Cider Junction opened in Willow Glen in October 2017 and was an immediate hit with both the neighborhood and cider lovers from throughout the Bay Area.
The taproom features 32 taps – 26 devoted to craft ciders and six to craft beers – along with a couple dozen ciders in bottles or cans. The tap list features only independent craft cider producers, and more than half of the ciders hail from California.
Owners Tracy Smith and Claudia Derp, who funded Cider Junction themselves, can often be found working the bar and chatting with customers. Smith was a home winemaker who had thought about opening a local winery. When Derp discovered cider on a trip to London a few years ago, they started thinking about brewing their own ciders. In their research, they discovered that cider tap handles in bars and restaurants were tough to come by. In addition, according to Derp, “there were so many ciders looking for a place to be experienced,” so they decided to create that place themselves.
“We just love spreading the word about great ciders,” Derp said.
Cider Junction serves flights of four 4-ounce pours to encourage sampling, though full pours are available as well. They also feature events with cider makers and food pairing events. Their everyday food menu boasts fresh, cider-friendly fare such as charcuterie and cheese platters, tacos, flatbreads, pulled-pork sliders and salads. Derp said her next focus is an outdoor patio they hope to have completed this summer.
On my most recent visit, I sampled some California ciders that called out to me, as well as a couple of Derp’s recommendations.
• Gowan’s Gravenstein Heirloom Cider (6.1 percent alcohol by volume) from Philo poured a pale straw color and featured a mildly tart wild yeast character and sweet apple blossom notes on the aroma. The body was quite light, and the flavor was crisp and slightly tart, with a fruity, semisweet apple finish. This cider won a gold medal at the 2018 California State Fair Wine Competition.
• Humboldt Cherry Cider (7.3 percent ABV), brewed in Eureka, was a beautiful, bright ruby-red color in the glass. Tart cherries were quite pronounced in the aroma and flavor, and semisweet apple notes balanced the tartness. The lingering spicy finish of this medium-bodied cider suggested a delicate hint of cloves.
• Mission Trail Kiwifornia (7.7 percent ABV) was a 100 percent kiwi dry cider from Bradley. Light gold in color, the tart-sweet kiwi aroma jumped from the glass, and the cider had a puckering acidic tartness on the palate that was reminiscent of fresh grapefruit juice. Medium bodied with an extremely dry finish, Kiwifornia made me look at kiwi fruit (and cider) in a new way.
• Tin City Cider in Paso Robles aged its See You Next Tuesday Cider (8.8 percent ABV) in Black Tuesday Reserve imperial stout barrels from The Bruery in Placentia. The hazy pale straw color and light body did not intuitively match the rich, oaky red-wine flavor and aroma characteristics. The cider also suggested hints of roasted malt and boozy spirits, but the oaky barrel character was the focal point.
• While the tap list is constantly changing, Lockeford’s Hemly Cider brews one of the few staples of the Cider Junction menu: Jalapeno Pear Cider (5.5 percent ABV). With a hazy golden color and light body, the aroma was earthy, fruity jalapeno, and the flavor highlighted all the richness of the peppers with a distinctive but not overwhelming heat. Unfermentable sugars from the pear laid down a pleasant semisweet base for the pepper, and the subtle heat lingered on the palate following a semidry finish.
Derek Wolfgram is a Certified Beer Judge through the Beer Judge Certification Program and an officer of the Silicon Valley Sudzers homebrew club. For more information, visit sudzers.org.