Conservation effort turns into cider business

Ian McGregor and Orion Bellorado test some of their cider at their production room south of Jackson. Farmstead Cider started operations three years ago using apples taken from Jackson trees to keep the fruit from attracting bears to residential neighborhoods. (Photo by Ryan Dorgan, Jackson Hole News&Guide)

By Emily Mieure

Jackson Hole News&Guide

Via Wyoming News Exchange

JACKSON — What started as a conservation effort to reduce wildlife conflicts in residential areas by ridding trees of crabapples has turned into a full-blown cider startup.

Ian McGregor, 33, and Orion Bellorado, 31, pressed their first batch of apples three years ago; since then they’ve been collecting the fruits of their labor to make delicious cider.

“This fall was the most we have ever collected,” McGregor said. “We easily hit over 150 houses in Teton County.”

The entrepreneurs shook hundreds of trees in the fall and made off with truckloads of fruit.

“We are discovering that apples do grow here,” said McGregor, a Jackson native. “As we went out to find crabapples we found all these sweet apples hiding in people’s backyards.”

Now those crabapples are fermenting in old wine barrels, alongside smaller experimental batches in tubs lining the walls at their place on Deer Drive. The cider makers are getting ready to bottle, keg and sell to consumers this summer.

“They all have different characteristics,” McGregor said. “Some have tons of flavor, and others have less. We have more control with them separated, and then we can blend them together.”

Formerly Beartrap Ciderworks, the business has been renamed Farmstead Cider. McGregor and Bellorado plan to work under that moniker as they start to sell their cider at farmers markets and establishments around town.

“The idea is everyone’s house is a homestead,” McGregor said. “It’s our way of connecting with people. The coolest part of this project has been knocking on doors. It’s sort of a relief for people when they learn it’s for a local business, and we’re making a product out of their apples.”

On their quest to find more apples to make cider, McGregor and Bellorado discovered an orchard in Fremont County that had more fruit than the owners knew what to do with.

“We went to visit, and it’s this orchard that was planted in 1880,” McGregor said. “The guy made a killing selling hard cider to miners at South Pass City and made off like a bandit. Early booze-making on the frontier was a productive business. Then he sold property in the ’20s, and the new owners didn’t want to run an orchard.”

So they worked out a deal with the orchard’s owners.

“We offered to help maintain the orchard in the offseason,” he said. “So that’s our trade. Then it’s all the apples we can pick are ours.”

The company is doing everything by hand, and the owners have scratched forearms to prove it.

“It’s truly a blood, sweat and tears type of thing,” McGregor said.

Now they’re experimenting with yeasts and taste testing as they go.

“We’ve been tracking the sugars and acidity,” McGregor said. “Now we’re going to start kegging.”

They’re even siphoning the ciders from the barrels into kegs by hand. The goal is to not add any unnecessary ingredients and keep the ciders smelling sweet but tasting dry.

“We don’t care so much about consistency,” Bellorado said. “From year to year it’s going to be like wine. We will have vintages. The differences will be the exciting part.”

The average alcohol level of the ciders is 7.5 percent, they said.

Inspired by the names of the apple varieties, McGregor and Bellorado have nicknamed the batches after which apples are in which recipes.

“That one is the Nan’s Red Rooster,” McGregor said. “Because the apple tree was closest to Nan’s chicken coop.”

A Wyoming blend will feature apples from Lander and Jackson.

“This is one you can have 10 of and be all right,” McGregor said. “We’ve tested the hangover potential. It’s very scientific. We have to really know our product.”

“It’s not bad,” Bellorado said.