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Claremont couple hopes hard cider hits the spot

Craft foods, beverages and body care products—once rarities relegated to hippie co-ops and farmer’s markets—are officially having their mainstream moment.

Major supermarket chains now routinely stock small-batch, artisanal products, from soap to whiskey, and one branch of the entrepreneurial tree—craft beer—is so ubiquitous as to be nearing complete saturation.

With all that noise, how can a new business differentiate itself in a crowded marketplace? Ironbark Ciderworks may have cracked that code.

The Claremont cidery (a hard cider brewery) is banking on being one of the first of its kind in southern California. Ironbark will officially enter the craft-brewing fray at its grand opening next Friday, December 1 at its tasting room located at  1420 N. Claremont Blvd., 107B, from 5 to 11 p.m. It is open to the public, and will feature live music, food and 10 ciders on tap.

Claremonters Cat Fleming and Jim Coffman are the upstart brewers, owners and married couple.

“Starting a cidery was a pretty crazy idea—I’m a teacher and Jim is a sculptor,” Ms. Fleming said. “We’re not even in the beverage industry—but we’re definitely up for adventure, and that’s what this business has been so far.”

The concept for Ironbark began about three years ago, when Ms. Fleming began brewing at home with her friend, Cheryl Nespor. Longtime local home-brewer Steve Ernst helped the friends with some of the early batches.

After Ms. Fleming and Mr. Coffman took fermentation classes at Oregon State University, their hobby became a business plan. The couple rented the location across the way from Claremont Craft Ales and set about the process of securing permits, building out the space, and setting up tanks. That was a year-and-a-half ago, and after enduring a few unexpected delays, the brightly decorated tasting room is open for business.

“We want the Ironbark experience to be a colorful, inclusive celebration of life,” said Ms. Fleming. “It’s not just for one sector of the community, it’s for everyone. We will have local musicians, poets, writers, artists and actors perform here, and we may even host TED-type talks.”

Brewing cider has a long history in Europe, and some Americans are no doubt familiar with the sugar-forward version served in British pubs across the US. But that’s not what Ironbark is going for. Their brews are decidedly dry, all-natural, and are surprisingly low in sugar.

“Where I’m from [Australia], everyone knows about cider,” Ms. Fleming said. “Here, not many people really know about it. But if you go up to Oregon, people love it. They think it’s going to be sweet, but its not. Once they taste it,  they love it.”

Ironbark’s core offerings include Hoppelgänger, an IPA doppelganger; The Duchess, which is an Earl Grey tea cider named after the Duchess of Dorchester, who was the Earl of Grey’s mistress; Passionista, a passionfruit cider; Zingiber, with ginger and pear cider; Jamaica, an hibiscus petal cider; and the spicy Hot Pink, brewed with habañero pepper and grapefruit. They are all gluten free and around seven percent alcohol by volume. They’re also preservative free and have no residual sugar.

There are no chemicals used during the seven-to-10 day fermentation process, which keeps the beverages shelf stable. After that, the brewers let the apple and yeast solid particulates drop out. The next step is filtering. After that, the brew goes back into the tank, and it is carbonated.

The resulting dry beverage has caught some early customers off guard, Ms. Fleming said.

“Almost everyone has been very surprised. Most commercial ciders sweeten it, then they have to use preservatives, and then they heat-pasteurize it. And the cider tastes different. They cook it, essentially, and to me it just doesn’t taste as fresh as non-heat-treated cider.”

The hope, Ms. Fleming said, is to grow the business to the point where Ironbark can begin bottling, and sell to local markets, á la Upland’s Last Name Brewing and Claremont’s flagship brewery, Claremont Craft Ales, which are available at chains like Stater Bros. and Trader Joe’s.

“We’re definitely bottling,” she said, “just as soon as we can get [US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau] label approval.”

Ironbark’s tasting room is strategically located just across the parking lot from CCA. It’s not an accident, and rather than compete for drinkers’ dollars, principals from both breweries say they complement each other. The owners are friends, and CCA, which recently celebrated its fifth anniversary, is even loaning Ironbark some of its bottling gear.

“They make amazing cider. It’s delicious, and I think the space is gorgeous,” said CCA co-owner (with her husband, Simon Brown), Emily Moultrie. “We are super excited to have them as our neighbors. All it does is bring more people to our little industrial park. Our people will discover them, and their people will discover us. All ships rise with the tide, as our brewers association says.”

Ms. Moultrie emphasized the importance of the “craft” element both businesses share.

“I’m really just excited that more Claremonters will come to understand what it means to make this stuff ourselves,” she said. “These are our neighbors making these products, and serving us, so it’s awesome.”

Ironbark’s next brew, which it will start just after the grand opening, will be two tanks of “Perry,” a pear cider, which is a bit of a departure for the cidery.

“The thing with pears is, the cider tastes sweeter, since they have unfermentable sugars,” Ms. Fleming explained.

As with most every new business venture, Ms. Fleming and Mr. Coffman have been putting in long hours leading up to the opening. 

“Yeah, we do work very long days, usually from about 8 a.m. to 2 a.m.,” Ms. Fleming said. “But, it’s good for your muscles. I feel like I’m getting some arm muscles from all this!”

Ironbark’s grand opening celebration is 5 to 11 p.m. Friday, December 1. Regular hours are Tuesday through Thursday from 5 to 10 p.m.; Friday, 5 to 11 p.m.; Saturday, 1 to 11 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 8 p.m. Call (909) 292-5384 or go to ironbarkcider.com for more information.

—Mick Rhodes

mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com