Cheese Nerd Turns to Cider After Trip Through Europe: Q&A with Big B’s Cider


Big B's Cider started three years ago when Shawn Larson decided it would be fun to make cider professionally.

Big B’s Cider started three years ago when Shawn Larson decided it would be fun to make cider professionally.

Coloradan cidermaker for Big B’s Cider decided to make cider after realizing cider pairs really well with his beloved cheese.

Written by Tess Jewell-Larsen
Photographs provided by Shawn Larson

In the North Fork Valley of western Colorado, about an hour and forty-five minutes driving from Grand Junction, exists a community dedicated to the sustainable and organic farming. And what better way to go back to sustainable farming than to make cider. Not the sweet, sticky and chemical commercial hard cider that was the only thing offered for years, but true craft cider.

Shawn Larson, the cidermaker for Big B’s Cider, was more interested in cheeses than in cider until he took a trip to Europe in 2005. In France and Spain he learned that true cider is more than Hornsby’s. And [un]surprisingly the different ciders he found in his travels paired quite fantastically with the different craft cheeses he tried. Experimenting and serendipity led him from the aisles of cheese stores to creating a fermentation room in Big B’s Juices, bringing cider to Peonia, CO.

Larson answered questions over e-mail about Big B’s Cider and his cidermaking journey.

Tess Jewell-Larsen: Shawn, how long have you been making cider and what drew you to it?
Shawn Larson: I have been making cider at home since 2005 and professionally for 3 years. I originally started brewing beer at home around 2001 and became a very active home brewer, I loved it. I had a bunch of fun learning the brewing and fermenting process; I read all kinds of books and joined a home brewing club. I had recently spent some time in France and Spain traveling, eating, and drinking. I am a big cheese nerd and I discovered great ciders and how well cider pairs with cheese on that trip. In 2005 I was working at specialty grocery store as the head cheese monger, it was in the fall and we were selling unpasteurized fresh pressed apple juice from a local orchard. As we all know the shelve life is fairly short, I came to work one day and there were six gallons in the walk in starting to ferment. I asked my boss if I could have them, he said yes and that was the start of cider making.

Cheese nerd turned cidermaker, Shawn Larson, started making cider in 2005.

Cheese nerd turned cidermaker, Shawn Larson, started making cider in 2005.

TJL: Can you describe the location of the ciderhouse?
SL: Delicious Orchards is located in the heart of the majestic North Fork Valley of Colorado. This mountain valley has a high elevation, clean Rocky Mountain water, cold nights and warm days. All of this helps to produces some of the finest fruits in the world. Delicious Orchards is more than just a highway fruit stand, it’s a specialty grocery store, local wine and cider shop, and café, all nestled in a 16 acre fruit orchard. We have apples, peaches, pears, plums, nectarines, apricots, and an acre vegetable garden. We currently have 10 varieties of desert apples. However, I will be grafting around 700 trees that were planted last spring with hard cider variety apples, which will include Newton Pippin, Stoke Red, Kingston black, Medaille d’Or and Dabinett.

TJL: Why the name Big B’s?
SL: The original owner of the company was Bernie who went by Big B.

TJL: From what it looks like Delicious Orchards and Big B’s juices were around for awhile before making hard cider. When did the company start making cider?
SL: So Big B’s has been around making organic apple juice for forty years. Jeff and Tracey Schwartz have owned it for 10 and purchased Delicious Orchards which had was formerly Koch’s Fruit Ranch about 7 years ago. I moved to Paonia to manage the Store, wine tasting room, and café 2010 and once I started putting the pieces together I realized we already had a Juice Co. and a vintner’s license. I bought some used wine fermenters from a local winery and got started that winter. I ended up being able to get my hands on a bunch of bins of local organic Winesap apples and which turned out a really nice dry single variety cider.

TJL: What styles of cider do you pull from (i.e. English, American, French, Spanish, etc.)? Is there any type of cider you would like to make but you the public isn’t ready for yet?
SL: It’s been really interesting for me to actually see my pallet and taste for cider really change and hone itself in over last few years. I love to try new ciders and when ever I travel I have bag or trunk full of clinking bottles that I bring home. I enjoy French, Spanish, and Basque ciders; it’s where I learned that there was more to cider than Hornsby’s or Wood Chuck. When I returned from Europe I had a hard time finding ciders like I drank over there which was another big influence to start making my own. With that being said I try and draw inspiration from several different styles. I have been experimenting with different yeast, English, champagne and even several different beer yeasts. So far for the most part I have access to as many desert or common apples as I want to have, so I believe I would fit into the American or New World cider category. But I don’t plan to stick with one style forever; the experimenting portion of cider making is so much fun.

TJL: Which of your ciders is more popular with the community?
SL: Last season I took a finished cider blend and put into a secondary vessel with local organic pie cherries and let it sit on them for over 3 months. It was by far the most popular with everyone. Not everyone likes a dry cider and people who are only acquainted with sweet ciders have a different opinion of what ciders should taste like. However we have a really large portion of our customers coming in to taste wine and for the most part the wine drinker tends to have a pallet that understands dry. For example I made a pear apple blend and it ended up being the driest cider we had, it had many white wine characteristics. It was one of my favorites and many of the folks who came in looking for white wine left with a bottle of that instead.

TJL: From what I’ve read Paonia, Colorado is very dedicated to their organic community. How does this have an affect on Big B’s hard cider?
SL: Yes the North Fork Valley as a whole is extremely committed to organic growing practices. Sometimes I joke and a say that Paonia is so far behind the times that we are ahead of the curve, when it comes to organic farming practices. We never changed and so it’s been easy to continue in the practice. Delicious Orchards and Big B’s are both USDA certified organic, and last fall I officially acquired the USDA organic certification for the Hard Cider as well. Our corporate philosophy is to produce the highest quality product in a sustainable fashion. We do believe that our location has huge affect on our ciders; we can throw the word terroir out there. We have ice-cold Rocky Mountain snow-melt for irrigation water, and hot summer days and cold nights, which give us fruit with an extremely high residual sugar level. The lack of pesticides and fertilizers can only help to create an excellent fruit to start with. Start with good fruit and get good cider!

TJL: Do you have a large distribution for the cider, or is it mainly sold locally?
SL: Currently we are only sold locally, but we have plans to try and be statewide by the end of 2013.