Richmond's Buskey Cider Stretches the Way You Think About Cider

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Strange things are going on over at Buskey Cider. You might find a few unexpected ingredients in its latest releases.

“We’re doing some different stuff,” founder Will Correll says. “Collaborations are interesting — they’re tons of fun and we’ve got a lot of friends in different industries.”

Cider exists at the nexus between beer and wine. Like wine, it’s fermented from fruit juice, but it finishes with carbonation that’s more reminiscent of beer. Cider’s flavor profile is a flexible one — it can go from dry to sweet. And because it isn’t as assertive as say, a big bold cabernet sauvignon or chocolaty porter, it can lend itself to experimentation.

It helps the process to have different perspectives from other industries. Buskey co-founder Matthew Meyer, who’s the head winemaker at Williamsburg Winery, brings an important layer of expertise to cider-making. Alex Steinmetz, an experienced brew master, offers a different viewpoint.

“Most cideries act like a brewery or act like a winery,” Correll says. “We don’t see cider as either.”

Buskey is about to start fermenting in wine barrels, he says. So far, in collaboration with Reservoir Distillery a few blocks away in Scott’s Addition, the cidery has only finished and aged cider in bourbon barrels. Right now, there’s a heavier, darker Trappist-style cider that’s barrel-aging. The team is ready to try something a little different.

Earlier in the year, Buskey and Confluence Coffee joined to produce Nitro Coffee Cider. It was a natural collaboration — Buskey already was serving nitrogen-infused cider at its tasting room, and Confluence uses the technology to produce its creamy cold-brew coffee. The result? A tangy drink with the deeper, savory flavors of coffee — and a little jolt of caffeine to go along with the alcohol.

Some of the more exotic ciders have been single batches made with a method more commonly used in breweries. A device filled with fruit or herbs called a Randall is hooked up between the tap line and the tap itself. The cider then flows through the flavoring ingredients, infusing it right before it hits the glass. The result has been unusual concoctions such as jalapeño-lime or mango-mint. Plus, the flavoring ingredients never touch the keg’s tap line, so an entirely different recipe can be whipped up and served from the rest of the keg, if that’s what the folks at Buskey feel like doing that day.

For the holidays, Correll says, the cidery is releasing a cranberry-basil variety. “The idea for putting seasoning in came last Christmas before we were open,” he says. “My sister asked me if I’d make a cider to match the turkey — she asked for rosemary-thyme cider. It turned out great.”

Some of Buskey’s most popular innovations have been hopped ciders. Given the scarcity and price of hops, it’s expensive to produce, Correll says, but Citra-hopped cider has been a big hit. Steinmetz also is experimenting with Cascade hops in a spontaneously fermented cider — a method similar to the one used to make sour beers.

By mid-January, Buskey should have its cider in cans and on store shelves — small local spots at first and larger stores in the spring. At the taproom, the experimentation will continue.

“We can come up with an idea and have that product done and selling in a couple of weeks,” Correll says.

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