A fateful trip to London fomented a newfound enthusiasm for hard apple cider in husband and wife duo John and Tolena Thorburn. What began in 2017 as a side hobby in a 97-square-foot commercial production space on the couple’s property later grew into a recently opened 2,400-square-foot tasting room and production cider house in South Hill called Fierce County Cider.
Along with the new space just off of Meridian East, the couple is debuting seasonal hard apple cider experiments. Beverage titles invoke creative candy flavors and harken back to an old-world European style of cider. Hazy Raspberry, Chmango Unchained (cherry mango), and Gourdian of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (pumpkin spice) get their flavor profiles and sweetness from fruits and botanicals alongside apples as the main presser.
“We’re always spinning off different fun cider names,” Tolena said of her husband’s pun game. “He’ll come up with some random crazy name and he’s like, ‘You’ve got to make a cider to go with that name.’”
The first few sips of a generous custom 4-cider flight at Fierce County brings forward a full, fruity effervescence, similar to that of a crisp bite into a fresh Washington apple. Each glass in the fight is 5 ounces. While less sweet than a bite into a real apple, the taste is not at all bitter. Fierce County adds a minimal amount of extra sugar, allowing the apple flavor to shine on its own or alongside accompanying fruits and spices.
“Apple is a fun palate. It always adds a certain amount of crispness and tart, or acid or tannin,” Tolena said. “You don’t have to add so much if you’ve got good apples…The flavors are gonna shine on their own.”
Apples have tannins like wine, and hard cider is produced similarly — with a bonus opportunity to add other flavors to the palate. Apples are pressed and the fruit juice is fermented, then other fruit juices or botanicals are added before finishing into a carbonated and mildly alcoholic beverage. Fierce County’s ciders clock in around 6 to 7 percent alcohol by volume.
First and foremost craft beer lovers, the Thorburns aimed to create an open space where cider drinkers could get an inside look at the production process and foster the same sense of community often found at local breweries and taprooms. They’re already off to a running start, partially thanks to the fan base accrued over the past few years of wholesale and commercial production.
“We’ve been really pleased with the response just in the first few weeks we’ve been open,” John said.
The cidery is walking distance to several small neighborhoods in South Hill, making it safer to enjoy hard cider and welcoming regulars back — sometimes multiple times in the same weekend.
Fierce County Cider is open Thursdays through Saturdays.