InCIDER Edition with Richard Read and Steve Le Noury of Griffin Cider House and Gin Bar
If you haven't been to Griffin Cider House and Gin Bar, do yourself a favor get to their Lakewood location. Owners Richard and Rosemarie Read (with Rosita Alcantara and Steve Le Noury) have made a great space for specialty gin cocktails, gin flights, guest craft beers and, of course, cider! I spoke with Cider Masters Richard Read and Steve Le Noury a few weeks ago in what was one of the most informative interviews I've ever done. Lots of great information in this one, so grab your favorite cider and enjoy!
Fermenting Ohio: Tell us a little of your backstory, how did you go from England to the US to Griffin Cider House? What's it like at Griffin?
Griffin: Griffin Cider Works was founded in 2010, mostly because I could not find any cider that compared to what I drank in the UK. One of my favorites is a brand called Westons Cider, from Much Marcle, UK which is close to my home village. I started making cider professionally in 2010 but I had been making cider for many years before then, so 22 years total now. In the countryside, you get kind of bored. Apple trees that produce good cider making apples are abundant where I grew up. There was a guy up the road from my family’s home that made cider, and used apples from my family’s land. The cider style is called “scrumpy” which is sharp, funky and good. As far as getting to Ohio, well first I met my wife in North Carolina. I have a degree in the bio-sciences, and we both worked in the medical field and met there. We got married in the UK and lived there for a bit then moved here to get settled. I had a job at Cleveland Clinic that brought us to Ohio. Also, we’re now “Griffin Cider House and Gin Bar” because we do a hell of a lot with gin and cocktails! We’ve updated the name and will get the sign updates soon. We’re looking forward to the business coming here for both gin and cider. I just bought a 10-tap draft system to add to what we currently have. I am open to guest ciders, we coordinate with Blake’s from Michigan, a lot of people like their products. We’ll probably have more local brews and some English beers as well. Currently, I find myself in the field more rather than brewing. Steve is now mostly making the cider.
FO: Are there certain kinds of apples you try to use?
G: There are definitely specific varieties that we go for, but it’s hard to find the true cider apples that we desire here, so a lot of times we’ll use a proprietary blend of what’s available. Occasionally, some specialized apples do become available but rarely in the numbers that we’d need for a commercial application. It’s my hope that Ohio will start changing as the cider business continues to grow. Michigan has quite a few specialized cider apple growing locations. We do have specific guidelines based on what’s available. If there’s only a small number of Kingston Black apples (very good cider apple, by the way) we might only be able to make 8 kegs, and that’s all we can do.
FO: How many house ciders do you have on draft?
G: Currently five, with four guest ciders. This varies, we can have as low as four all the way up to seven. I’d like to expand this, I do want to get some barrel ciders that we’ll keep at the bar that will be served “still”. Ciders in the UK are sometimes still rather than carbonated. Cider is made like wine and can therefore be served like wine, with or without carbonation and served at room temperature (which might be weird to some people, but we’re here to educate on all cider styles).
FO: Let’s talk process. Is cidermaking similar or very different from beer and wine making?
G: You’ve got to be careful what you use, a lot of people promote using champagne yeast for cider and I’ve always been very hesitant about that. It tends to strip away the flavors and body and it rarely works well with commercial apples. We do take a bit longer than other cider companies in the US who can whip up a batch in a week. For me, I like to produce it in the high craft, longer way. We like to do some experiments and things, one of the new experiments would be to take one of our ciders called “Burly Man” and change the method of fermentation. We want to use a French style of fermentation called “keeving”. The cider will be no different in recipe, but the way we ferment it will deliver a very different product. French ciders are particularly good, but they take a long time. In terms of the science behind this stuff, what temperature and pH can do to a bug (yeast) is amazing. It’s one thing to know the basics of what types won’t work at certain temperatures, but to know WHY, that’s what I know. A bug will respond to an environment. Take a human for example, if exposed to UVA radiation, we get more melanin in our skin. So, in theory, a piece of human “steak” at that time will have lots of melanin in it. Opposite if someone lives in a place with less sun. Yeast behave the same way, if they need stuff to survive in that environment, they’ll make it and that changes their flavor profiles.
FO: Do you make cider year-round or just around harvest?
G: We take juice in from October until early May. There are sources we can get juice from year-round, but the quality and varieties aren’t as good. We try to stick to Ohio grown but have had to use out of state apples before. Like in 2012, there was a problem with the Ohio harvest and we had to branch out.
FO: What does aging look like for cider?
G: We have a method that allows for a one-month ageing timeframe, but prefer not to do that as the product is thicker and cloudier (but the flavor is still there). We prefer 3-6 months to allow for malolactic fermentation to occur. When we make a batch, we pull cider from big tanks of juice with the “mother cider” which can hang out for a while, and move forward with the fermentation of the juice we’ve now pulled.
FO: Could you help clarify the categories of cider styles?
G: (Takes a deep breath)
- Light Ciders, which are usually cheaper supermarket ciders, and tend to be made out of concentrates and are flavored (like jolly rancher flavor).
- Real Ciders covers a wide variety, but you have to use fresh juice. No adding other juices or essences.
- Common ciders (aka “New American” though other parts of the world make it the same way), these tend to be a bit more wine like. You can use any apple and age it for any amount of time. Blake’s out of Michigan makes a common cider.
Of those, we can break down cider making by region:
- English Style Ciders:
- East England: More wine like, they tend to use more commercial apples. Aspall is an example.
- West England: Now this is what Griffin is all about! These tend to use higher tannin apples, and there is some sort of aging process. Some are sharp, some smooth, depending on the apple variety and these can also be filtered or non-filtered.
- French Style Ciders: lots of funk due to their preference of wild fermentation, there’s a lot going on. French specific cider apples are a must. The fermentation process “keeving” or “bouche” in French, is used. Basically, this is a very slow fermentation, it allows for a nutrient deficient environment for yeast, so you get different flavors from the yeast producing what they need. French ciders are then finished with a champagne yeast. Notice here, not fermented with it, but finished to get in-bottle carbonation. French ciders are packaged like a champagne bottle. We do this, too, but not to bottle carb. We add to champagne to protect against “copyright” issues. If someone is able to harvest our yeast, they might try to reproduce it. Champagne is very aggressive and will cover up the markings of other yeast. This makes it very difficult to replicate Griffin Cider.
- Spanish Style Ciders: These are the most funky ciders of all, almost all use wild fermentation. Only Spanish apples here, these are the most acidic of all the ciders and are a very acquired taste.
- Another to mention would be the German Apfelwein, which basically translates to apple wine. Some have compared this to a Riesling, I haven’t tried this yet. Seems to be more mass produced item, so not really on our radar.
FO: Have you experienced any push-back from American palates?
G: We’re pretty much the first cidery in Ohio, we’ve had a lot of people really surprised that cider doesn’t taste like apples. We try to relate it as, “when was the last time you had a good wine that tasted like grape juice?” If you like wine coolers, great, but wine shouldn’t taste like grape juice and cider shouldn’t taste like apple juice. We’ve had people in England think this was a local cider. If you can’t get Westons’ Cider, get Griffin’s.
FO: How does Ohio cider compare to other parts of the country?
G: Michigan has the most cideries in the US, and the West coast is doing a lot with cider, but I think we’re in a good position. We lost cider to prohibition, when it came back it was only as light ciders. Meeting the full potential in Ohio will require a lot of education. We have a lot of cider here, but Ohio is WAY behind Michigan and we need to do better. We’re hoping to start collaborating with other places, we have something in the works with Spring Hill Winery in Geneva and a few other places to tap into as well. We’ve got to work together to get the cider education out there. And stop saying “hard” cider! That got tacked on during prohibition, and it’s just cider now. The trend will stay, more and more bars are reserving taps for it, its gluten free, lower in calories than beer (we have a cider with 0 calories), alcohol punch to match any beer, we’ve definitely got our market.
FO: Tell us about the gin side of your business.
G: Big fans of gin, it was my wife’s idea to have a nice gin collection here. There’s really not a lot of places in Cleveland that has a nice gin collection, we have almost 60 here, some that won’t be available in Ohio for much longer. We have gin flights as well, we give customers three different gins and an array of tonics to choose from. And we have a $100 martini that uses Nolets Reserve, the world’s most expensive gin. Only 8 bottles came to Ohio, so we have some bragging rights.
FO: Give us your top three favorite gins.
G: Plymouth Gin (Style and Brand), Nolets Silver and Hendrick’s.
A BIG thank you to Richard, Steve and the entire Griffin crew for letting me stop by and for the detailed information on the cider process. Please be sure to check them out:
Griffin Cider House and Gin Bar
12401 Madison Ave
Lakewood, Ohio, OH 44107