Hard cider makers look to join Charlotte’s craft brew scene

Charlotte’s hopping craft brew scene could soon welcome an addition to the fold: homegrown hard cider.

Two groups of Charlotte-area home-brewers hope to bring the city’s first cider houses by this fall.

GoodRoad CiderWorks, created by Brian Beauchemin and Kevin Martin, and Red Clay Ciderworks, founded by Denver, N.C., residents Jay and Deanna Bradish, are both considering spaces in South End.

Hard cider, a fizzy, gluten-free alcoholic drink made by fermenting fresh apple juice, represents but a fraction of the craft brew market – about 1 percent last year. But it’s quickly growing in popularity.

“Beer drinkers will consider it their wine and wine-drinkers consider it their beer,” Beauchemin said.

Many of the world’s largest brewers are jumping on the trend. Just this year, Anheuser-Busch InBev introduced Johnny Appleseed Hard Apple Cider and MillerCoors launched Smith & Forge Hard Cider.

In 2012, sales of the top-10 cider brands grew by nearly 63 percent, Beverage Media Group reported, and domestic cider sales tripled between 2007 and 2012.

Jay Bradish, whose day job is in the purchasing department at Synder’s-Lance, has been making his own wine, beer and cider for more than a decade. He’s won several awards at the Great Lakes International Cider and Perry Association competition, in the non-professional category. (Perry is a cider from pear juice.)

The couple registered their business with the N.C. Secretary of State in April 2013.

Beauchemin used to be part-owner of a local boutique investment firm. He recently stopped his work as a foreign-currency trader to work on the cider house full time.

He and Martin have not yet registered with the Secretary of State, but they plan to do so soon. They have filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to trademark the GoodRoad CiderWorks name.

Beauchemin said GoodRoad will have three core cider offerings year-round – dry, semi-dry and English varieties – as well as a series of experimental ciders and a mead made from fermented honey.

The Red Clay ciders will be predominantly American-style, Deanna Bradish said, with a few twists: one specialty cider will have hops, another will be infused with herbs, one will be aged in bourbon barrels.

The Bradishes met Beauchemin at a cider conference in Chicago earlier this year, and found they’ve both faced a hurdle in finding a desirable location that meets the zoning requirements.

Here’s why: They’re dealing with the same regulations breweries and wineries faced before the Charlotte City Council passed a new brewery ordinance in June 2013.

Previously, new breweries that didn’t serve food had only been allowed in industrial areas. The new ordinance allowed breweries and wineries to open in urban zoning districts, such as mixed-use and transit-oriented development areas including South End.

The GoodRoad and Red Clay counterparts partnered in April to apply for an amendment that would add “cider and mead production” to the ordinance as a form of winery.

City zoning staff did not respond to request for comment on Friday.

Deanna Bradish hopes Red Clay will be able to partner with some local breweries, each serving the others’ drinks.

“We can work together to improve the experience for the consumer,” she said.