Before the craft beer movement, there was an attitude that "beer is beer," a tautology expressing the watery similarity of the mass-produced domestic brews dominating the market. Craft brewing has effectively pulled beer from this gutter, as evidenced by the explosion of its industry. Hard cider still suffers, though: "Cider is cider," the thought goes. It all tastes like apples. Or rather, it tastes like apple Jolly Ranchers.
Ryan Bogard started out with that exact misconception; he didn't initially have any interest in hard cider. He'd tried the mass-market version and found its sweetness off-putting. But then Bantam Cider Works opened in Somerville, Massachusetts. Bogard was living in Boston at the time, so he checked it out. He was immediately hooked.
"It was more wine-like, more nuanced," Bogard says. "It was incredible."
This cider privileged taste over sweetness and was flavored with honey and herbs rather than bags and bags of white sugar. A light bulb went off in Bogard's head: there's so much potential here, he realized, and he wanted in. Today, Bogard is the owner and executive cidermaker of Bull City Ciderworks, which returned to Durham in early 2017 after closing in April 2016 to make way for a police station.
Like Bantam before him, Bogard wanted to draw from the momentum of the craft beer movement but transfer that energy to hard cider. Cider is gluten-free, for one, and has properties that appeal to drinkers of both wine and beer. It's made of fruit—apples, yeah, but cherries and other fruits as well. And you can create unexpected flavor profiles by adding brewery mainstays like hops. Jolly Ranchers don't even factor into the equation.
"Cider really is kind of a bridge between wine and beer," Bogard says. "You don't have the high alcohol wooziness you can get from wine. It's kind of like session wine in a way."
Cider is not made the way beer is, for sure, so the entire process can be an exploration of the differences between it, wine, and beer. The fermentation vessels, for instance, are more like those used in winemaking—except, that is, for the open-top fermenter, which allows cidermakers to drop whole fruit through the top, where it is macerated by special strains of yeast.
"We have some ciders we put hops in, your Smooth Hoperator, most notably," Bogard says. "It's like an American IPA, but without all the bitterness." That cider contains Cascade, Citra, and Galaxy hops, while Ciderworks Off Main is a semidry cider. These are adult flavor profiles, and quite unlike anything found on the candy aisle.
With the new location, Bogard is excited to get back to experimenting. Business was going so well at the old spot, he says, that there was no time to create. Now, with a separate production facility in Lexington, North Carolina, the Bull City location can be a cider laboratory of sorts.
"That's really what Durham's going to be," Bogard says. "It's going to be our R&D Exploratorium, where we create new ciders."