ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque’s a craft beer town.
Can it also be a hard cider city?
Lorenzo Melendez thinks so. He is now serving nine varieties of the house-made Sandia Hard Cider at his new Albuquerque taproom and working on plans to distribute the product to other area breweries and can it for sale in stores.
“We want to be the La Cumbre or Marble of ciders,” said Melendez, citing two of Albuquerque’s largest craft beer makers.
Melendez and his partners launched The Craftroom taproom last week at 2809 Broadbent NE and are pouring ciders flavored with watermelon, pear, cherry and raspberry and ranging in strength from 5.4 percent alcohol by volume to 7.2 percent.
Melendez is a partner in Las Vegas, N.M.-based New Mexico Craft Brewing Co., and devotes some of The Craftroom’s 23 taps to those beers and beers from other local breweries. The Craftroom also plans to launch its own in-house brewery soon and already has a small sandwich menu.
But it’s the cider-making component that will set it apart: “We have a little different angle,” he said.
Santa Fe is home to a couple of cideries already. In Albuquerque, a few area breweries also produce cider — which, in New Mexico, requires a winegrower’s license — but Melendez said The Craftroom will do it on a large scale and with more variety, tapping into what he said is a growing interest in the beverage. The cidery’s 60-barrel system will allow it to make up to 240 barrels a month. (Depending on the season, Melendez said they use a mix of fresh apples and concentrate from Washington state.)
Sales growth among the larger producers started slowing down last year after some huge gains, CNBC reported last fall but “regional and craft ciders are thriving on both coasts of the United States.” And the United States Association of Cider Makers reported 1,330 members as of last month, up from 96 when it started in 2013.
Locally, the thirst for cider is apparent at Boxing Bear Brewing. Though beer remains top priority at the West Side Albuquerque brewery, co-owner and head of brewery operations Justin Hamilton said Boxing Bear house-made “semi-sweet” cider is a good seller, especially among those who simply don’t like beer or who follow a gluten-free diet.
“The demand for our cider is pretty high. We have a batch going out pretty much every week. … It’s something that’s doing well,” he said.
Given its own output, Boxing Bear is not looking to bring on an outside cider. But Melendez believes that breweries that do not make their own might be among his best customers as they look to add a different product in their taprooms.
It’s a plan that would not have worked until recently, as such reciprocity was only made possible by a 2015 law change allowing New Mexico winegrower’s and small brewer’s licensees to sell each others’ products.
“I bet that would be a really good sales channel for them — to distribute to the breweries,” said New Mexico Brewers Guild Executive Director John Gozigian of Albuquerque’s startup cidery, noting the beverage’s growing popularity. “The breweries already making cider are having trouble keeping up with it because there’s much demand for it.”