The four members of the Leadbetter family found themselves at a crossroads in their lives right around the same time. Gig and Ann, both professors, have just retired from Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, Colo., and daughters Kate and Molly had each finished up seven years of wildland firefighting in Idaho.
They all asked themselves, "What's next?"
The answer was cider.
"You know, it's just always been a passion, man," Gig said as he leaned over a table covered with beakers and bottles. "I love the chemistry behind it. I've already put in 22 years of teaching, spent 13 years in Alaska. This is just another phase in life."
Gig has been brewing beer since college. Now, he has a salt-and-pepper beard, two daughters in their mid- and late-20s and a worn trucker cap reading "Meriwether Cider Company"—their cider company.
It's small so far. The Leadbetters sell their 22-ounce bottles at the Capitol City Farmers Market and provide the occasional keg for events around town. Later this year, Meriwether Cider Co. will take over Crooked Fence Brewing Company's old taproom at 5242 E. Chinden Boulevard.
When that happens, their orders will go from 275 gallons every month to 5,000 gallons.
"We think Boise will be a pretty good venue for cider," Kate said. "Washington, Oregon and back east are all huge cider makers now, but here we have the commercial stuff and not much more."
While Molly helps her mom with the business and marketing side, Kate helps her dad with the cider making. She keeps her dark green wildland firefighter pants rolled up around her ankles and Scout, her mini Australian Shepherd puppy, follows her around the shop.
Before Meriwether Cider Co., Kate called herself "directionless." Now she likes coming up with new cider flavors like pumpkin spice. She makes a small batch in a five-gallon bucket and steeps the pumpkin puree sprinkled with cinnamon and brown sugar, giving it a taste every day.
"Kate followed in my footsteps and did her major in exercise science," Gig said. "Now she's my little apprentice, and she's learning fast."
"We all really have our hands in everything," Kate added. They do the taste-testing, bottling and labeling together. "Everybody has touched the bottle you're drinking. It's very handmade."
Kate said a big goal with Meriwether Cider Co. is to educate the community on what cider should taste like. She said when most people think of cider, they think of big commercial makers like Angry Orchard.
"People think of it more like a sweet, Mike's Hard Lemonade beverage," she said. "It's very unmanly for one thing, so we're trying to introduce it to guys, too."
- Laurie Pearman
So far, they've come up with a semi-sweet cider, a semi-dry cider, a plum, a ginger, a gin botanical and a hopped cider. Each bottle costs $8-$10 and has an alcohol-per-volume content of 6.9 percent.
Gig flipped a five-gallon bucket upside down and set a plank of plywood on top for a makeshift table. There, he started pouring. First up was the semi-dry, the flagship cider. It tastes more like a champagne or a sparkling wine than a tart hard cider.
"It's sessionable," Kate said. "You can drink a whole pint or two without getting a stomach ache. There's no sugar or syrup in it."
The semi-sweet tastes "like an apple right off the tree," according to Kate.
She said they add more apple juice after the cider has fermented, called "back sweetening." During the fermentation process, the yeast eats all the sugars in the apple juice, making it sour and unpleasant.
Kate said larger companies like Angry Orchard add water and sugar back to the cider to make it taste good because it's cheaper than adding in more apple juice. The Leadbetters add apple, plum or blackberry juice to their ciders.
Gig said he doesn't feel threatened by competition from other cider makers in the Treasure Valley, such as Longdrop Cider Company, which shares a tasting room at Crooked Flats in Eagle. He said it would take three of four more cideries in Boise to raise the profile of cider.
"Longdrop is different," Gig said. "They make a chai cider and a vanilla bean honey cider. I don't do that sweeter stuff."
Instead, he experimented with a pineapple ginger oak cider (which didn't make it into bottles) and a smooth, dry hop cider that tastes more flowery than bitter (which did).
There's still a lot the small company needs to figure out once they open their taproom and start distributing across town. Kate said they have to learn how to get tap accounts at different bars and restaurants, then figure out how many kegs each business will need, and how to deliver them, and how to pay for someone to deliver them, and which mobile cannery to hire so they can start selling their cider in cans. She calls the path ahead "a million little steps."
For Gig, his goal is to leave a legacy.
"I want to pass this on to Kate and Molly so they can do with it what they want," he said. "I think it's a business that's really going to build and I hope go crazy so when Ann and I retire, Kate and Molly can take over."