A trip to Europe planted the seed for Utah’s first established cidery. But it’s the state’s unique scenery that’s helped drive Mountain West Hard Cider’s success.
“We’re outdoor enthusiasts,” says Laci Brown, aka “Ciderella,” Mountain West Hard Cider sales representative. “Every single one of our ciders is actually named for a different canyon in the state.”
Mountain West Hard Cider: A First for Utah
Founders Jennifer and Jeff Carleton parlayed a trip to Europe into a thriving business — and a first for the state of Utah. Jennifer, especially, appreciated the clean, crisp handcrafted ciders she tasted in Ireland as an alternative many of the heavier beers offered.
“She fell in love with cider knowing it’s medium ABV, nice and dry and something other than that sugary (taste) people often associate with cider,” Brown says.
The couple returned to Utah, began researching the apple-based beverage as a business, and established Mountain West Hard Cider in 2014. The doors opened the following year and by early 2016, Ruby, named for a canyon along the Colorado River on the Utah-Colorado border, was born.
‘Anytime, Anywhere, Anybody’ Kind of Drink
Utah Beer News visited Mountain West the day it began canning its flagship Ruby hard cider (6.8% ABV), a traditional English-style cider. Up until then, the cidery’s full lineup was available only in bottles or on draft.
Yes, on draft. Even though Utah law prohibits any beer above 4% ABV from being delivered on draft, cider in the state is classified as a wine, and therefore can be served from a tap.
And now, with product available in 16-ounce cans (Cottonwood is next), the no-sugar-added, gluten-free hard cider truly is becoming, as Mountain West likes to say, “an anytime, anywhere, anybody kind of drink.”
Mountain West even created a transitional cider for die-hard beer drinkers. To do that, they knocked on the door of their next-door neighbor — Red Rock Brewery — and asked to borrow a cup of hops.
The result? A dry-hopped, 6.9% ABV hard cider “blending rich red-apple flavors with just a touch of bitterness.”
“We call Cottonwood our ‘gateway cider,'” Brown explains. “It’s not hoppy-hoppy like a double IPA. It’s just got that awesome herbaceous taste and the citrus notes that the Centennial hops bring out.”
A Rich History of Hard Cider
In the United States, hard cider dates to colonial times (“Johnny Appleseed” didn’t plant those apple orchards for baking pies). Part of the allure was due to its simplicity.
In absolute basic terms, Brown says, you could buy a jug of apple juice, leave it in the sun, and in a couple days pour yourself a glass of hard cider.
Mountain West, obviously, takes greater care in sourcing ingredients. And the process from juice to bottle takes about a month.
“Every single cider is the blend of the freshest apples we can get,” says Brown, noting many of the apples are sourced from Santaquin and other parts of Utah. “We use all local apples as much as we can, and all ingredients are from the mountain west region.”
It also trusts its cider making to Joel Goodwillie, a winemaker by trade who possesses more than 25 years of experience.
Building a Community
In addition to its love for Utah’s outdoors, Mountain West also takes pride in helping to build a strong community. Brown’s seen the Marmalade District transform in recent years, with an influx of several new, local businesses and added energy. “I have been saying that Rose Park is the new Sugar House,” she says.
To help promote the resurgence, Mountain West created a community gathering place adjacent to its cidery.
“When Jennifer and Jeff started this business, they were inspired by cideries and beer gardens in Europe,” says Jess Pechmann, Mountain West’s marketing and events manager. “They wanted to bring something similar to the Marmalade District in Salt Lake.”
So Mountain West decided to open a side lot and create a beer and cider garden. The Garten hosted several private events in June and is opening to the public on weekends beginning in July (complete schedule).
All ages are welcome at The Garten, as are dogs. Mountain West hard ciders, Red Rock craft beers, and spirits from local distillers are available. The space features live music and food trucks on site.
“It’s a nice community space to come and hang out,” Pechmann says.