Founder of The California Cider Company & ACE Cider

Tell us about SPACE from ACE, the new cider named in honor of your wife, Angela.
SPACE is our Bloody Orange Craft Cider at 6.9% ABV (alcohol by volume) and is our first unfiltered cider. SPACE is limited. It’s in a 22 oz.-clear bottle, which is unusual for us. My wife Angela played the hookah-smoking intergalactic siren Brea Tonnika in the cantina scene of the original Star Wars movie, and her photo is featured on every bottle. It is a gesture to her—and with the [new Star Wars] film that was coming out, I thought it was good timing—but I also think we are returning to another period of space exploration.

Why Bloody Orange?
I have an advertising background so we researched our customers. We have 40,000 Facebook followers. We asked them what they thought our next cider should be, and it was blood orange. Creating these drinks is kind of fun, too. We never copy anyone else. We try to be original. We make very original, honest all-fruit all-natural ciders.

Why do you think more folks are choosing cider instead of beer and wine these days?
A healthier option. Gluten-free. Lower calorie count, less sugars and carbs, more refreshing. With the alcohol being lower at 5-6 percent, you’re not getting as many calories from alcohol.
Did you choose to create a cider made out of 100 percent Gravenstein apples to support the local apple industry or because of the flavor, or for both reasons?
We made ACE Black Jack 21, our organic Gravenstein cider, because we like to support our local Gravenstein apple and because it makes a really good cider. I am also embarking on a project of planting Gravenstein trees on my acreage [in West County]. I’ve planted 30 trees and I’m going to be planting 400 to 800 more this spring (in March and April) so I can get all of the apples I need off my own estate. I thought I’d do an apple nursery, with different types of apples, including heirlooms. The Gravensteins are a totally local apple and product, and one of the biggest problems is getting all the apples we need.

We did a limited batch of organic Gravenstein cider, based on local public demand, in the early 2000s. We did it on draft and everyone liked it. Then we came back to it when we had our 21st anniversary in 2014, and I thought what a nice way to celebrate by putting it in a black bottle, aging it in oak chardonnay barrels and making it more champagne-like. The 2015 has red and green Gravensteins—no matter what people say about buying local, it’s difficult to get them. When we do 2016, we will sell it in keg and bottles, and we suggest serving it in an elegant champagne flute. People want to drink a higher-end cider.

Tell us about your cider with champagne characteristics?
The Joker, named after myself, is very dry and contains 6.9% ABV. It tastes very similar to a fine champagne. We use French champagne yeast in the ciders. It’s very popular around here. It’s very mixable with drinks, too. One of the first apéritifs in the 1920s was called a fencepost, and they put bourbon and cider together; it could be a breakfast or brunch drink.

Your small Friday afternoon tasting room has a friendly, fun and local vibe (and most people wouldn’t know it’s next to a high-level production facility). What can people experience there?
They can buy every one of our ciders there on draft to enjoy in the pub or in bottles to take home. Some of our diehard fans even bring in growlers to fill up. Our sampler tasting of all nine ciders is very popular. People can play darts, listen to live music and shoot pool. I enjoy interacting with the people who visit the tasting room so you will likely find me there on Fridays as well.

Who (in current times or past history) would you love to sit down and share a cider with and why (and which cider would you serve)?
Henry the VIII and our ACE Apple Honey. We are both of Welsh descent.

For what occasions or meals do you suggest folks try cider instead of their usual alcoholic beverage?
Our Joker and Blackjack are great champagne alternatives for any cork-popping occasion—weddings, anniversaries, etc. Pork dishes, spicy Asian foods, cheese plates and crepes all go well with cider. Darlene Hayes, who has traveled all cider areas of the world, has written “Cider Cocktails – Another Bite of the Apple,” a book about cider cocktails and cider-infused appetizers.

Why are you recognized as an innovator in the craft cider category?
I have 32 years of history and have created many original ciders. The truth is I don’t think anyone has been in it as long as I have in America. We are the largest family-owned independent cidery in America. We are No. 7 among all US cider producers now. We are the go-to people for writers to interview about the cider industry. Our Perry cider was the first in California; Honey Apple was the first; Joker was the first truly dry; Pineapple has gone berserk in Hawaii, California and Oregon, and we mix it with Malibu rum to make a cocktail called Hawaii 5-0. We had the first cider pub in America in 1999. I was one of the first guys to get the cider tax changed, to lower the tax on cider, in the late 1990s. We sell in 47 states. Not many who haven’t heard of ACE; people come here from all over the world to find us.

The fact that I started in America with $1,000 and built the largest independent cidery in America is quite a remarkable thing. It’s more fun now than it has ever been. We’ve won a “Hot Brand” award from “Impact Magazine” for four years running. We’re getting into a lot of ballparks across America—the Angels will be serving pineapple, the Giants and Oakland As have it. It takes time, you could say… I’m a 35-year overnight success.

What do you foresee as the future of the cider industry?
At the moment the cider business in the US is $500 million dollars at retail selling prices. In 2020 it will quite possibly be $2 billion because the Budweisers, Millers and Heinekens are in it now, blasting out with TV commercials. It’s going to be a significant alternative to craft beer. They’ve seen the markets in Southeast Asia where they like sweeter drinks; in every country around the world cider is getting bigger. In the UK, it’s 15 percent… It could go up to 5 billion by 2030 in the U.S.
We’re going to CiderCON (the conference) in February. When I first started in the industry, there were only two American ciders and now there are 500, with more to come. It’s a very competitive marketplace. SD

About Jeffrey House
“There are few people in the American cider circuit who do not know Jeffrey House. British expat House got his start (and green card) in the American drinks industry in 1977 at the age of 26, importing British beers to the US and exporting California wines to England. He longed for the ciders of his homeland, and in 1993, launched The California Cider Company and ACE Cider. The brand became the West Coast’s first commercial cidery, made the United States’ first perry and touts the title for the nation’s first cider brewpub. Celebrating 23 years, House runs the cidery with his three sons and wife, a business that grows 30 percent each year, totaling $12 million in 2015.”
Erin James, Cidercraft Magazine Editor