Torrey cidery opens a new taproom, becomes only bar in Wayne County

Etta Place Cider’s taproom gives locals and visitors a place to enjoy a glass of cider and spectacular views.

Every January, Etta Place Cider co-owners Ann Torrence and her husband, Robert Marc, hold a special blessing ritual for their apple orchard in Torrey.

Called “wassailing,” the midwinter ritual is “an old English custom from the cider country, the west part of England,” Torrence said. “And it probably goes back before Christian times, to thank the orchards for previous harvests and encourage them to do well in the following year.”

This year, Etta Place Cider’s wassailing involved several members of the Torrey community, kids, dogs and out-of-towners marching into the dormant orchard, beating pots and pans and making enough of a racket to “scare the evil spirits away,” Torrence said. There also was group singing, noisemakers and general merry-making.

(Ann Torrence) Carrie Torrey passes on the wassail monarch crown to Gena Edvalson as friends gather for the annual ritual to bless the orchards for another bountiful harvest on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024.

“And then we have a wassail monarch, who pours cider around a tree and puts a piece of cider-soaked bread into the tree where it stays all year to remind the trees that we’re thinking of them,” she said.

Normally, wassailing at Etta Place Cider is a frigid, windy affair, and in the past, Torrence and Marc didn’t have a warm place to take everyone afterward because Torrey is mostly closed during the off-season. But this year was different.

Now, Torrence and Marc have a newly opened taproom where revelers can warm up. The space is cozy, with a small electric fireplace and a bar made from reclaimed barn wood. “But the main focus is the big patio outside, which, come spring, is going to be where the action will be — we’ll have a lot more seating out there,” Torrence said.

The taproom will be used year-round, as Etta Place Cider goes through its annual cycle of agriculture and public events, determined by the changing seasons.

(Ann Torrence) Gena Edvalson spears a cider-soaked piece of bread onto a branch as part of Etta Place Cider’s annual wassailing tradition, on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024.

Springtime in the orchard

Torrey’s tourism season starts in early spring on March 14, also known as Pi Day, “because that’s the day that the gift shop in Capitol Reef opens and start serving pies again,” Torrence said.

In spring 2012, Torrence and Marc planted their first 50 apple trees on their property in Torrey, selecting them for their aromatics, acidity, flavors and tannins, their website said. Torrence moved to Torrey from Salt Lake City that year, and Marc followed five years later.

Almost 10 springs later, on April 15, 2021, the couple opened Etta Place Cider to the public, naming it after the mysterious and beautiful outlaw Etta Place, who took up with the Sundance Kid, part of Butch Cassidy’s notorious Wild Bunch. She fled with both men to South America, and then later made her way back to the States in the early 1900s, pursued by Pinkertons. As for what happened to her after that, accounts vary.

Every year in March or early April, Etta Place Cider holds a community workshop on grafting, which is a way to propagate new fruit trees using “scion” wood that’s cut from an existing tree and then fusing it onto the “rootstock” of another tree, according to The Orchard Project.

The Etta Place Cider apple trees — in two orchards called Kingbird and Bluebird — start to wake up in mid-April, Torrence said. When the trees bloom is a “perilous” period due to the possibility of late frosts, she said, and during that time she and Marc work to “support those trees as the fruit sets.”

Summer and fall

Tourism is at its peak in Torrey — only a few miles west of the entrance of Capitol Reef National Park — in the late summer and early fall, Torrence said.

She and Marc decided Etta Place Cider needed a taproom during last year’s Fort Desolation Fest, the annual music event that brings droves of visitors to Torrey each June. But without a bar license, they were allowed to have only a tasting room, with limited pours of cider. In other words, people couldn’t really stay and hang out.

“And we realized, this just does not feel like good hospitality to ask people to leave,” Torrence said. “The view from our property’s incredible. People just want to relax and hang out, be on vacation and enjoy some cider. So we looked at each other and said, ‘We have to do this.’” Etta Place Cider received its liquor license in November, becoming Wayne County’s only official bar.

Summer also brings Apple Days to Torrey, and Torrence and Marc have driven their electric tractor in past parades. Then late summer and early fall bring the busiest time of year for Etta Place Cider.

(Ann Torrence) A field blend of heritage apples on their way to the crusher at Etta Place Cider.

Around Labor Day comes the first phase of harvesting apples, Torrence said, when the early summer fruit is brought in.

“Then the big pulse starts around the first of October,” she said, “and that’s a madness in a good apple year, like this year, of just trying to pick our own fruit, working with our neighbors to get their fruit in. We use a lot of community fruit that was going to waste here. And then getting it all crushed and into the fermenters.”

The first week of October is usually also a public apple tasting, which is a guided experience through 15 to 20 heritage and cider apple varieties, the Etta Place Cider website said. Afterward, attendees vote for their favorites, and the winning variety is planted in the orchard (if it isn’t already growing there).

If there’s enough fruit available, the second week of October usually brings Community Juicing Day, which is the cidery’s biggest public event of the year, the website said. People are invited to bring their own apples (from their backyard or elsewhere) to Etta Place Cider, where the fruit is juiced, and then they get to go home with a pasteurized bag-in-a-box batch of nonalcoholic apple juice.

(Ann Torrence) Robert Marc shovels heritage apples into the grinder while Aj Vanzeban fills the press at Etta Place Cider.

Late fall and winter

By November, all of the cider Torrence and Marc are going to make that year is in the fermenters, Torrence said. They wait two to six weeks until that first fermentation is complete, and then they taste everything and figure out which blends they want to do that year, she said.

Right after the new year, Torrence and Marc started bottling the latest crop. This year, Torrence said cider drinkers can expect the return of their rosé cider, which will be launching just in time for Valentine’s Day. Last year, they unfortunately lost the entire crop of red-fleshed apples they use to make that cider, she said. The rosé cider will be available on tap at Etta Place Cider, in their bottle shop and at Salt Lake City’s Scion Cider Bar.

(Ann Torrence) A Redfield apple is sliced open to reveal the natural red flesh, from which Etta Place Cider produces its gold medal Stray Arrow Rosé cider.

The Rosé Cider is Etta Place Cider’s first gold medal winner, Torrence said. The apples she and Marc use to make the pink cider have tannins the same way wine grapes have tannins in the skins, she said. The tannins go all the way through the apples’ flesh, but they’re generally softer than wine tannins, she said, and contribute to a big mouthfeel and fruity flavor that’s tart but balanced.

Along with the Rosé Cider, Etta Place Cider also aims to make a barrel-aged cider and a rhubarb-peach wine once a year. Torrence and Marc try to have the following available year-round: Etta Place Dry, Grand Circle Semi-Dry, Camp Cohab plum-flavored, 435 Hopped and Etta Place Gingered.

If you can’t make the drive to Torrey, you can find Etta Place ciders at Scion Cider Bar, The Bayou, East Liberty Tap House, Franklin Ave. Cocktails & Kitchen, Lucky 13 Bar & Grill and Mountain West Cider House & Bar. You can also make a special order through the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Services.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Etta Place Cider, on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2024.