Peter and Meredith DeLeeuw started making hard cider with a Mr. Beer kit while students at Texas A&M. The Texas natives loved it so much that come fall of 2019, they’ll be creating their own unique concoctions, from scratch, at Century Tree Cider in Memphis, which will begin construction this spring.
The couple, both 28, moved from Dallas two years ago for Peter’s medical residency with the University of Tennessee Health System. Meanwhile, Meredith, who has a bachelor’s degree in food science, spends her days working on architectural, design, permits and construction plans for the cidery, in addition to social media and community outreach.
So, why cider? Neither is a big beer fan, but when a gluten-sensitive college friend named Chris introduced them to the fermented hard apple beverage, they were intrigued. “Chris had lived in the U.K. for a while where cider is huge and never lost its way like it did in the U.S. Cider is great for him because it’s naturally gluten-free.” But it’s not alcohol-free; the average cider has an alcohol content between 6 percent and 7 percent.
Hard apple cider is making a comeback in the United States. Cider drinkers are mostly college-educated, younger adults between 21 and 44, with women drinking as much as men.
“The South is really the last frontier for cider, which is mostly because we are not a big apple growing region,” Meredith explains. “That being said, we saw the success of many cideries in the northwest as well as Bishop Cidery in Dallas, which originally made us wonder if we could do this full time.”
To find the answer to that question, Meredith, the self-proclaimed “head ciderwoman,” set out to learn everything she could about the business before committing to the venture. That immersion included a weeklong intensive course at Oregon State University called “How to open your own cidery.”
Meredith says she is passionate about product development and innovation and is constantly experimenting on the next batch of cider, which she currently makes at home (albeit in small batches). That scientific and experimental way of approaching cider is what makes Century Tree unique, she says.
“Everyone in Memphis drinks us immediately out of cider the moment we make it,” says Meredith. “We can’t make it fast enough.”
The process of building a new business has taken a lot longer than they’d expected, and politics is part of it. “There are always a lot of challenge with opening a craft-alcohol business,” Meredith explains. “From the (Federal) government shutdown affecting new permits being issued to local zoning ordinances, everything can be slightly more complicated when you add alcohol to the equation. But we have been very blessed so far to not have any of that set us back significantly.”
The cidery’s third partner and co-founder is Audrey O’Neil, Meredith’s mother, who provided much of the funding and brings a wealth of business expertise. They intentionally have not pursued any other investors, but did take out a business loan.
“One thing that was very important to us was to have full control and autonomy of our company and direction,” Meredith explains. “There are many decisions that investors would not agree with, that are non-negotiable for us.”
One of those non-negotiables is the insistence on using only fresh-pressed apple juice, which will be delivered on refrigerated trucks from Virginia and Oregon. While it’s certainly more expensive than using apples from concentrate, they were not willing to bend.
The 6,500 square foot cidery will feature a large taproom with 15 taps and a two-story porch. Customers will also get to choose from a few rotating local beers and other U.S. craft ciders, as well as seasonal and special releases. The pricing will be similar to craft beers: $6 to $8 for a tulip of cider, and $13 to $15 for a flight.
The DeLeeuws think their Double Hop will be popular with craft beer drinkers because the hops in hard cider leave behind a hoppy aroma and taste, without the bitterness. Tupelo Honey, which is fermented completely dry and then back-sweetened with — you guessed it — Tupelo honey, has also been a big hit. Both will be available year-round. Some of their experimental flavors include Pecan Pie and Black Currant with blackberry honey.
“We want to change the way the world thinks about cider,” Meredith says. “We are a small group whose mission is to push the boundaries of fermentations through scientific method, innovative flavors, and quality ingredients, while inspiring our community and curiosity one sip at a time.”