Beda’s Biergarten Creates Unique German Biers in San Luis Obispo

Beda’s Biergarten in San Luis Obispo is all about community, and we love how they infuse their family restaurant with warmth, welcome, and the German spirit of Gemütlichkeit.

We especially enjoy their variety of Wurst, not-sour sauerkraut, and Schnitzel. Everything they create is made from scratch, with quality ingredients and attention to detail. And their own custom-brewed line of Beda’s Biers is no exception.

Old-World Goodness, Local Craftsmanship 

Each of the Beda’s Biers is chosen by owners Beda and Helga to share some of their favorite beers from Germany that are rare or difficult to find.  

The Ost Altbier, Kellerbier, and UrBeda Bock Bier are made with the same authentic recipes, ingredients, and processes used at the German breweries.

Braumeister Aaron Smith at Doc’s Cellar custom brewing facility in SLO crafts each bier according to the Reinheitsgebot purity law, introduced in 1516 by Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria. It requires that German biers contain only four ingredients: hops, barley, and water. Later, yeast was approved as an ingredient.

Here are flavor profiles of each bier and a bit of history. Prost!

Ost Altbier 

Helga grew up in Düsseldorf, home to the Schumacher Brewery that was founded in 1838. The only bier they brew is Altbier. “Alt” means “old” in German, referring to Altbier’s “old” style of top fermenting bier.

Beda’s Ost Altbier is created in this traditional top-fermenting Dusseldorf Altbier style. This Altbier has firm bitterness, while being well balanced, malty and clean. The noble aroma hops are Hallertau Hersbrucker, and the Spalter hops provide the fine bitterness. The base of the beer is a Munich-style malt which provides the malty body and amber color.

UrBeda Bock Bier 

Ur means “original,” and we wanted to create a bier in the spirit of the original style of bock bier from Einbeck, Germany.

As the story goes, a master brewer from Einbeck was lured to Munich to brew Einbeck’s famous Ainpöckische Bier there. Because of the Bavarian accent, the citizens of Munich pronounced Einbeck as Ein BOCK (which means billy goat, in case you were wondering), and the rich, malty, style of bier eventually became known as bock bier.

The UrBeda Bock Bier is a strong, dark, smooth, and full-bodied lager, with bready malt aromas.


Kellerbier is a rare bier that dates back to the Middle Ages in Franconia, Bavaria. It’s named after the cellaring process (keller means cellar in German) used to brew the bier at cool temperatures. It was originally brewed in caves during its slow maturation.

More stories about Beda’s Biergarten

Read the full story of how Beda’s Biers came to the Central Coast:

Hungry for some genuine German Gemütlichkeit (camaraderie), food, and bier? Read how this welcoming spirit infuses Beda’s Biergarten.





Beda’s Got Biers – Custom-Brewed Authentic German Biers in San Luis Obispo

Thanks to a collaboration between Beda’s Biergarten and the Doc’s Cellar custom brewery in San Luis Obispo, Beda’s Biergarten offers authentic Altbier, Kellerbier, and UrBeda Bock bier. Here’s how the custom-crafted Beda’s Biers came to be.

Bier: Not Just a Beverage

Bier (or beer) is more than just a beverage in Germany. It marks history, it defines cities—and it connects people.

Like Beda and Helga Schmidthues, owners of Beda’s Biergarten in San Luis Obispo, who met over a glass of their favorite bier in one of their favorite breweries in Germany.

Hometown Favorites

Helga grew up in Düsseldorf, home to the Schumacher Brewery that was founded in 1838. One of its signature biers is Altbier. “Alt” means “old” in German, referring to Altbier’s “old” style of top fermenting bier.

“Naturally, Altbier is Helga’s bier,” says Beda. “The bier I grew up with is König Pilsener from the brewery in Duisburg-Beeck. But once I started working in Düsseldorf, Altbier became my favorite beer, too.”

Beda bier photo
A sneak peek into BedaFest’s two new beers created just for the German beer loving fans here in San Luis Obispo.

While Beda and Helga had known each other in school, they had lost touch.

During Latzenbier, a special event held only one night a year, they were both at Schumacher Brewery and saw each other.

That was 1978, and they’ve been together ever since.

“We both love the Schumacher Altbier,” said Helga. “When we later we found out that the Shumacher Brewery was the first to coin the name Altbier, it made it even more special that we reconnected there.”

Beda’s Biergarten Knows Biers

Beda and Helga moved to San Francisco in 1984, and they started Beda’s Biergarten in 2015.

The restaurant offers many great German biers, including Beda’s beloved König Pilsener and several others.

“But we couldn’t find an Altbier in the US that we liked,” he said of the bier that’s similar to an ale—very drinkable and light, with good flavor. “Some American brewers are making it as a craft bier, and they’re not bad, but they are not what we associate with an authentic Altbier, especially one from Schumacher.”

The only Altbier they could import from Germany was Uerige Altbier, but it was brewed for the US market, with more malt and higher alcohol content.

Kellerbier is another rare bier they couldn’t find, which dates back to the Middle Ages in Franconia, Bavaria. It’s named after the cellaring (keller means cellar in German) process used to brew the bier at cool temperatures (originally in caves) during its slow maturation.

It’s All About the Timing

“People who know me also know I’ve always said I personally didn’t want to brew bier,” said Beda. “There are so many good biers available that I have no interest in making my own.”

But just like they created Beda’s Biergarten to share something they missed from their home country—in this case the gemütlichkeit, or the welcoming spirit, of their favorite pubs—they began to wonder if there was a way to share their favorite biers.

While Helga and Beda began playing with ideas, a new business was brewing just a few blocks away.

A toast to their new German beer collaboration.  Beda and Helga Schmidthues from Beda’s Biergarten and Aaron Smith from Doc’s Cellar.

Doc’s Cellar started as a craft fermentation supply company in 1991 and since then, had established itself as the go-to place for both equipment and advice for home brewers, craft breweries, boutique winemakers, and kombucha makers.

“When Aaron Smith from Doc’s Cellar approached us with their new custom brewing operation, we knew the time was right,” said Helga.

“We saw an opportunity,” said Beda. “We might be able to introduce something to our clientele that we grew up with. Something that connected Helga and I many years ago and that can now connect us with our customers.”

He added, “When we introduce something, it’s with our customers in mind. In this case, we had ourselves in mind, too, because we love these biers and want to share them.”

After a few conversations, Aaron became the official Braumeister for Beda’s Biergarten.

A New Idea Brews

While Aaron has been in food and beverage manufacturing for years, as well as a talented homebrewer, he always said he didn’t want to open a brewery because he didn’t want to market and sell his beer.

“Instead, my business partner and I came up with the concept of doing custom brewing,” he said. “That way, we can make great quality beer for customers who can sell it and let them fly.”

Doc’s Cellar received its brewing license earlier this year. Their clientele will start with restaurants like Beda’a Biergarten who want a signature bier and smaller breweries, with plans to expand as demand grows.

Aaron Smith photo
Brew Master Aaron Smith with Doc’s Cellars samples a Beda Bier in preparation for the rollout at 2018 BedaFest in San Luis Obispo.

“Brewing these beers for Beda and Helga is a dream come true for me,” he said. “They’re a style of beer that I personally love.”

Authentic Recipes and Process

Aaron knew the styles and parameters of these biers, so he started researching recipes.

“I found the actual Altbier recipe from the Schumacher Brewer in one of my old books,” he said.

Aaron Smith with Doc's Cellar and Beda and Helga Schmidthues of Beda's Biergarten photo
A welcome collaboration beer lovers Aaron Smith with Doc’s Cellar and Beda and Helga Schmidthues of Beda’s Biergarten.

For the Kellerbier, he did a couple sample batches with input from Beda and Helga to arrive at the result that is every bit as good as the Kellerbiers from Bavaria.

In addition to using authentic recipes, both biers are made according to the Reinheitsgebot purity law, introduced in 1516 by Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria. It requires that German biers contain only four ingredients: hops, barley, and water. Later, yeast was approved as an ingredient.

What’s Next

A small batch of the first custom biers will debut at BedaFest, an afternoon of family fun hosted by Beda’s Biergarten on August 19 at La Cuesta Ranch in San Luis Obispo.

Aaron will be helping pour and is happy to answer questions about these new styles he’s excited to be making.

brewing tanks photo
The new brewing tanks at Doc’s Cellar in San Luis Obispo are ready to take on the new collaboration with Beda’s Biergarten and their new German-recipe biers. The new beirs will debut at the BedaFest 2018.

“If people like them, we will make them for the restaurant,” said Beda.

What about future biers?

“I’m not going to brew a pilsner or a dopplebock or a lager,” said Beda. “Why would we try to compete with such great biers like König Pilsener or Weihenstephaner Doppelbock?

But they may consider a single Bockbier.

“If we do a Bockbier, it will go back to the original Einbock and be on the lighter side. Not a heavy, high octane bier, but a good strong, but light-tasting bier. I want to keep them drinkable.”

Another Helping of Hospitality

The decision to brew custom biers with Doc’s Cellar is just another way Beda and Helga continue to share their hospitality and warmth with their Beda’s Biergarten family of customers.

To that, we say danke schön! And prost!

Ready to sample the Beda Biers? Thirsty (or hungry) for more about Beda’s Biergarten and BedaFest? Here are a few more articles to explore:
More information and online tickets site for BedaFest 2018
BedaFest – Your Best Fest for Fun in San Luis Obispo
Beda’s Biergarten: SLO’s Home for Gemütlichkeit

Central Coast Cider Festival – Event Recap (2018)

The craft hard cider producers on the Central Coast, with nearly a dozen in San Luis Obispo County, are out to change the perception that hard cider tastes like apple cider for adults.

They did that and more at the 3rd annual Central Coast Cider Festival in Atascadero, where cider producers and cider fans gathered for fun experiences designed to increase education and appreciation on both sides of the bottle.

The way we see it, the Central Coast is poised to take its place as an epicenter of hard cider creativity, craftsmanship, and innovation. And we couldn’t be more excited.

Neil Collins Bristols Cider photo
Neil Collins, founder of Bristols Cider, and Flavor Team member Kara at the tap takeover event at Libertine Brewing Company in San Luis Obispo.

Celebrating Cider Through Education

Neil Collins, whose Bristols Cider House in Atascadero was one of the original cider producers instrumental in starting the Central Coast cider culture, believes the Cider Festival is about education and sharing ideas.

“The event is more than just a big cider tasting,” he said. “Many people who attend really appreciate the art that goes into making hard cider and they enjoy the opportunity to talk with producers and learn more about their approach. Plus, the cider producers love getting together and sharing notes, ideas, and inspiration with each other.”

Neil Collins, Weston Hartley, Connor Meznarich photo
Neil Collins and Weston Hartley from Bristols Cider and Connor Meznarich from Jean Marie Cidery at the tap takeover.

Pre-Event Events

The Cider Festival’s grand tasting on Saturday May 12 was preceded by tap takeovers and pouring events.

Gopher Glen Cider, Jake and Raven Lukehart-Smith, Jesse and Collette Smith photo
The Gopher Glen Cider team Jake and Raven Lukehart-Smith (left) and Jesse and Collette Smith (right) with Flavor Team members Kara and Andrew.

At the Guest House Grill in Atascadero and Libertine Brewing Company in San Luis Obispo, cider makers shared several of their ciders with fans who wanted to get a sneak taste. It was great to taste a range of ciders and talk with the makers about their process and inspiration behind the ciders.

A cider pouring event at Grape Encounters Empourium in Atascadero was another opportunity to try new ciders.

The Cork Dorks (Liquid Lunch) radio show at The Krush 92.5 brought in several cider producers, including Gopher Glen Cider, Two Broads Ciderworks and Tin City, to discuss the current state of the craft cider industry and share ideas of where it’s going.

Gopher Glen Cider, Two Broads Ciderworks, Tin City Cider, Cork Dorks Liquid Lunch radio show photo
On-air guests of the Cork Dorks Liquid Lunch radio show (left to right): Gopher Glen Cider, Two Broads Ciderworks and Tin City Cider were

Cider Seminar: Hopping on the Hops Bandwagon

Brunch Seminar, hops, cidermosas, Bristols OG cider photo
Attendees enjoyed cidermosas (made with Bristols OG cider), a buffet breakfast, conversation, and panel discussion about using hops in hard cider.

Several producers in the collegial group of Central Coast cider makers presented the inaugural Cider Brunch Seminar held Saturday morning. The topic was hopped cider and exploring the ways this herb used in many beers is now crossing into the cider world.

Before the discussion started, attendees enjoyed cidermosas, a buffet breakfast, and conversation.

Neil Collins, Trees of Antiquity, panel discussion at brunch seminar
Neil Collins, owner of Trees of Antiquity, kicks off the panel discussion at the inaugural brunch seminar discussing the use of hops in hard cider.

Neil Collins, owner of Paso Robles-based orchard company Trees of Antiquity, kicked off the panel discussion. He has grown cider apple trees and other varieties since he started his business in 2000, and he’s seen firsthand how the cider industry continues to grow.

“In the early years, I’d grow 12 cider apple trees and didn’t sell one of them,” he said. “Now, I sell hundreds of cider apple trees and other varieties every year.”

Connor Meznarich, Jean Marie Cidery, canned cider photo
Connor Meznarich from Jean Marie Cidery produces hopped and other ciders in cans.

Next, the panel of cider producers—Bristols Cider, Gopher Glen Cider, Jean Marie Cidery, and Tin City—took turns discussing their evolving ideas of hops –the why, when, how of including hops during the cider-making process, and  the results of their efforts so far. We followed along through the tasting of six ciders as each producer shared more about the hops they chose, their flavor characteristics, how hops affects the fermentation process, and other aspects of using hops in hard ciders.

Several audience members asked questions of panel members.

Here’s what we tasted:

  • Bristols Cider: Rackham, Barti Ddu
  • Gopher Glen Cider: Jack Rabbit
  • Jean Marie Cidery: Bee Hoppy
  • Tin City Cider: Poly Dolly, Original Dry Hopped

After the seminar, Bristols Cider founder Neil Collins made this comment. “The industry is still very much in its infancy. You can tell we are all interested in hearing what the other producers are doing and sharing what we’ve been working on.”

“We’re all finding what works for the region, the country, and for our own individual companies,” he added.

The Main Event

Held again at the scenic Pavilion on the Lake in Atascadero, the Central Coast Cider Festival included tastings from more than a dozen cider producers, a traditional roast pig dinner from Chef Jeffery Scott with Vineyard Events and great music from the Turkey Buzzards.

Dane Jacobs, Reef Points Hard Cider photo
Dane Jacobs with Reef Points Hard Cider shares one of their new ciders at the Central Coast Cider Festival.

Dane Jacobs, with Reef Points Hard Cider, believes the event attendees are unique. “I find that the people who attend are generally here to appreciate the ciders,” he said. “They care about the product, they want to meet the cider makers and learn more about them as individuals. They ask questions, they’re inquisitive. It’s very refreshing.”

Diversity and Expression

But the event isn’t just for attendees to sample hard cider—it’s also a gathering place for cider producers to share their results and explore what’s possible.

“Here in the US, we can play with cider more,” said Collins, who came to the Central Coast from Bristol, England.

“In England, you don’t really see hopped ciders or infused ciders,” he said. “You see a whole lot of really good straight ciders—which I like a lot. But here in the US we can cast around and try all different things. Maybe we don’t get the greatest of cider apples, so we can add hops or do something to add intrigue. There are no preconceived ideas. It’s wide open.”

All evening, the energy in the room was upbeat, as attendees made their way from booth to booth, sampling the wide variety of ciders, eating dinner, and talking on the patio overlooking the lake.

While taking a short break during the event, Collins shared his thoughts about the Cider Festival’s intention.

Noah Selman, Krazy Farm Cider photo
Noah Selman with Krazy Farm Cider serving fans at the Central Coast Cider Festival.

“Events like this help us share more about what cider is—and that it’s way more than the commercially available sweet ciders,” said Collins. “To have the chance in one room to get 400 or 500 people to come together and be able to talk to the producers, to taste several ciders from each producer, to get an understanding of the diversity out there and understand that cider isn’t just one thing with one taste—it’s an amazing opportunity.”

Cider Festival 2018 and Beyond

As the evening wrapped up, Raven Lukehart-Smith with Gopher Glen Cider summed up her experience of the event.

“Every producer here is doing amazing things,” she said. “We’re doing things that are new to the cider industry—not just new to the Central Coast. I really encourage people to get out and try local ciders. With so many styles and favors, you’re going to find a cider that you really love.”

Dominic and Anna O'Reilly, Anna's Cider photo
Anna and Dominic O’Reilly of Anna’s Cider pouring for the first time at the 2018 Central Coast Cider Festival.

Over the past two years, we’ve enjoyed seeing cider producers continue to explore the range of what’s possible and explore new ideas. As cider fans, we couldn’t ask for more and we all benefit from their passion, excitement, and enthusiasm in this industry that is anything but status quo.

Nate Adamski, See Canyon Hard Cider, Flavor Team member Andrew photo
Nate Adamski with See Canyon Hard Cider and Flavor Team member Andrew.

The Flavor Team thanks the organizers and sponsors of the Central Coast Cider Festival, all the producers for sharing the fruits of your labors, Chef Jeffery Scott, the Turkey Buzzards, and fellow cider lovers for a great experience.

We’ll see you all next year!

2018 Participating Cider Producers
101 Cider House
Anna’s Cider
Bristols Cider House
Gopher Glen Cider
Jean Marie Cidery
Kelsey See Canyon Vineyards
Krazy Farm Cider
Mission Trail Cider Company
Reef Points Hard Cider
Santa Cruz Cider Company
See Canyon Cider Company
Tin City Cider
Totally Stoked
Two Broads Ciderworks

Thirsty for more hard cider? Here are a few more articles to explore:
2nd Annual Central Coast Cider Festival 2017 [16 Local Cider Crafters]
From Apples to Artistry: The Bristols Cider House Way
Bristols Cider House: The Art of Hard Cider
Branch to Bottle: Gopher Glen’s Hard Cider Journey
Some Ciders and Cheeses Meet in a Pub, and Here’s What Happened [Bristols Cider House and Fromagerie Sophie Pairing Event]
Hard Core Cider Tour 2016 Comes to SLO County
Hard Core Cider Tour: Experience the Sparkle (2017)


Hard Cider Tasting Events: Actionable Tips to Maximize Your Experience [2018]

With craft hard ciders gaining popularity every year, there’s a whole barrel-full of cider-tasting events, festivals, tours, and tap takeovers to make it easy to taste what’s new in the cider world.

But with so many events, and so many ciders at each event to choose from, how do you maximize your time and enjoyment?

As fellow cider aficionados, we’re here to help.

How to Rock Your Tour

It’s easy to have fun at a cider-tasting event, right? Simply take your tasting glass from booth to booth and taste every cider.

Not so fast. By taking a little time to prepare, you may enjoy your cider-centric experience even more.

A Few Days Before

  • Make a List of the Ciders You Want to Try

Most cider events have at least a dozen cider producers who will be pouring. And each likely will be pouring more than one cider. That’s a whole lotta cider.

cider glasses photo
So many ciders… so little time. Take time to plan your cider event tasting strategy to ensure you taste the ciders you’re thirsting to try.

As adept as we know you are at sampling ciders, it’s possible you’ll run out of time (or ability) to sample all the ciders at all the booths.

So to really enjoy the flavors, check out the cider event website and take a look at the vendors who will attending. Jot down your A-List (must try) and B-List (want to try) ciders, and bring the list to the event.

This will help narrow down the field and help you target those you most want to taste while the day is still young.

  • Stay Curious, Open-Minded, and Adventurous

As you look through the vendor list, and during the actual event, keep a sense of curiosity. One of the best things about the cider-tasting events is the range of hard ciders available to taste. Take advantage of this broad selection and try a few cider companies you either haven’t heard of or a style you may not be familiar with.

Along with curiosity, try to leave your expectations or preconceptions at the entrance. Just like with craft beer and small-production wineries, the joy of craft hard cider is the unique expression each cider maker brings to his or her product.

apples on table photo
Cider makers are all about the apple. Ask if they have a favorite variety to make their hard cider.

Not every cider will be light and carbonated, like many commercially available hard ciders. Makers may use hops in varying amounts, age in different types of barrels, use single-variety apples, use other fruits, capitalize on the natural yeast flavors, or make other decisions to create their unique ciders. That’s part of the fun trying new ciders and developing our cider palates. With a little experimentation, you just may find a new favorite cider.

  • Designate Your Driver or Reserve your Uber or Lyft

As you get your friends together to attend the event, designate your driver(s) ahead of time. And lavish them with gifts for the sacrifice they will make to get everyone home safely.

If you’re going to hire someone to drive, reserve a couple days ahead to be sure your ride is locked in.

The Day Before

  • Hydrate

A day before the event, start hydrating by drinking lots of water—8 oz. every hour. This will help you get hydrated before the event, which will help with both metabolizing cider and dealing with the effects of a possibly hot day at an outdoor event or a room packed with fellow cider lovers.

  • Weather

If the event is held outdoors, check the weather the day before and prepare either for unlikely rain showers or the more likely bright sun and warm temperatures.

Bring what the weather calls for: rain jacket or umbrella for a sprinkly day, or a hat, sunscreen (tip: apply to the tops of your feet and backs of your legs), sunglasses, and a large water bottle for a typical sunny day. And drink from your water bottle often.

Event Day

Finally! The cider event is here and you can barely contain yourself. But be patient. The doors will open in just a few hours.

In the meantime…

  • Eat
Arkansas Black apple photo
Some hard ciders are made with a single apple variety, like this prized Arkansas Black. Can you taste apple’s characteristics in the finished cider?

Depending on when the event begins, eat a substantial breakfast or lunch, or both, before you arrive. Include protein, good fats (like olive oil or avocado), and some complex carbohydrates. This will help you maintain level blood sugar and better metabolize the hard cider you’ll be sampling.

  • Keep Hydrating

Drink more water in the hours leading up to the opening. Especially if the weather will be hot, coming to the event hydrated will go a long way in helping you enjoy it.

During the Event

After you get your age-verified wristband and tasting glass, the fun begins. Here are few tips to have a blast for the next three or so hours.

  • Pace Yourself

Remember the A-List you created a few days ago? As you enter the event and survey the rows of producer booths, take a few minutes to review your list and see who’s located where. It’s really tempting to jump right in and start tasting at the first booth, but your patience will pay off by rewarding you with the ciders you came to taste early in the day.

If there’s time and capacity after your A-List and B-List are checked off, you can always sample others.

  • Take Breaks

In addition to pacing yourself according to the ciders you most want to try, take a couple breaks. Some outdoor events have lawn games, so play a game of corn hole. Listen and dance to the live music. Drink more water. Sit in the shade. If the event is held indoors, take a break and get some fresh air.

  • Meet the Cider Makers

One of the best things about cider-tasting events is the opportunity to talk with the cider makers and learn more about their process, their passion, and their products. Like any artist, most are excited to share their work and love to talk about the craft.

As you sample ciders, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and then see if you can taste the results of their cider-making decisions.

  • Eat Again
dinner buffet photo
From food trucks to multi-course catered dinners, cider events usually have great food options to keep you going strong.

Most cider events include food, whether it’s great local food trucks, a catered dinner, or other options. Take a break about halfway through the event and enjoy a good meal. Find a place to sit down and enjoy good food, talk with people, and take in the vibe of the event. And try to accompany your meal with good old water.

  • Tasting Plan, Part Two

Make your plan for the second half of the event. Are you making progress on your A and B lists? Will you revisit a few ciders or try some new ones?

  • Decide What to Take Home

Many cider events have a store where you can buy bottles of the ciders you like the most. Your A and B cider lists will help you narrow down your purchases. Be sure to leave enough time to shop, as other cider lovers will be doing the same thing, especially at the end of the event.

Keep Up the Good Work

The next time you open a bottle or can of hard cider, think back to this fun day of tasting, exploring, and learning more about the hard cider world you love. And remember: by attending and enjoying the event, you helped create a successful outcome for the producers and organizers, and you’re helping to keep the craft cider industry strong and growing.

So, keep up the good work and keep enjoying the hard cider lifestyle. We’ll see you at the next cider event.


Cider Tasting Tips

Just like with any fermented beverage, it’s fun to try to name the aromas and tastes, and deduce where they came from.

Ideas to play with:

Smell the cider. What are the first aromas you get? Floral? Herbal? Earthy? Look at the color. Is it pale, deep, clear, murky? Are there bubbles from carbonation, or is it still? Then taste it. Hold the first sip for about 30 seconds. What do you taste? Do the tastes match the initial aromas? Does the taste change as you hold it? With the next tastes, do you pick up different things?

Can you tell if the apples were gathered from an orchard that was next to a eucalyptus grove or in the smoke flume path of a wildfire? Can you taste or smell the naturally occurring yeasts (some may be earthy or funky, but not unpleasant)? Can you taste the barrel used for aging? New oak (vanilla tastes) or neutral oak? Can you tell if the barrel held wine or bourbon before? For single variety ciders, what are the difference between each apple? If other fruit was used during or after fermentation, can you taste it?

How does the carbonation (or stillness) affect the taste or overall character?

There are no right or wrong answers with cider tasting. Have fun with it, explore new tastes, and you’ll find your enjoyment of craft cider growing over time.


Thirsty for more cider event resources? Here are a few to explore:
Hard Core Cider Tour 2016 Comes to SLO County
2nd Annual Central Coast Cider Festival [16 Local Cider Crafters]
Hard Core Cider Tour: Experience the Sparkle
Some Ciders and Cheeses Meet in a Pub, and Here’s What Happened [Bristols Cider House and Fromagerie Sophie Pairing Event]

About Great Flavors

Our mission at Great Flavors is to share with you the best of the Central Coast and help you create your unique journey of discovery through the great flavors—food, cider, wine, activities, events—that surrounds us.

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What’s Hoppening in the Cider World? Find out at the 2018 Central Coast Cider Festival

Have you wondered what’s behind the current trend of adding hops to hard cider? We sure have. And what does it mean to all of us cider fans? 

Now we can all get the scoop at the Central Coast Cider Festival’s educational seminar and brunch (complete with cider-mosas), where we’ll learn about the cidermaking journey from seed to cider.

The event starts at 10:30 on Saturday, May 12, at the SpringHill Suites in Atascadero. During breakfast, Neil Collins from Trees of Antiquity will share his expertise as an apple grower and orchard manager. Trees of Antiquity is a family run orchard in Paso Robles that has specialized in heirloom fruit trees for more than 30 years.

Following brunch, four Central Coast cider makers (who happen to be some of our flavorites) share their perspectives on hops and how they can be used to enhance and diversify cider flavors.

In addition to a short course on hop selection (with hops to touch and smell), there will be a tasting of the ciders that result from these hops.

The best ciders start with the best apples.

Here’s the lineup of speakers and the ciders they’ll be pouring:

  • Raven Lukehart-Smith with Gopher Glen Cider Co: Jack Rabbit
  • Connor Meznarich with Jean Marie Cidery: Bee Hoppy
  • Andrew Jones with Tin City Cider Co: excited to find out
  • Neil Collins with Bristols Cider House: Rackham and Barti Ddu. He will also be moderating the presentation.

“We’re excited to share more of the cider-making world,” said Raven Lukehart-Smith, cidermaker at Gopher Glen Cider Company. “We want to help pique our customers’ curiosity about all the styles of fermentation and flavors waiting to be experienced.”

Tickets are limited for this rare and fun opportunity to learn more from these talented cidermakers. Get your tickets soon at Central Coast Cider Festival  and taste for yourself what’s hop and coming in the cider world.


From Apples to Artistry: The Bristols Cider House Way

Feature Video

In just six steps, Bristols Cider House blends apples, artistry, and a joyful approach to life that’s captured in every hard cider they make.

Bristols Cider House photo
Bristols Cider House, where cider, fun, and friendly people converge.

The Bristols Way: Creativity and Quality

As one of the most established and respected hard cider makers on the Central Coast, this Atascadero-based producer has been creating quality ciders—and fostering a growing community of devoted fans—since 1994.

With a creative approach that produces several distinctive styles and flavors—think beets co-fermented with Granny Smiths in the Mangelwurzel or Newtown Pippins and pomegranates in the Granata—as well as their beloved OG traditional hard cider, Bristols slakes cider lovers’ thirsts in a way that’s always quality, but never boring.

Cidermaking 101: From Apples to Enjoyment

Erich Fleck and Weston Hartley photo
Co-cider makers Erich Fleck and Weston Hartley coax the goodness from apples to a range of creative, quality hard ciders.

Co-cider makers Erich Fleck and Weston Hartley have been overseeing production at Bristols Cider House for about two years. Currently, they produce about 3500 cases (12,000 gallons) of hard cider, with a rotation of more than 60 ciders and about 10 on tap or in bottles.

While it’s relatively simple to make hard cider—press the juice from fresh apples, ferment it, and bottle it—creating a quality hard cider involves art, science, and instinct.

Come along, fellow cider lovers, on tour of Bristols and learn how the six steps of cider making transform the humble apple into creative and inspired hard ciders just waiting for us to try.

Thirsty? We are, too! Let’s get cracking.

Step 1: Apples Aweigh
“We hand-pick most of our apples,” said Erich, “and we tend to focus our picking decisions on the orchards themselves, some of which contain many different varieties of apples.”

Bristols sources apples from as far north as Sonoma County and down the coast to See Canyon outside of Avila Beach in San Luis Obispo County. A few of the varieties they use are Arkansas Black, Black Twig, Braeburn, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Honey Crisp, and Newtown Pippins.

bin of apples
Just one of the many bins of cider apples waiting to be chopped and pressed.

Different varieties ripen at different times of the year, which gives Erich an ever-changing selection of tastes to choose from depending on what he wants to showcase in a cider.

“After we pick the fruit, we press it and let it ferment,” he said. “It’s after that point when we begin to identify all the possible final destinations each cider can have.”

Once the apples are picked, they arrive at Bristols in 850-lb. bins. On any given day, the total weight of apples arriving fluctuates between 10,000 and 20,000 pounds.

Step 2: Rinse. Chop. Press. Repeat.
The crush pad outside the main doors of Bristols is a busy place late June through November, when the press is going.

On the day we filmed the action, the well-oiled team of Erich, Weston, and Scott would press 13,600 pounds of apples in about five hours.

apples in washer
Apples are scooped from the bin to the washer for the next step on their cider journey.

“When we’re finished, we will have about 750 gallons of juice,” said Erich.

Erich picks up one bin with the forklift and brings it to two bins filled with water. By positioning the bin in the center as he raises it, he’s able to dump half the apples into each bin with water.

Next, he lines up a water-filled bin in front of the press machinery and scoops crates of apples into the spray washer.

As the apples make their way to the edge of the washer, Erich discards any leaves or twigs and tosses out any apples that are not worthy of becoming Bristols cider.

From there, the washed apples fall onto the conveyor belt and make their way up the incline to the chopper. It’s a loud, sticky affair that fills the air with the sweet smell of apples and random airborne apple pieces. Scott smartly wears a hat as he works the press with Weston.

Weston pulls open the chopper chute and chunks of apple fall into the square open frame about three inches high that’s lined with cloth. He and Scott spread the apples to the top of the frame, then fold the cloth over to make a neat apple-filled package.

apples on conveyor
Riding up the conveyor belt on the way to the chopper.

They lift the frame, place another cloth on top, and repeat the process several times. When they have several apple packages, they pull the stack underneath the hydraulic press, which slowly crushes the apples and their juice flows into the capture tank.

The juice is now ready for the magical transformation of fermentation.

Step 3: Fermentation: Alchemy of Juice to Cider
As the unfiltered juice is pumped into the waiting barrels, Erich monitors the fill height and pump operation.
“Leaving the juice unfiltered is important because we want the fermentable juice matrix to be as raw and interesting as possible at the onset of its long journey to becoming a cider,” said Erich.

chopped apples waiting for the press
Chopped apples fall to the platform below, where they’re packed into cloth-covered bundles awaiting the press.

He added, “It’s always much easier to filter and clarify later if and when needed than to try and blend some intrigue back in to a blend of ciders later on.”

Erich and Weston usually ferment each apple variety separately to begin with. “This way, we can create different ciders based on the individual characteristics of the variety. Then we choose a blend of ciders that will complement or contrast in a positive way.”

Bristols ferments in both stainless steel (including a 2,500 gallon tank) and wood, which may be new oak or neutral oak barrels, or larger 132-gallon puncheons that once held Rhone blend or Tannat wines from Tablas Creek. They also use barrels that once held spirits, such as bourbon.

All ciders undergo spontaneous fermentation. “This means that the naturally occurring yeasts on the apples starts the fermentation process,” he explained. “And ciders can ‘go bad’—which means they can develop undesirable characteristics—pretty quickly, so we have to keep on top of the fermentation process.”

cider pumped into barrels photo
The fresh, pressed cider is pumped into barrels. Let the fermentation begin.

On the other hand, cider is more forgiving than wine fermentation, which is focused on the chemistry. Wine needs testing throughout fermentation for alcohol level, brix (sugar), free sulpher, and acid level.

While some “farmhouse”-style ciders are still and not bubbly (The Skimmington is one of Bristols’ still ciders), many ciders go through second fermentation to add carbonation.

To add carbonation, “the finished cider goes into the Brite Tank, where we cool it to about 25 degrees Farenheit with our glycol-jacketed tanks,” explained Erich. “This helps reduce the amount of carbon dioxide we need to add via a sparging stone.”

Step 4: Blending: The Cider Maker’s Signature
Making great hard cider is more like following an idea than following a set recipe, and the cider maker learns to bring out the best of each year’s initial fermented batches.

“After fermentation, we taste the cider and then make decisions of how best to use it,” shared Erich.

For example, the fermentation process can result in several outcomes: high pH, lower alcohol, less acid, and so on. All these variations require the cidermaker to make decisions about how to use the cider in a finished product.

While hard ciders don’t have vintages like wine, which reflects the year the grapes were harvested, they can have annual variations in taste.

“For example, our Barti Ddu is always made from Granny Smith apples and English hops, but it can taste different depending on the fruit each year,” said Erich.

One of the hallmarks of Bristols is its creative ciders. As Erich explained, “We believe in being stewards of what’s in the barrel and working to highlight its characteristics rather than force a certain flavor or outcome.”

Sometimes, this can mean creating lemonade from lemons, er, a distinctive cider from interesting components.

Erich Fleck with cider bottle
Co-cidermaker Erich Fleck with one of Bristols great hard ciders.

“We had a ‘Bretty’ tank of finished cider that had a high degree of Brettanomyces yeast. This means the yeast flavor is pronounced, so we capitalized on that and created the Colony cider. By leveraging this characteristic, we made it into a farmhouse cider, and our customers really like it.”

For larger batches of blended ciders that the cider makers are happy with, they’ll use diatomaceous earth filtration as an effective way to inhibit any unwanted microbial activity before it’s bottled.

Step 5: Bottling the Goodness
The bottling process is very labor intensive, using a two-head counter-pressure bottling machine.

“It takes about four days to bottle a new cider,” said Erich, “and a typical run will be about 150 cases.”

Some ciders are bottle conditioned with added yeasts. For example, Black Bart uses saison yeast and Black Beard receives a Champagne/Brettanomyces blend.

Step 6: Drink and Be Merry!
Now for the fun part: enjoying the fruits of Erich and Weston’s efforts. But don’t wait too long.

“One of the great things about making hard cider is the smaller production,” said Erich. “We usually do about 40 kegs of each type, so when they’re gone, they’re gone.”

Come for the Quality, Stay for the Variety

Bristols is known for its consistently great hard cider. But as Erich said, the consistent element is the quality, not the sameness.

bar photo
One of the beautiful things about Bristols is the range of ciders they make.

“We enjoy creating different ciders in different seasons, and offering a list that changes during the year.”

Members of the Cider House Press Gang (Bristols’ cider club) receive three shipments per year, and one product in each shipment is made exclusively for club members.

There’s More to Bristols than Cider

The hard ciders are the obvious reason to visit Bristols Cider House—and often. But there’s more to Bristols than the cider. The place has become a gathering spot for locals and out-of-towners who make a point to stop in on their journey.

Different food options are offered during the week. Currently, Thursday is Curry Night with Chef Jeffrey Scott, Friday is Street Taco Night from Heirloom Catering, and Saturday is Greek Night from Templeton Pizza & Greek Food.

curry and cider photo
Curry Thursday is just one of the current tasty food options, plus taco Fridays and Greek Saturdays. And live music, too.

There’s often live music, and no matter what, the friendly atmosphere at Bristols will soon have you relaxed and kicking back in this English pub that found a new home on the Central Coast.

For More Information
Bristols Cider House
3220 El Camino Real, Atascadero, CA, 93422
(805) 400-5293

Fun Related Stories
For more about the history and background of Bristols Cider House, read
Bristols Cider House: The Art of Hard Cider

To learn about more about Tablas Creek, where Bristols owner and founder Neil Collins is the winemaker, read
Winery Spotlight: Tablas Creek Vineyard

Quick Tour of Selected Bristols Ciders
Bristols Cider House offers a wide range of hard ciders, from the traditional dry and lightly carbonated ciders to “Farmhouse” style ciders that are still, sometimes murky, and oftentimes complex.
Here’s a quick look at their current offerings.

  • Antiquity. Blend of Pink Lady, Golden Delicious, New Town Pippins. Fermented and aged in new whisky barrels.
  • Bristols Original (The OG). A fresh and classically styled English dry cider.
  • Bristols Skimmington. A still farmhouse scrumpy with Brettanomyces yeast. Skimmington is murky and still, rather than carbonated. The Brett brings out a sweet, yeasty flavor and aroma.
  • Bristols Granata. Named after the Latin word for pomegranate, this pretty pink and tart cider blends Newtown Pippin and pomegranate ciders. The Granata is a lovely garnet-hued cider that has a bit of a bite.
  • Bristols Barti Ddu. It’s a 100% Granny Smith apple cider that is dry hopped using English hops. Even if you don’t like hoppy cider, try this one. It just may change your mind.
  • Bristols Black Beard. This cider, from a variety of applies like Arkansas Black, Black Twig, Honey Crisp, and Newtown Pippen, is aged 18 months in bourbon barrels. The result is the masculine side of bourbon (not the sweet vanilla side), and is slightly yeasty and definitely complex.

Hard Core Cider Tour: Experience the Sparkle (2018)

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Nine Ways the Hard Core Cider Tour Creates a Sparkling Guest Experience that You Don’t Want to Miss 

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Hard Core Cider Tour — 2018
San Luis Obispo / October 13: El Chorro Regional Park, 2910 Dairy Creek Rd.
San Diego / October 20: Embarcadero Marina Park South, 200 Marina Park Way
Time: : 1:00 – 4:00 pm
$5 off Promo Code:: GREATFLAVORS

There are oodles of beer festivals, wine-tasting events, and even a bubbly fest or two. But there aren’t many events devoted to quality hard cider and the people who make it possible.

And that’s a shame. Because gathering hard cider makers in a singular event leads to a downright flavor-filled experience.

Fortunately for California cider lovers, the Hard Core Cider Tour has arrived.

A Festival With a Different Flavor

The Hard Core Cider Tour is not your everyday beer fest, simply swapping cider for suds. No, this event is different and it’s why we, The Flavor Team, are such fans and want to share it with you.

What Makes it Special

Albert Martinez photo
Albert Martinez, founder of the Hard Core Cider Tour, ensures every detail is about the guest experience.

So, what is it about the Hard Core Cider Tour that makes for such a great event?

In two words: guest experience.

And that is all because of the Hard Core Cider Tour founder and Chief Cider Squad Leader Albert Martinez.

Martinez cut his event teeth on putting together top-notch tequila-centered events. Lucky for all of us cider fans, he shifted his organizational talents to create the Hard Core Cider Tour and the quality experience he envisioned for the event centered on the world of craft hard cider.

“Every aspect of the Hard Core Cider Tour is focused on keeping the experience guest-centric,” explained Martinez. “From the moment they purchase their tickets online to the time they head for the exit when the event is over, I want our guests to have enjoyed one of the best experiences ever.”

And it’s not just the guests who enjoy this event. Martinez is always excited to invite new cider makers to participate in the event and appreciates those who have been on the tour previously. He strives to create an environment and an event where the cider makers have a good venue to share their ciders with both newcomers and devoted fans of hard cider.

crowd photo
Happy guests at the SLO Hard Core Cider Tour.

He’s also instituted a unique participation model for the cider makers, so it’s a mutually beneficial experience and event. Showcasing great ciders in a fun environment allows both the cider makers and the Hard Core Cider Tour to gain new fans and strengthen their relationships with existing fans.

Here are a few reasons we believe this event is so worthwhile, and why you’ll want to be sure to attend this year’s Hard Core Cider Tour in any of its locations.

vendor pouring cider photo
There’s never too long a wait for the next sample of hard cider, which is exactly the intention of the guest experience fostered by event founder and organizer, Albert Martinez.

How the Hard Core Cider Tour Sparkles

1. Minimal lines and wait times. Because Martinez purposely maintains a good ratio of vendors to guests, there are few lines for guests waiting to taste cider. Unlike some events, wait time for a tasting is usually just a few minutes, and if one booth is busy, just try to another and come back. The lines ebb and flow and it’s always possible to find a cider maker waiting to pour you their best cider.

Redemption Brass photo
Redemption Brass band playing at a recent Hard Core Cider Tour.
Cider Squad photo
Just one of the Cider Squads (groups of eight or more) having a great time and proudly wearing their limited edition t-shirts.

2. Reasonable prices. Considering there is no limit (except your wisdom in self-limiting) in the numbers of ciders you can taste, the ticket price is a great value. You can try all 20+ ciders, and revisit those you like the best. You’re not limited to a handful of tastes.
3. Fun, low-key crowd. Guests are happy, smiling, gracious, and thoughtful, whether they’re joining with another group to play a jumbo lawn game, taking turns at the port-o-potties, placing orders at the food trucks, or sharing tips on the cider makers you have to try next. No doubt this stems from the overall experience of the event.
4. Great music. Each year, Martinez finds an awesome group that will add fun and uplifting energy to the event, and he books them for all the tour stops. Guests can dance, sit and listen, or have the beat as the backdrop of their cider tasting experience. Guests love the music and the band gets exposure to new potential fans. Win-win.
5. Food trucks, free water, and shade. You know those events where the line for the food truck wraps around like a boa constrictor? And even though it’s an outdoor event, there’s no free water? And people are about to keel over from heat stroke because there’s no shade? Hard Core Cider Tour is none of that. There are ample food trucks, a booth with self-serve free water, and plenty of shade and seating to relax and get out of the sun.

lawn games photo
Jumbo lawn games draw fierce competition among cider revelers.

6. Variety of ciders. Each stop on the Hard Core Cider Tour brings cider fans a great range of ciders, many of which may be new to guests. This leads to a fun afternoon of setting out on a cider-tasting adventure as you work your way through the booths. From ciders made in wine and bourbon barrels to add flavor, to fruit infusions, and different styles of yeasts, you’ll be able to taste unique hand-crafted ciders and may find a new favorite.
7. Well-run team. Martinez hires his Cider Crew for the season, so the cohesive team creates the smoothly running event. From the entrance tent where guests pick up their mini cider tasting mugs to the Cider Store tent where guests can buy their favorite ciders before they head home, the team provides guest service backed up with familiarity and knowledge of what to do.
8. Appreciating guests with special touches. Martinez has developed a great idea: the Cider Squad ticket package. Groups of eight or more became Cider Squad members and receive a free limited-edition t-shirt and group pricing. For Designated Drivers, he often provides a nonalcoholic beverage and a snack. He implemented The Core Store in response to feedback from guests saying they would enjoy buying cider to take home.
9. Supporting the community. Each stop on the Hard Core Cider Tour benefits a local nonprofit in the community. Often, these are cycling-oriented groups that foster access, education, and awareness. For example, the beneficiary of the SLO Tour is Bike SLO County.

All this adds up to a truly sparkling and enjoyable experience.

Flavor Team photo
The Flavor Team had such a great time at last year’s Hard Core Cider Tour that we volunteered to do pre-event publicity to spread the word about this fun day to encourage many others to experience the sparkle for themselves.

Experience the Cider Tour Sparkle for Yourself

If you’ve been to the Hard Core Cider Tour, you know how fun it is. And like us, you’re anticipating the Tour’s stop in your city.

If you haven’t yet attended the Hard Core Cider Tour, you’re in for a treat. Do yourself a favor and get your tickets soon. (Use promo code GREATFLAVORS to get $5 off your ticket). And sign up for the event email list to be in the loop with tour dates and news.

You’ll have a great time, and we look forward to meeting you there.

Until then, keep the hard cider vibe going: explore new tastes, have fun, and enjoy life.

For more information:
Hard Core Cider Tour
Bike SLO County

Ticket Contest: Grab a friend and head to the Tour

Grab a Friend contest graphic
Like, Tag and Share this with a friend and you both might win a free ticket to the SLO Hard Core Cider Tour on Saturday, Oct. 21!

What’s better than attending the SLO Hard Core Cider Tour this Saturday, Oct. 21?

Attending for free! With a friend!

How, you ask? Simple—just Like our Facebook page (@gr8flavors), and Tag & Share this post with a friend for a chance to win two free tickets.

The hardest part might be choosing just one friend. So the more friends you Tag and Share with, the more chances you have to win.

One winner will receive two free tickets, chosen randomly from everyone who Likes Tags, & Shares by 9:00 pm PDT today 10/18. The winner will be announced here on Thursday morning.

Remember, you must be age 21 or over to enter!

Cheers and good luck!

SLO Hard Core Cider Tour
Saturday, October 21, 2017
El Chorro Regional Park
2910 Dairy Creek Rd, San Luis Obispo, CA 93405
1:00 – 4:00 pm
21-and-over event

Drink Cider. Do Good: Hard Core Cider Tour Benefits Bike SLO County

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When you buy a ticket to the San Luis Obispo Hard Core Cider Tour on October 21, you may change a person’s life for the better, forever.

Every stop on the Hard Core Cider Tour designates a bike-related nonprofit as its event beneficiary, and Bike SLO County will again benefit from proceeds earned from the second annual event at El Chorro Regional Park.

The proceeds from just four tickets—about $150—provides the funding for Bike SLO County to donate one bicycle as part of its RideWell program.

“Through RideWell, we give deserving people a bicycle, helmet, chain and lock, and a cycling safety class,” said Steve Akers, communications director with Bike SLO County.

“For many recipients, this gift can mean the difference between having a job and being unemployed,” he said. This can mean the difference between paying rent and being on the street. Between a future that looks bleak and the opportunity to have a better life.

Bike SLO County Bike Valet volunteers
Bike SLO County provides free valet parking for your bike at the SLO Hard Core Cider Tour. Peddle on out to El Chorro Park and spend the $5 you save on parking a car to buy lunch or a bottle of your favorite cider from the Cider Store at the event.

Hard Core Cider Tour chairman Albert Martinez has chosen to benefit cycling nonprofits for several reasons. “When I began cycling to work, I saw the need for cycling safety education and driver awareness,” he said.

“Plus cycling provides benefits of reducing the number of cars and related emissions and it’s a great activity for people of all ages.”

In addition to receiving a portion of the proceeds from each ticket, this year’s designated nonprofits will also benefit from the new Cider Stores debuting on this year’s Tour. When guests purchase bottles of their favorite hard ciders to take home, the cycling beneficiary will receive a percentage of profits from the Cider Store.

Win, win, win.

In addition to the RideWell program, the Hard Core Cider Tour donation will help support other Bike SLO County programs, including the Bike Kitchen—a DIY repair shop that also provides expert assistance from a bike mechanic—a full bicycle safety education program, starting with 4th graders, and a range of bicycling education classes for kids through adults.

Bike SLO County logo

Bike SLO County will also provide a free Bike Valet at the Tour, so peddle on out to El Chorro Regional Park and park your steed for free while you enjoy the event.

To benefit Bike SLO County even more, stop by the Bike SLO County Bike Kitchen and get your tickets there. Or, order online from this designated site:  Both options will earmark a greater portion of the proceeds for Bike SLO County.

Hard Core Cider Tour tickets can be purchased at the Bike Kitchen (860 Pacific St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401, corner of Morro and Pacific) during open hours:
Wednesday 12:00 – 5:00 PM
Thursday 12:00 – 6:00 PM
Friday 12:00 – 5:00 PM
Saturday 12:00 – 5:00 PM

We’ll see you at the Hard Core Cider Tour on Saturday, and we’ll give you a Great Flavors mini-mug toast for your support of cycling and your fellow citizens in SLO County.


For more information

Bike SLO County
860 Pacific St, Suite 105
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
(805) 547-2055

Branch to Bottle: Gopher Glen’s Hard Cider Journey

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Gopher Glen feature image

Fernando puts his arms through the shoulder straps of the canvas apple carrier and pulls the cords to cinch up the bottom opening. His team does the same, ready for another day in the orchard. Today’s focus: Nittany apples.

It’s still early but the day promises to be hot. For now, dappled shade between rows of dwarf apple trees provides some welcome coolness.

Freddy, Toni, Alisha, Marco, and Arturo join Fernando in the orchard. Many have been working together at Gopher Glen for a nearly a decade, and Fernando has been part of Gopher Glen’s success for 38 years.

picking Nitany apples
Picking the best Nittany apples.

The team works through each row together, reaching through the branches to pick the ripe apples. As they pick the best fruit to place in their bags, their trained eyes also pick the fruit that won’t be sold and drop those to the ground.

Later, the ground-dropped fruit that’s not damaged will be collected, washed, and used to make their fresh pressed cider or hard cider. Damaged fruit is left to decompose back into the soil, completing the cycle of this organic farm.

Freddy climbs the aluminum orchard ladder tucked between the trees and picks the ripe fruit from the top branches. As each tree yields its treasures, he picks up the ladder and keeps moving it down the row.

canvas apple carrier
Tools of the trade.

Apple after apple is hand-picked and placed gently in the canvas carrier. When it’s full, it will weigh about 30 pounds, depending on the apple variety. As team members fill their bags, they walk back to the waiting wooden bins on the flatbed hitched to the tractor.

First, they take apples from the top of the carrier and gently nestle a layer of apples in the box. Next, they hoist their carrier over the box and loosen the cords.

“Apples are hard,” said Fernando, “but they’re not rocks. They bruise very easily if they’re just dumped in the box.”

With the bottom of the carrier open, they lift the bag and allow the apples to gently fill the rest of the box. Then they cinch the bottom of the carrier closed again and head back to the orchard.

The cycle repeats, for up to 10 hours a day.

Fernando photo
Fernando’s expertise with the orchards and agricultural cycles at Gopher Glen started when he was 16 years old.

From June through November, Fernando and his team pick the best apples for Gopher Glen from the three orchards that span 60 acres and grow more than 100 apple varieties, many of them heirloom or found only at the farm. Mohawk, Heavenscent and others were developed by Gopher Glen.

unloading apples into boxes
Carefully unloading apples from the carrier to the wooden boxes.

Once the boxes are unloaded at the back side of the farmstand, they apples will be sorted according to their final destination: organic fruit sold in the farmstand, fresh-pressed apple cider, and the farm’s newest offering: hard cider.

Gopher Glen’s Early Days

Since 1971, the orchards at Gopher Glen Organic Apple Farm have been producing heirloom and signature apple varieties. In fact, it’s the oldest commercial apple orchard on the San Luis Obispo coast.

Current owners Debbie and Bruce Smith moved to the area in 1981, and they raised their seven kids in the surrounding countryside. Debbie managed the farmstand for 25 years for the first owners of Gopher Glen, and when the owner sadly died, she and Bruce bought the farm in 2006.

Gopher Glen orchard
A peaceful path through one of Gopher Glen’s organically farmed orchards.

Of all their children, Jake was the one who followed in his mother’s agricultural footsteps. Jake, with his wife Raven Lukehart-Smith, took the reins as Gopher Glen’s farmers, tending the apple orchards as well as the vegetable crops sold at the farmstand.

Jake’s twin brother, Jesse, is a chef and uses Gopher Glen produce in his creations for The Farmers Guild Catering company he owns.

picking apples of tall branches
Climbing high on the orchard ladder to get the best fruit at the top branches.

Jake’s vision was to transition the land to organic farming, and Gopher Glen received its organic status in 2016.

Hard Cider Comes to Gopher Glen

Although fresh-pressed nonalcoholic cider has been a popular product since Gopher Glen was founded, the decision to make hard cider is a recent chapter in the farm’s history.

Apple variety tasting board
Gopher Glen grows nearly 100 varieties of apples, with many heirloom and unique strains, and makes the world of apples come alive in different tastes and expressions.

Eight years ago, when Jake and Raven took on the farming responsibilities for Gopher Glen, they started exploring more ways to use the goodness of the organic apples they grow.

“Our cider is hand-pressed right here; it’s fresh, raw, and fruitful, and nothing’s added or taken away,” said Raven.

As they began exploring ideas, they realized it’s rare for a hard cider maker to also grow their own apples and press the juice on site.

Raven and Jake Lukehart-Smith
Raven and Jake Lukehart-Smith oversee the farming of Gopher Glen.

“We realized we had something special to share, so we decided to bring Gopher Glen Hard Cider to the market,” she said.

“It took a couple years to develop our process, and we’ve had great mentorship from others in the Central Coast hard cider community,” she said. “Mikey Giugni at Scar of the Sea and Tin City has been hugely helpful.”

The Press: First Stop on the Cider-Making Journey

The swinging wooden door off the main farmstand area muffles the sound of the press, but it doesn’t stop it.

apple press
The clean press waiting to turn the next bin of apples into fresh-pressed cider.

Built by Raven’s father, using some parts that are 100 years old, the press transforms apples into juice (called cider, since nothing is added or taken away).

First, apples from the water-filled bin make their way up the conveyor belt, which takes them through the wash section and up to the chopper. From there, they drop into a chute that sits above a canvas-lined frame. The chute door is pulled open and the chopped apples fill the frame. When it’s full, the canvas is folded into a neat square, the empty frame is placed on top, and process repeats.

When several canvas squares are stacked, they’re positioned under press. Slowly, with 2000 PSI, the press descends and the apples release their juice. It’s pumped to the bottling area, where plastic bottles are filled and capped, ready to be sold in the farmstand.

Raven and Fernando
Raven and Fernando, seeing to the day-to-day operations of Gopher Glen’s orchards.

The process to press the juice for their hard cider is a bit different. “We purposefully select the apple varietals that will make the best hard cider, balancing tannin with sugar,” said Raven. The juice is then pressed into the fermentation tanks or into a tank which can be transported.

Next Step: Fermentation

Once the cider is pressed, it makes its way to In Vino where Raven and Jake start processing the cider for fermentation. Over a span of three to four weeks, the cider is checked once or twice a week to make sure the fermentation process is running smoothly.

Arkansas Black apple on branch
The nearly black deep purple Arkansas Black is one of the last apples to ripen and is the centerpiece of Gopher Glen’s Arkansas Black hard cider.

“Righteous Apple and Espana Sidra will be complete within two months, with the quick turn-around provided by the stainless steel containers and added yeast,” explained Raven.

“Field Run and Arkansas Black will take three to four months from fermentation to bottle, being oak barrel-aged and fermented using the wild yeast from the Gopher Glen orchard.”

Raven on tractor
When she’s not at the farm, Raven is a part-time lecturer at Cal-Poly’s Animal Science Department, teaching Holistic Management and weaving in the experiences and methods used at Gopher Glen .

As soon as the ciders are bottled and labeled, they can return home to the orchard for sales.

Current Offerings

Gopher Glen currently makes about 500 cases of hard cider.

row of hard cider bottles
The current line-up of hard ciders includes two that are fermented with native yeasts in neutral French oak barrels (Field Run and Arkansas Black) and two fermented in stainless steel (Espana Sidra, which is still, and Righteous Apple).

Sold inside the farmstand, Gopher Glen currently offers four hard ciders, alongside the 45 varieties of squash, heirloom tomatoes, and peaches grown by Jake, plus honey, olive oil, and gift items.

Field Run. “We use 15 varieties of apples, which allows for some complex flavors to come through,” said Raven. Fermented in neutral French oak with native yeast, dry. Four months barrel aged and lightly filtered. Notes of oak, tart apple, citrus, nuts, mineral. 100 cases, 750 ml., 8% alc.
Arkansas Black. “The Arkansas Black apple is a deep red/purple, almost black, with nutty and tea flavors. It’s also one of the last apples to ripen and is ready to pick in November.” Single apple heirloom varietal. Fermented in neutral French oak with native yeast, dry. Four months barrel aged and lightly filtered. Notes of leather and tea leaf. 60 cases, 750 ml., 8% alc.
Espana Sidra. “This is a very refreshing cider, unlike any found in the county at this time.” It contains five heirloom apple varieties. Fermented in stainless steel. Dry and lightly filtered. Floral and fresh apple aromatics with notes of citrus, melon, pear. Made in the still (noncarbonated) style, as the Basque Spaniards enjoy their cider. Similar to clean, crisp white wine. 175 cases, 650 ml., 7.5% alc.
Righteous Apple. “This is my favorite on a hot summer day, super light, bubbly, with notes of candy apple.” It’s made with five heirloom apple varieties. Fermented in stainless steel. Dry and lightly filtered. Floral and fresh apple aromatics with notes of citrus, melon, pear with effervescence. 175 cases, 650 ml., 7.5% alc.

“Because we grow our apples, we’ll always have rotating ciders to showcase different apples and ideas,” shared Raven. “We’ll also always do a single varietal cider, which are rare in the hard cider marketplace.”

Different apples bring different qualities, so Raven and Jake pick from among the 65 varieties they have at Gopher Glen. “Heirloom apples have more tannins and tart flavor,” she said, “and infusions are fun. This year, we’ll be doing a Gravenstein hard cider and we’re looking for a potential infusion.”

Looking Ahead at Gopher Glen

While Fernando and his team have just begun their day, my time in the orchard has sadly come to an end. As I say thanks to everyone, Fernando gives me two Nittany appples from the tree. What a gift. I can’t wait to taste them. And even after they’re gone, I will remember this day.

Righteous Apple cider in glasses
The refreshing lightness of Righteous Apple hard cider on a warm afternoon.

Back inside the farmstand, Raven’s waiting on customers but takes a minute to say goodbye.

She points up the hill, across the tree tops of the orchard where I was.

“We plan to build a tasting room that overlooks the orchard,” she said. “Gopher Glen is such a special place, and we want to share the beauty with our customers.”

And a bit further in the future, the Gopher Glen team wants to open a cider house in Avila.

We say cheers to that. Stop by Gopher Glen soon and pick up a bottle of one of their estate grown, branch to bottle hard ciders—and a bag of the apples they came from.

And taste for yourself at the SLO Hard Core Cider Tour on October 21.

Gopher Glen Fun Facts
• 100 varieties of apples grown on the farm
• Six-month growing season
• Orchards are terrace farmed
• About 60 acres are planted with apple trees, and spread among three orchards
• Dwarf trees make harvesting much easier
• Ongoing experimentation with developing new crosses and hybrids.
• Daily harvests can pick 3-4 varieties, with up to 500 lbs of fruit
• Each tree will have two to four pickings to harvest the ripe fruit
• Apple ripeness stages: grassy / starchy / bready / ripe with maximum sweetness

For More Information
Gopher Glen Organic Apple Farm
2899 See Canyon Road, San Luis Obispo, CA