Discovering Hard Cider in Bozeman at: Lockhorn Cider House
Lockhorn is the only certified organic hard cider maker in Montana.
Anna Deal, her daughter Alder, 5, son Odin, 3, and baby Mabel join me on wooden picnic table by the large front window in the tasting room. It is late afternoon on a bright spring day and sunlight pours through large windows at the front of the room. Most patrons are outside enjoying their ciders on the patio alongside the small aspen and apple trees that are beginning to bud on the South side of the property.
This is our second meeting in this room, having interviewed Anna the month Lockhorn opened in February when Mabel was just a newborn. Her age, and the age of the cider house are now intertwined. At three months Mabel and the business are both doing very well.
When we met in February Deal described the overwhelming response that the business received at their opening. Today the Lockhorn is still going strong. “It’s been steady.” Deal said “We’ve had a lot of good people coming in and a lot of good word of mouth.”
Lockhorn is the only certified organic hard cider maker in Montana. Their beverages are offered on tap in the traditional apple as well as ginger, currant, and hops flavors also available. They hope to rotate flavors seasonally with a raspberry framboise, and a Flathead cherry blend hopefully coming this summer.
When asking a large table of boisterous customers on the patio what they like most about the cider a common reaction is that it is nice to have something different to come out and enjoy and sip. Almost everyone said they came today because of the atmosphere in the tasting room and to try something new.
Hannah Victory, 27, the new retail manager added “It’s awesome. It’s such a fun place to hang out.” Victory will manage the five other employees that work in the front of the business, while Anna, her husband Glen, and one other employee work in the back making the cider.
When asking other patrons what their favorite cider is everyone has a different answer. Many say the currant and ginger, some say the hops, and a few the traditional.
Victory says their best seller isn’t easy to nail down either, “I would say the ginger, but it kind of changes every week. The flavor changes so one week it will be ginger and then the next it would be traditional. It’s hard to peg.” She adds that people love the sampler, especially first timers who want to try them all, but you can also get pints and pitchers, as well as growler fills.
Deal describes to me the surprisingly uncomplicated process they use to create the hard cider. It all starts with apple juice. “So the juice arrives in a tanker truck and we run vintner hose in through the front door and fill the tanks, there are fermentation tanks behind us and they are each 3000 gallons” she said.
Their juice is sourced from farms in Eastern Washington. “It’s fine to drink raw” she said. “It’s pasteurized, unfiltered, organic apple juice.”
A point of pride for the Deals is the sustainability of their business cycle. She said “It is remarkable to see 8,000 gallons of cider move from farm to glass without a single disposable container, especially for a community like Bozeman where glass recycling is such a challenge.”
With their next shipment they plan on using some of the juice to serve as non-alcoholic sweet cider for kids and anyone that wants to try it. They also offer hot cider sweetened with honey which Deal says has been “a real hit on these colder spring days and for the after ski crowd.”
The next step is to add yeast and some nutrients to the juice to start the fermentation process. During that process they have to consistently be checking the temperature of the batch to make sure the yeast is not giving off too much heat which can ruin the flavor. It takes about two weeks for the cider to completely ferment all of the sugar to alcohol. When the cider has “run dry,” meaning there is no sugar left, it is “racked” from the fermentation tank to a clean tank.
“Racking involves connecting [a] 2” hose to the full tank and pumping it into a clean tank, the trick is making sure that everything is sterile so that we don’t introduce bacteria into the cider which could ruin the whole batch” said Deal.
At this point in the process the hard cider is fine to drink but deal notes “It doesn’t taste good yet, it takes about two or three months for it to really start aging and tasting good.”
The cider is then moved into what the Deals call the “cellar,” a backroom where there are more storage tanks to properly age the newly fermented drink which is now at about 7 percent alcohol by volume. The last step is to add the carbonation. “We move it into bright tanks and that’s what makes it fizzy” she said.
This step is a departure from older ways of adding fizziness. “Traditionally people would put it in a bottle with a little more sugar and that would give the yeast something else to eat and that would make actual carbonation.” She said “If we did that it would just make it more alcoholic and there would be more residual sugar.”
It is important to note that the Lockhorn fermentation process does not add any sugar to the product at any step along the way. This allows their cider to naturally preserve itself and continue to age through time like wine, adding subtle flavor changes the longer it sits.
Deal explains that because of their completely dry brewing process “its tart on the first sip ... but it seems like when you’re halfway through the glass it really brightens up.” Another added benefit of not adding sugar is that they do not have to add sulfites as a preservative and the drinks “tend to treat you better in the morning” she said.
She adds that “Others have found that they get headaches from sulfites added to wine, or that they just generally feel better with less sugar in their diets.”
The cider, unlike beer, is also 100% gluten free. Deal is herself not able to consume gluten which was a big factor for them when they decided to start making cider.
The process of opening this cider house at 21 South Wallace Ave began for them in 2011. When they bought the property located behind Heebs Grocery. “The property was slated to be cleared for high end condos, but with the housing crash plans fell through and we bought the property.”
The garage on the property, built in the 1960’s, needed major renovations before becoming what it is today. The deals tried to use everything from the original structure they could in the new business. Including making the old floor joists into the tables and benches that are now in the tasting room. Using recycled glass and old tools to decorate the concrete floor, and reusing the original subfloor and flooring as decorative wood to finish the interior.
Another green aspect of their business is the building itself. Knowing that cooling the cider for storage and aging was going to be their biggest use of energy they installed 18” of foam “super-insulation” to bring down their consumption of energy. “We did our best to create an above ground cellar to cold stabilize the cider for storage and aging.”
Since we last met there have been some notable additions to the cider house. They now offer live music on Sundays and Wednesdays. “Sunday afternoon we do classical string instruments, and that is our family friendly time. We’ve got sweet cider now for the kids and crayons and paper. So it’s a very relaxing lovely way to spend the afternoon” said Deal.
From my first visit, the tasting room is visibly different with the patio now open, local art lining the walls and two large locked moose horns greeting customers near the entrance. These locked horns come from their cabin in Alaska and are the source of inspiration for their business name.
A poem on the back of their new growler jugs reads:
Fruit ripens on the tree
An animal goes into rut
Clash of horns and bodies bind
A wild perfume is instinct’s air
Feverishly the chase begins
Wildness, fall’s gift to men.
“Glen wrote the poem” said Deal. It connects the fall rutting season to the apple harvest and their all natural fermentation process in ‘the apple’s instinct untamed’ (their new slogan).
On the origin of their name Deal said “I just think it’s a tragically beautiful way to go, it’s this bittersweet struggle of life and that just sort of resonated with us.”
As for the future of Lockhorn, along with new summer flavors customers will also be able to buy their product in bottles, and hopefully in other bars and restaurants, as they want to add volume and start selling kegs wholesale.
Hours and their entertainment lineup can be found on their website at www.lockhornhardcider.com and on their Facebook page.