A few years ago, if you had uttered the word “cider” to a Utahn, it might have conjured quaint visions of jolly medieval gents swilling from steins, or maybe Johnny Appleseed planting high-tannin apples across Pennsylvania and Ohio — or, perhaps, bottles of Martinelli’s being popped at a teetotaller’s wedding.
But hard cider has arrived in Utah, and drinkers are starting to realize this brew — which is not quite beer, not quite wine, but somewhere between — can be just as sophisticated as any craft beer.
In the last year or so, two new cider bars have opened in Utah, with two more planning to open in 2023.
Scion Cider Bar — at 916 Jefferson St. West (150 West), Salt Lake City, next door to Laziz Kitchen in the Central Ninth/Granary area — opened in late 2021, and is co-owned by Elisabeth Osmeloski, brewer Rio Connelly and four silent partners.
Not only is Scion one of just a handful of cider-only bars in the United States, it carries nearly 250 ciders on tap and in cans and bottles — one of the largest selections in the country.
From homebrewed beer to cider
Connelly attended college in the Pacific Northwest, where he was immersed in brewing culture. He started homebrewing with his brother, Liam, and loved it so much that after graduation, he moved back to Salt Lake City and started working at The Beer Nut, the home-brewing supply company, just wanting a chance to work in the local craft brewing industry.
“I was lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time, and got tapped to help open Epic Brewing,” he said.
After three years, Connelly left Epic in 2012, attended the Siebel Institute of Technology (the oldest brewing school in the United States), and then co-founded Avenues Proper with Liam and their friend, Andrew Tendick.
The Proper restaurants and Proper Brewing are still going great guns — Tendick just locked down the state’s last bar license of the year for the brewery’s Moab location — but Connelly said that he stepped back in 2019, not for any specific reason other than he wanted to try something new.
A request from his friend Steve Rosenberg, one of the owners of Liberty Heights Fresh, got Connelly into brewing cider.
Rosenberg had given up craft beer because of a gluten sensitivity, Connelly said. “He came to me and said, ‘Oh, you know, I can’t drink your beer anymore. I’m very sad about that. Can you help me make some cider? Because there’s really not a great cider selection,’” he said.
Because Proper had a beer manufacturing license, Connolly couldn’t add cider to the brewery’s mix, but he started playing around with homebrewed ciders. When Connolly left Proper, Rosenberg introduced him to Osmeloski and Ostrander, and suggested starting a cider-only brewery.
“We drank some cider and hit it off,” Connelly said. “We started talking, and had some fun. It was really intriguing to me. … Elisabeth showed me some cider like I’d never had before, because there’s not a whole lot of selection here in Utah. I’d had some good cider, but never an amazing cider. I made good cider at home, … but it wasn’t representative of the diversity of the cider world. My curiosity was piqued.”
Connelly, Rosenberg, Osmeloski and cider distributor Matthew Ostrander (who is Utah’s only certified pommelier — the cider version of a sommelier) then attended CiderCon 2020, the annual convention of the American Cider Association, in Oakland, Calif. (The 2023 edition is set for Chicago, Jan. 31-Feb. 3.) They stopped at Redfield Cider Bar in Oakland, where Connelly drank ciders that challenged his concept of what cider could be.
Connelly said he thought, “Why don’t we have something like this in Utah?” That was in January 2020 — two months before the world shut down because of the coronavirus. Scion was put on hold for nearly two years, but that allowed the concept to “marinate in my brain,” Connelly said.
In 2021, Scion purchased a liquor license (just before the Utah Legislature shut down that option down). After supply chain and construction delays, Scion opened its doors in December 2021 — a quiet opening, due to the surge in the omicron variant of COVID-19.
Through 2022, though, the tap room grew increasingly busy, as Salt Lake City drinkers discovered how interesting and complex cider can be.
Expanding awareness of cider
Osmeloski said a big part of connecting with people has been Scion’s weekly cider education nights, every Thursday at 7 p.m. The sessions are presented by Connolly or Ostrander.
“Matthew is one of only 50 pommeliers in the U.S.,” she said. “He’s been key, because he’s built up all these relationships across the country and in Europe,” she said.
The cliche is that cider is sickly sweet and with a high alcohol level — but Scion’s selection includes draft ciders that range from 4 to 12% ABV, and the flavor profiles range from extremely dry and tannic to tart to herbal to sweet.
Scion gets products from Utah’s other cideries, including Mountain West in Salt Lake City and Etta Place Cider in Torrey, but also brings in ciders from all over the world, especially if they have an interesting backstory and flavor. They also serve up cider cocktails, wine and beer, and small bites — including French cheese and charcuterie, conservas (tinned seafood), nuts, olives, and pintxos (appetizers from the Basque region of Spain).
The big news for 2023 is that Scion will be pouring its own ciders in the coming weeks. The cider will be brewed in tiny vats, using apples grown by orchardist Jordan Riley of Riley Farms, and will first be served on draft, and later available as packaged cider that can be purchased to go. Each batch will be so small and limited, Connelly said, that they won’t name them like craft beers. Rather, they’ll be dubbed No. 1, No. 2, and so on.
This summer, Scion had a dry run for pouring its own brews, when it collaborated with Etta Place Cider on a small-run batch of hopped 8% cider, which was served in both Salt Lake City and Torrey. Connolly said he’s excited about the possibilities of collaborating not just with other cideries, but with other neighbors in the Granary District.
“We talked to the folks at Blue Copper Coffee,” he said. “We’re going to try to collaborate with them and make coffee ciders.”
Connelly said one of the joys of making cider is that there are few limits.
“When you’re making a cider, you’re not necessarily making a historic style, like in beer where you’re making a porter or an IPA,” he said. “It’s like the Wild West. There are no walls.”
Cider in Utah
Besides Scion Cider Bar, here are cideries where Utahns can try hard cider, and where it will be available soon.
The Hive Winery & Spirits Company • 1220 W. Jack D Drive (450 North), Layton; 801-546-1997 or thehivewinery.com • The Salt Lake Valley’s first cidery, The Hive opened its doors in 2010, serving honey wines (also known as mead) and hard apple ciders.
Etta Place Cider • 700 W. Main St,, Torrey; (435) 425-2727 or ettaplacecider.com • Named for one of the few female members of Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch (and played, quite fictionalized, by Katharine Ross in “Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid”), Etta Place founders Ann and Robert Torrence operate their own apple orchard and have collaborated with Scion.
Mountain West Cider • 425 N. 400 West, Salt Lake City; 801-935-4147 or mountainwestcider.com • Located on Salt Lake City’s near west side, Mountain West is a collaborative business, too — it teamed up with Green Urban Lunchbox this fall to press thousands of “ugly apples” into cider.
Second Summit Hard Cider Company • Salt Lake City, location TBD • This cidery had its manufacture winery license approved at the last Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Services commission meeting on Dec. 20; more information coming soon.
Six Sailor Cider • 158 S. Rio Grande St, Salt Lake City; 435-535-1627 or sixsailorcider.com • This cidery uses local fruit to produce not just hard ciders, but sparkling nonalcoholic drinks as well.
Thieves Guild Cidery • Salt Lake City, location TBD; thievesguildcidery.com • Address to be announced: “Thieves Guild is a mysterious craft micro-cidery and experience bar currently under construction somewhere in Salt Lake City. Follow our social accounts for clues to where this notorious hideout may be.” Opening 2023.