Matthew Beason is at it again—and this time, he’s bringing cider. The Bull City native is working with longtime partner John Eisensmith
to rebrand the successful Six Plates
restaurant as Black Twig Cider House, named for the Tar Heel apples often used to make cider. After eight years, Six Plates will serve its final plates March 11 and then get to work opening the cider house in the same location.
I spoke with Matthew “Mattie” Beason about how and why the idea to create a cider house—the Southeast's first—came to be and what it means for Durham's food-and-drink scene.
INDY: How did the idea to open up a cider house begin?
: We've been looking at different spaces for the cider house concept for about a year. I’ve been working with and toward cider for the past three to four years and paying attention to it for the last ten. I fell in love with it in the Basque country in Northern Spain. I fell in love with the comradery and the history of the beverage.
What about the history connected with you?
I specifically fell in love with Spanish cider, which is old and funky. They pour it out of spigots out of wooden barrels. They host txotxs
, which is when they bring everyone to the cider houses, cook four-course meals, and open the cider barrels. That’s when they showcase the new ciders and let people try the cider that comes directly out of the barrels. It’s a production, an experience. I wanted to bring it back to the States. It doesn’t exactly translate, but I wanted to incorporate it in a way.
Elements of it are re-creatable, such as drinking out of the barrels and the knowledge of cider. Right now, so little is known about cider by the general public, and there’s so many different kinds. There’s dry sprout cider, which is like an apple wine, cider that’s almost like champagne, ciders that are dryhopped, and some with berries and fruit, which create a completely different feel. We’ll start with between sixty to eighty ciders and hopefully grow from there.
Why close Six Plates? Why not do both?
Picking one makes the most sense for Durham right now. Durham has changed a lot since we opened with Six Plates, and instead of opening up another business, we thought it would be best to try and rebrand a business we’ve had a lot of success with for the past eight years. Black Twig will be opening in the same location.
What will you miss about Six Plates?
Six Plates was my first concept by myself, so it’s near and dear to my heart. The things I’ll miss most are the experience, the regulars, and those that have supported us for all these years. I’ll also miss playing and experimenting in wine. I’ll also miss the annual Txakolifest
. I’m not sure I’m able to let it go. I haven’t given up hope.
How will Black Twig fit into the Durham food-and-drink scene? Who is it for?
It’s an addition. With the amazing food and drink we have available to us on a daily basis, we can compare ourselves to other big cities, the quality that we have here. I hope this will offer something to a food scene that continues to grow and impress. As for who it’s for, we’ve tried to create an everyday experience. We won’t offer just cider; we will have beer and wine, too, but what we really hope is to draw people in who love cider and for them to be able to experience more. As far as I know, south of Washington, D.C., we will be the most extensive cider house. There are a couple in the northwest and in D.C. and New York City. There’s only about six or seven places in the country that have cider on this scale.
Will the business be making its own cider?
No, we’ll concentrate on spreading the word of cider. The idea’s not off the table. We’ll get it from all over. Some will be local, like from Asheville and Charlotte, while some will come in internationally, predominantly from England, France, Spain, and some from Italy.
Will you be selling growlers or bottles of cider for folks to take home?
We actually haven’t considered the growler option, but it’s not a bad idea. Right now, we’re focusing on selling things to consume in house. My hope is to spread the word of cider, and my retail colleagues will realize that there is a market for cider.
What kind of food will Black Twig be serving?
We’ll have local sausages from First Hand Foods, and we’ll be keeping our popular lamby joes. We’ll also keep the sliders from Six Plates, so a couple of favorites from the restaurant will remain. We’ll have house-made fries and an emphasis on cheese and salads. I think cheese works better with cider than it does with wine.
Tell me about the cider-making process?
As an agricultural product, it’s very similar to wine. There’s a fermentation process. Beer starts with water, so it’s cheaply made. With cider, you’re starting with apple juice; that’s more expensive. Cider apples and eating apples are two different things. The acidity is different, making some more ideal for making cider. As for the definition of cider, a federal law just passed saying that cider can be made with pears, too, although that’s officially called a perry—which I love almost as much.
What are some of your favorite ciders and why?
I love ciders from Foggy Ridge up in Virginia
, just two and a half hours from here. Their cider is unbelievably well designed and well thought out. I hope to have some cider from friends in Denver. I love the Basque ciders, too. It’s dry and funky and, when served in the right way and form to the right person, a lot of fun. I really like Northern French and Normandy cider; it's usually rounder and more like sparkling wine. It’s got a richer flavor, almost like a caramel that’s great to pair with food. My campaign is to have everyone drink cider for Thanksgiving—to me, cider works better than wine or beer with food.