Boise Drinks: Apples to Apples

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In 2015, beer and wine were king and queen in Boise and the Treasure Valley. Every other week another watering hole would swing open its doors for business, and it was in that season of brewers' yeasts and fruit presses that Meriwether Cider got its start, handing out samples, and selling bottles at the Capital City Public Market and the Boise Farmers Market.

"It was a nice introduction," said Meriwether Co-owner Molly Leadbetter. "Then, we did some beer festivals as well. That really helped at least sow the seeds for what we were going to do."

Those seeds would eventually grow into a mighty tree: a taproom and production facility in Garden City, and a cider house downtown that opened in early September 2018, marking a turning point for Meriwether and cider in Boise, generally.

Prior to Meriwether, cider in Boise was an import, and what little of it there was at the neighborhood bar came from mass-market cideries. The Leadbetter family—Molly and her sister Kate, mother Ann and father Gig—started the company after seeing the popularity of cider abroad, but anticipated an uphill battle getting their product in local bars.

"I was super ready for all these hard-ass tactics," Molly said, "and Boise was, like, 'Oh, thank God, a local cider on tap. We've had Angry Orchard on for so long.' That was really nice."

Angry Orchard had cracked open a door for ciders in Boise, but Meriwether stepped through it with a product that had no artificial coloring, flavors or sugars, and Boise took it as one of its own. Not all of the mass-market purveyors of the world include those elements, Molly said, but she doesn't turn up her nose at the companies that laid the groundwork for her own cidery's success.

"Definitely Angry Orchard helped a ton," she said. "If anybody badmouths Angry Orchard in the cider industry, you know that they're just shooting themselves in the foot: They were the ones that put the millions of dollars into marketing."

That said, patrons won't find watered-down, artificially infused ciders at the new tap house. In addition to the full line of Meriwether products, staff will serve ciders from Idaho spots like Cider Sisters, Longdrop and Stack Rock, and others from across the U.S. and Europe, from 20 taps and in bottles.

"Cider house" is an old term with a new meaning. Of late, it has come to mean a taproom fronted by a local cidery that serves its competitors' beverages next to its own. The Meriwether Cider House will be the first business of its kind in Idaho and one of just a handful in the U.S. With an indoor/outdoor vibe, cozy bar setup and an even more intimate upstairs seating area, it's a commanding outpost for Boise's preeminent cidery, and Meriwether's staff is training to become certified cider professionals—"the cider equivalent of a cicerone or sommelier," Molly said.

The cider house would be a poor business strategy were it not for some peculiarities of the industry. According to Forbes, overall cider sales in the U.S. have dropped in recent years, from $536 million in 2015 to $470 million in 2017. During that same period, however, the smaller cider brands that make up a mere 25 percent of total cider sales grew by 41 percent in 2016 and 30 percent in 2017. Small, ascendent cideries like Meriwether have a lot to cheer about: A decade ago, 1 percent of legal drinkers said cider was their beverage of choice. Today, that number is 4 percent, and Molly said with education and exposure, she and her fellow craft cideries can continue to turn their product into people's genuine preference.

"I think people are ready for it now," she said.

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