style cider over the winter inside while the taproom is finished.
Heritage-style ciders are those made with apple varieties specifically grown for cider, including crabapples, that often have more bitter tannins than dessert apples. Varieties include Dabinett, a bittersweet apple; Kingston Black, a bittersharp apple; Roxbury Russet and Harrison, American heirlooms; and Wickson, a crab. Most are hard to find, and Wise Bird is working with local orchards, Ayres Family Orchard, Evans Orchard and Reed Valley Orchard and other apple growers to source heirloom and cider-style apples.
“The slow, cold fermentation process will draw out the characteristics of the apples, the acids, the tannins, the sugars that either on their own or blended together will make a really good cider,” Wright said.
While their cider-making so far has been small scale, two of Wright’s ciders were recognized at the Great Lakes International Cider and Perry Competition in May: one won a silver medal and another a bronze.
They plan to have other local ciders, such as Pivot Brewery, on tap, as well as offerings from small local on-farm wineries.
“We think this area is really ripe for cider,” Pittard said. “The more cider the better.”