March 6, 2016
To say that the local brew scene is hot in Charlotte would be a major understatement. Unfortunately, for far too long if you, like me, are one of the thousands of Charlotteans needing to eat and drink gluten-free, you have been unable to fully enjoy this burgeoning trend.
Who knew that our wait for a brewery to call our own would be answered not by a brewery, but by a cidery? Red Clay Ciderworks. Locally brewed. Naturally gluten-free. Local food (and drink!) supporters, rejoice! Grab your favorite gluten-free friend and get yourselves some Red Clay hard cider.
Red Clay Ciderworks opened this past summer near the corner of Clanton and South Boulevard on the edge of South End. Jay Bradish and his wife, Deanna, along with his sister, Jamie, and a family friend, Jonathon, have clearly poured their souls into every last detail of this fun gathering space. From the hand-carved wood bars, the reclaimed pallet boards on the walls, and the community picnic table, the whole space is earthy and welcoming. As you order your cider (or beer, cold brewed nitro coffee, or kombucha) at the bar, you can see the bright fermenting and brewing tanks shining under the fluorescent lights. Just past the immense vats of hard cider, you can’t help but notice the larger than life, vintage ENGLISHMAN’s sign that Bradish has hung above a dozen bourbon barrels lined up at the far back wall.
In those large shiny vats, over the course of two to three weeks, the juice from local North Carolina apples makes its way from a simple and sweet liquid to a complex and multi-layered alcoholic beverage. After the initial fermentation process transforms the apple juice into wine, the liquid is transferred to other vats where the brewing will take place– a method more akin to beer production. After the fermenting and brewing is complete, at a pace that is forcibly slowed down so as to save the natural apple flavors and aromas, additional herbs and juices are added to some of the ciders. Cherry juice from Michigan, cranberries from Massachusetts, lavender and thyme… These aren’t your store-bought cider six packs.
Bradish first began experimenting with home brewing when he was in the Navy stationed in Italy. In Sicily, he was surrounded by people making their own wine and he was hooked. After leaving the Navy and returning to his home state of Michigan, he experimented with winemaking as well as brewing beer. Along the way, he started using apple juice and took a stab at making hard cider. After a job opportunity brought him to Charlotte, he was excited to find such a friendly and supportive cider and brewing community. He credits the owners of Windy Hill Orchard with giving him the push he needed to ratchet up this hobby and turn it into a bustling business.
As a few of us gathered recently with Jay and Jamie to learn more about the cider-making process and hard cider in general, I was wowed by the variety and subtle differences present in the five ciders we tasted. I confessed to having bought my fair share of Angry Orchard and Bradish says that’s ok– Angry Orchard isn’t a threat to his business. Angry Orchard, Woodchuck Cider and their immense marketing arms are bringing more people into the cider industry. Once people decide they like hard cider, they look for the good stuff… and that’s when they find themselves at Red Clay.
Red Clay Ciderworks is open five days a week. If you are unsure about cider, I urge you to give it a try. There is bound to be a cider, or even a cider beer blend, that will change your mind. According to Bradish, he and his sister live to convert people who claim, “I don’t like cider.” Red Clay hard cider kegs have started to make their way into local restaurants and bars in the Charlotte area and they have a plan to start selling cans of their top sellers starting in April. But, before then, you need to make a personal visit. So, I dare you: grab your friends or your kids, and take your love for local over to Red Clay Cideworks. You won’t leave disappointed.
Red Clay Ciderworks
245 Clanton, Charlotte, NC
Closed Mondays and Tuesdays