Double Shovel Cider
Alaska's First Commercial Hard Cidery
Anchorage diners will see a new local brew on the drink menu this summer, and it won’t be beer. Hard cider from Double Shovel Cider Company will be on tap at city restaurants just about the time Anchorage’s crabapple trees bloom.
“We want this to be like a local microbrew, but something different,” said one of the owners, Galen Jones.
Double Shovel will also offer growlers at its warehouse taproom off Potter Drive.
The company—named for a caribou antler configuration prized by hunters—was started by three 30-something engineers: Jerry Lau, his brother Jack Lau, and Jones. All three grew up in South Anchorage and are childhood friends. Galen and Jerry don’t eat wheat (and therefore don’t drink beer). They were serious hobby cider makers before they started to work on their business plan three years ago.
Their market research showed them two important things: cider-drinking is a growing trend, as is the gluten-free movement, Jack Lau said. It also doesn’t hurt that Anchorage has a healthy brewery scene. The city loves local.
“What does every restaurant want right now? They want at least one cider tap,” Jones said. “And they want local. We’re both.”
Their flagship cider, known around their warehouse as “semi-dry,” is made from a proprietary blend of apple juice from the Pacific Northwest. Apple cider can ferment without added yeast, but the process can take many months. Double Shovel, like most commercial cider operations, adds a special yeast to speed things up (they tested numerous yeasts before settling on one). The cider ferments for a little more than a month, then they filter it and add carbonation, according to Jerry Lau, the head cider maker. Acids and tannins are the main flavor-makers in cider that give it tartness and bite. Their flagship cider is much drier than most popular commercial ciders. It also contains roughly 20 percent of the sugar, making it lower in calories.
“The yeast eats all the sugar away,” Jones said.
The cider will likely retail for around $6 to $7 a pint like a microbrew. It averages about 6.5 percent alcohol, making it a little stiffer than an average craft beer. Crabapple cider and other Alaska flavors like blueberry and rhubarb are in the works.
Alaska isn’t known for apples, but that’s something they’d like to change. Many varieties of apples that are suited to cold climates and short summer seasons are high in acid, which enhances the flavor.
“Alaska apples are actually really, really good cider apples,” said Jerry Lau.
Last fall, using social media to query residents with apple trees and reaching out to some small orchards, they were able to collect over 1000 pounds of Alaska apples. They built an apple press that they plan to share with the community.
“The idea is to let people bring their apples here, we’ll juice it for them and take half the juice,” Jones said.
The reception for local cider among Anchorage restaurants has been good. According to Jones, their biggest challenge with their first run of cider is not to overextend. They were mum on the locations where the cider will be served, saying the final details were being handled by their distributor. They will eventually sell the cider in cans.
When Jerry Lau looks down the road for Double Shovel, he sees Alaska orchards supported by the cidery. The plan in the near term, though, is just to source as much local juice as they can, with an eye toward crafting a truly unique local flavor.
“We’re hoping to double the amount of Alaska cider each year,” he said.