Call to mind America’s great apple-growing regions: the Pacific Northwest, Vermont, the Hudson River Valley, Michigan and… Texas? You bet, says Argus Cidery founder Wes Mickel. The cider house has used only Texas apples (and coming soon, Arkansas apples) to produce its European-style ciders for just over four years now, and the company is poised to expand with a second line called Argus Fermentables that hits Austin-area shelves this month.
First, two things to know about Argus Cidery: They’re emphatically from Texas, and they’re emphatically not your conventional cider.
“Cider doesn’t have to be sweet,” Mickel says. “Since day one, that misconception has been our most difficult aspect. 70 percent of people think cider should be sweet.”
Argus ciders couldn’t be further from that. The Perennial 2013 sparkling cider drinks bone-dry and could easily be substituted for Champagne. Idalou Brut 2012 is fermented with both wild and cultured yeast with the added tartness of Brett for a citric zing. Seriously, these aren’t your English pub-crushers. Mickel credits the scrappy Texas- and Arkansas-grown apples, which thrive in a desert climate.
“We’re talking about a summer that goes all the way to the beginning of November. Add to that the stress of heat and lack of rain, and the apple variety just performs completely differently,” Mickel says. “The climate produces a very compact tree, only about 6 feet tall. I’m only, like, 5’5”, and I can touch the top of the trees. The apples can only get so big. But to me, what was the most unique was the sugar development and the acid development on what are considered desert varieties. We end up with this fruit that has so much richness and so many layers to it.”
Argus Fermentables will expand the cider maker’s reach by creating different styles of cider and other beverages that stray a bit from the European-style, Basque-influenced Argus Cidery. Fermentables also will source apples from all over, not just Texas and Arkansas. First up, Texans will see six-packs of Fermentables’ ciderkins, tiny individual servings that suit drinkers who don’t want to commit to a 750mL bottle. Next up, Argus Fermentables will release a hard Ginger Perry, the result of Wes’ love of spicy ginger beer. Expect Fermentables to hit Austin before the end of March, with Charleston, S.C. and Arkansas to follow.