By Kevin Collison
Russ John of Brick River Cider Co. has a modest goal for his new place in the East Crossroads.
“My mission is to support the fruit industry in the Midwest,” he said.
And considering it takes about five apples to make a pint of hard cider, he’s going to need a lot to ferment the nine varieties of hard ciders he’s offering at Brick River, which opened last week at 1701 McGee St.
The back room operation features four, 500-gallon fermenting tanks, each one holding the juice from 36 tons of apples. Its a big leap from his days growing up on a Nebraska farm outside Lincoln where his folks had a modest orchard of 300 apple trees.
“I had for sometime wanted to connect my entrepreneurial activity with the family farm,” John said. “My granddad made hard cider for his own personal use.”
His inspiration came from observing the rapid proliferation of microbreweries over the past 30 years. The craft beer industry got its start on the East and West Coasts in the 1980s before ultimately spreading throughout the United States.
Around 2010, the hard cider trend also got its start on the Coasts. Boston Beer Co., owner of Sam Adams, launched “Angry Orchard” hard cider and it quickly grabbed 60 percent of the national market.
John, who was at that point living in St. Louis, figured it would be only a matter of time before it would catch on in the Midwest.
“I thought there would be a business opportunity based on the beer experience,” he said.
John opened his first Brick River Cider in the Downtown West area of St. Louis in 2018. It’s success prompted him to enter the Kansas City market.
As for where he would open here, it was a no brainer, according to John.
“Whether it was planned or a happy accident, it didn’t take 10 minutes of investigation to determine where to go because of the concentration of artisanal beverages–breweries, distilleries, wine–in the East Crossroads,” he said.
“It was pretty obvious, this was the neighborhood.”
He also was able to lease the former Tapcade arcade bar space at 17th and McGee. The 5,500 square-foot room features roll-up glass doors looking out over McGee as well as a long outdoor patio.
Brick River also has signed its first contract with a local grower; Sibley Orchards will supply 8,000 gallons of apple juice each year.
As for the nine hard cider offerings, John said they run the gamut from sweet to dry and except for the “Double Barrel Apple,” are in the 4.3-5.5 percent alcohol range. Double Barrel is a potent blend of apple juice, hard cider and apple brandy that hits 16 percent.
Brick River also offers a range of local craft beers, several of them brewed in the nearby East Crossroads Neigh-Brew-Hood. There’s also several cider cocktails.
As for the demographic for hard cider, John observed its a fascinating flip on the craft beer crowd. While 70 percent of beer drinkers are men, 70 percent of hard cider drinkers are women.
Brick River also offers food including a burger, pulled pork sandwich, fried chicken sandwich and an orchard grill sandwich featuring sliced apple, smoked gouda, spinach and apple butter on toasted sourdough.
There appetizers including deviled eggs, cider brined wings and a fruit and cheese oard, salads and flatbreads. The kitchen also features entrees including mushroom risotto and fish n’ chips.
Hours are from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, at 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays. Brick River’s hard cider products also are sold in cans and kegs, and are available in local bars and liquor stores.
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