In Richard Read's version of the American dream, northern Ohio is transformed into cider country — a destination attraction akin to Napa's famed wine country, only with apple orchards instead of vineyards. Read has already begun the process by launching Griffin Cider Works, a producer of Ohio hard cider that is quickly gaining traction in the competitive drinks field.
As a Brit living in the States, Read was pining for the types of ciders he favored back home. Rather than settle for inferior American-style knock-offs, the self-described tinkerer opted to engineer his own. He befriended the owner of a home-brewing and wine-making supply store, who provided the necessary guidance, support, and supplies. Before long, Read was producing a cider that the shopkeeper thought was good enough to market.
Good enough, indeed. Just three months in, and Read's ciders already have landed on the shelves of Heinen's groceries and area wine shops, as well as on the menu of the Greenhouse Tavern. Expansion and new products are just around the bend, he promises.
"My microbiology background certainly helps," explains Read, who by day is a medical laboratory scientist at Cleveland Clinic. "Making alcohol in a brewery is a lot like working in a lab. I understand bugs pretty good and proper."
In this case, his "bugs" are yeast strains, and his cider-making "lab" is the cellar of J.W. Dover, a long-running Westlake winery that now focuses on beer and brewing supplies. Read toils alone in the 50-degree cinder-block basement, handling everything from fermentation and filtering to bottling and deliveries. On his own, he can produce approximately 5,000 to 7,000 bottles per month.
Whether or not there is that much demand has yet to be determined, of course. Unlike Great Britain, which boasts the world's highest per capita cider consumption, the United States is still beer and wine country. But it hasn't always been this way, notes Read.
"Hard cider was the alcoholic drink of choice in the States during Colonial times," he explains. "Johnny Appleseed wasn't planting apple trees for eating, after all: It was for cider making." But apples are highly perishable, making grain-based beverages like beer cheaper to produce. German-led breweries all but wiped out cider production, and Prohibition finished it off.
But if ever there was a time for hard cider to make a comeback, argues Read, it is now. "People are into local, small-batch, handmade products," he says, citing the explosion of the craft beer and spirits markets as proof. "Consumers are eager to try something interesting that isn't the norm."
That is precisely why Kevin Wildermuth, bar manager at Greenhouse Tavern, was eager to place Read's products on his beverage list.
"To have something local, to have something quality, to have something interesting is a great way to expand our beverage listings," Wildermuth says. The restaurant is the first to serve Read's Lolo Romy, a specialty cider unlike anything on the market. "This is very different from, say, a Woodchuck. It's a great way to bring people into the cider fold."
Named after his late father-in-law ("lolo" is Filipino for grandfather), Lolo Romy drinks more like a fine dessert wine than a traditional draft cider. An infusion of fresh mango gives the drink a tropical sweetness, which is balanced by nice acidity and a relatively high alcohol level. The non-carbonated beverage is best sipped as an aperitif or paired with a late-meal cheese course.
Read's Griffin Original, which will be available any day now, is more along the lines of a traditional pub-style cider. Carbonated, lower in alcohol, and fruity but dry, the cider is served in a pint glass and enjoyed like beer. Both the Lolo Romy and the Griffin Original have the unambiguous perfume of autumn in Ohio.
Read says that he selected the griffin — a mythical half-eagle, half-lion creature — because it combines the iconic American bald eagle with England's symbolic lion.
"I am an Anglo-American Ohioan who makes British-style cider with Ohio apples," he explains.
As vocations go, it's as American as apple cider.