Urban Apples to Urban Cider: Q&A with Blue Bee Cider

 

Blue Bee Cider first opened it's doors to the public on April 20, 2013.

Blue Bee Cider first opened it’s doors to the public on April 20, 2013.

The first and only urban made cider in Richmond, Virgina, is keeping to quality over quantity in their first 5000 cases.

Written by Tess Jewell-Larsen
Photos provided by Blue Bee Cider

Imagine real cider apple trees in the city—not just an ornamental type to show the pretty flowers in the spring—with the city skyline as a backdrop. They flower in the spring, their fruit ripens over the summer and in early fall these urban apples are picked, rinsed and mashed in a ciderhouse that was once a coffee warehouse. Their juice is fermented and over the next months slowly made into cider. Urban, English style cider.

Sound a little different? Not sure it exists? Well, located in the Old Manchester district of Richmond, VA, Blue Bee Cider is the first urban ciderhouse of its kind. Urban orchard and the works.

Curious about the urban ciderhosue and urban orchard I thought I would ask owner and cidermaker, Courtney Anderson Mailey, to let me in on a few details of her new Virgina ciderhouse.

The ciderhouse just celebrated its Grand Opening weekend starting on July 11.

Tess Jewell-Larsen: To start off I just want to say congratulations on your Grand Opening! How did it go?
Courtney Anderson Mailey: It went very well, thank you!

Blue Bee Cider has an urban cider orchard with 11 different varieties of cider and 15 different trees. They also get apples for a local orchard outside of Richmond, VA.

Blue Bee Cider has an urban cider orchard with 11 different varieties of cider and 15 different trees. They also get apples for a local orchard outside of Richmond, VA.

TJL: Blue Bee Cider’s Grand Opening was this week, but when did the idea of creating Blue Bee Cider first start?
CAM: I first thought of a cidery in 2002, but did not actually take steps toward it until 2012.

TJL: Did you have experience making cider before starting the cider house?
CAM: I spent a year learning about cidermaking before writing the business plan and starting the cidery. This included attending Cornell’s cider program in upstate NY and apprenticing at Albemarle CiderWorks in Charlottesville, VA. Or do you have a cidermaker working for you? I am currently the only cidermaker on staff. We had an apprentice from January to June and I will probably hire another apprentice in a few months.

TJL: I’ve read that your ciderhouse first started as a coffee warehouse. Could you tell me a bit about the story of the warehouse and turning it into Blue Bee’s Ciderhouse?
CAM: The Aragon Coffee building was first recorded in 1904. At that time, Richmond, VA had a number of these warehouses devoted to coffee trade with South America in exchange for tobacco. The building has had a number of uses in its lifetime and currently it is a multi-tenant building for small artisan businesses. We started building out our 4800 squarefoot space in June of 2012 to accommodate a tasting room and cold storage for fermentations.

TJL: Can you describe the ciderhouse and its location?
CAM: This three-story warehouse building is made from red clay bricks, most likely handmade on site, and Southern Yellow Pine framing on the interior. This is a rare wood once commonly used for building in the southern U.S. The interior was/is wide open with repeating yellow pine piers to hold up the floors. Blue Bee Cider occupies approximately two-thirds of the bottom floor, which faces the Manchester Canal and the James River at the fall line.

TJL: When did you first start selling Blue Bee Cider?
CAM: April 20, 2013

TJL: You mention on your website you have an urban orchard. Can you tell me a little bit about it and where you got your idea for it?

Blue Bee Cider has three different varieties of Cider: Charred Ordinary, Argon 1904, and Harvest Ration. In photo: Owner Courtney Anderson Mailey works with Matthew Mateo.

Blue Bee Cider has three different varieties of Cider: Charred Ordinary, Argon 1904, and Harvest Ration. In photo: Owner Courtney Anderson Mailey works with Matthew Mateo.

CAM: The urban orchard has 15 trees. We chose rare heirloom tree varieties that were known to do well in our hot humid climate and/or were highly prized cider apples in Virginia in the past. The trees will provide fruit for cidermaking and scionwood for propagating additional trees in the future. We maintain a nursery offsite for new tree propagation. If we hope to see more of the apple varieties that we want go into production we have to have some kind of supply of grafting wood for growers to work with.

TJL: How many varieties of apples do you have in the orchard? How many trees all together?
CAM: We have about 11 varieties and 15 trees.

TJL: Do you get all your apples from your urban orchard?
CAM: No. We also lease orchard land in the countryside. Most of the apples come from this leasehold and the rest from nearby growers/farms.

TJL: Can you talk a little bit about your ciders and the styles that you pull from to create your cider?
CAM: Our styles are made in the English style, which is essentially a straightforward winemaking process. We will experiment with some other techniques in small batches later this year. Flavor profiles reflect the kinds of apples that grow well in Virginia.

TJL: What are your future plans for the Blue Bee Cider?
CAM: At present, I intend to stay at or under 5,000 cases a year. We are still learning how much space we need and what the production capacity of our current space is. So I need to strike a balance for efficiency and cost-benefit in the current space or an expanded one but I don’t know what that looks like yet.