The craft alcohol scene in the St. Louis area over the past years has built itself up a wide variety of styles for the city and county’s residents. From the Katy and Derivation at 2nd Shift and Side Project, the Norton and Vignole wines at various locations off Route 94, to the JJ Newcombe and Vermont Nights whiskeys at Square One Distillery, it’s hard not to find a relaxing beverage of choice. Whether it’s a night out with friends or a rough day after work, there’s something for everyone. We even have a place dedicated to kombucha now. But up until this year we’ve never had a cidery set up shop. That changed when Russ John, a local orchard owner and home cidermaker, announced his purchase of the old fire station on Washington Ave back in April 2017. His intentions? Opening up St. Louis’s first ciderpub, Brick River Cider Company.
“We are having a lot of fun,” said John when we stopped by for the soft opening on Tuesday. “Building this has been a two year process and it is fun to finally be able to share it with people. Starting a new business is always challenging, throwing in a year long rehab of a 125 year old building raised that stress exponentially.”
But while Russ had a plan in mind to serve cider to a thirsty public interested in something different, he also needed a dedicated brewer. Or cidermaker in this case. So John approached Evan Hiatt, the former head brewer at Six Row and Pappo’s Pizza & Brew Co.
“It’s a small community here,” said Hiatt, “One of the guys from Six Row knew Russ and introduced him and I a while back and we kept in touch. Once things started changing with Pappo’s last year, the conversation started to get a little more serious. My background is originally in winemaking, and it has a lot in common with cidermaking with the acids, fruit and fermentation involved. The only real difference is the carbonation. I’m really happy to use the expertise I got as a winemaker again here.”
Brick River is now open for business, however Hiatt has been working on their year-round recipes since the fall. “Right now we have four ciders we’ve worked on with the 60 BBL system we installed in August. One is your standard semi-sweet cider, filtered and clear. Another is a tart cherry cider with hibiscus, one we dry hopped with French Alsatian hops, and the last is a style called scrumpy. It’s a farmhouse style cider that’s unfiltered and on the hazy side, it’s definitely different.”
None of the ciders being served at Brick River will be made from concentrate. John and Hiatt’s plan is to have the cidermaking done with as much real fruit as possible, leveraging their orchard and other apple producers in the area, and to have the cidery be a place for everyone. “We’ll be using locally sourced apples and fresh-pressing them for juice for nearly all our batches. While we’ll have the year-round ciders, we’ll also be looking at doing seasonal and special releases as we go along including different fruits and ingredients along the way” said Hiatt.
“We are putting forward a real community space,” said John. “You can relax and have a drink and watch the games in our tasting room, or head to our full restaurant upstairs in the old fireman’s quarters for more of a full sit down restaurant experience. We’ll be giving tours of the ciderworks regularly this first month, so anybody interested can come learn a little about the process as well.”
During the soft opening we got to try some of the ciders on tap as well as the cuisine. Homestead, the scrumpy mentioned earlier, is a nice and hazy unfiltered cider that is on the sweeter side but has just the right amount of acidity and some trace amounts of tannin to balance it out perfectly. The Firehouse Rosé is a sparkling cider that looks and drinks like a sparkling rosé wine. Tart and floral, it’s good by itself but would mix well with spirits. Brewer’s Choice, their dry-hopped cider, is spicy and slightly earthy in the aroma while the flavor reminds you of a saison. As for the food, the chicken and biscuit sliders are made from scratch (and were quite tasty with a basil dip), and the sandwich/entree menu that night contained fare such as cider braised pork, cast iron steak, and mushroom risotto. And if you’re still looking for a beer, Brick River has guest taps from local favorites such as Civil Life, Perennial and 2nd Shift just to name a few.
Brick River Cider Co. is now open Tuesday through Thursday from 5 PM to 11 PM, Friday and Saturday from 11 AM to 1 AM, and Sunday from 11 AM to 5 PM. For more information, visit their website or follow them on Twitter and Facebook.