Sociable Cider Werks co-owner Jim Watkins is never satisfied. He’s always tinkering with things, whether it’s cooking a steak or sourcing apples for the cider served at the taproom in Northeast Minneapolis. It’s no wonder then that the Sociable team is experimenting with the complex flavors that come from barrel-aging their fermented fruit beverage.
The plan is fairly simple. Sociable sourced barrels from several distilleries, including High West in Utah and Panther Distillery in Osakis, Minnesota. They’ll fill them with cider and let the oak do its thing.
“There’s so much you can do on the back end of cider when it comes to flavor,” says Watkins. This was the motivation for him, to play with flavors and share the results with people. “I really like barrel-aged ciders but cider is delicate. If you’re going to spend time on it, you really want to go subtle on the wood,” he explains.
Bourbon barrels tend to work well, Watkins says, since the tannins have been pulled from the wood for at least three years. One of Sociable’s more successful experiments was a cider aged in a bourbon barrel that had most recently held honey. “This one developed so many cool flavors,” he recalls. “There was a big floral component to it.” It will be one of the many barrel-aged releases to hit 750-milliliter bottles in the coming months.
First up, though, will be a batch of Freewheeler aged in a sauvignon blanc barrel—a special cider made in collaboration with Republic Seven Corners for the bar and restaurant’s five-year anniversary. Matty O’Reilly (co-owner of Republic) provided a sauvignon blanc barrel, in which Sociable fermented a cider with Lactobacillus. Watkins explained that with cider, the Lacto actually mellows the flavor rather than turning it sour. The bulk of this batch will go into kegs with the rest hitting 750-milliliter bottles.
“We bounced some ideas off each other about the base and then the vessel it should go in,” says O’Reilly. “I think I said sauvignon blanc barrel and we both kind of nodded and agreed that would be the one.”
After the Republic collaboration release, Sociable will turn next to a spontaneously fermented cider called Penny Farthing, named after the vintage bicycle. Three hundred barrels, equal to 9,300 gallons, of Penny Farthing were made, but not all of them made the cut. “That’s the risk with spontaneous fermentation” says Watkins. “Three batches are going down the drain.” Customers can expect each release of this variety to taste different due to the wild yeast used in fermentation.
Sociable’s barrels will be stored at a warehouse they recently acquired off Broadway Avenue. Since cider sales are robust in summer months and softer in winter months, Sociable will be able to allocate winter time volume for barrel aging that will be ready for distribution when things start to warm up again. Then the different barrel-aged varieties will be slowly released throughout the year—when Watkins is done tinkering, of course.
“This business is very much about managing people’s expectations” he says. Given what we know about him, people should expect to be excited about this new program.