Hard Cidery To Open In Monterey
June is Business Appreciation Month, and an upcoming start-up business in Highland looks to feature products made from resources right here in the area. Kirk Billingsley of Monterey is close to opening a hard cider production company, and he talked about the origins behind it and where it stands.
“I’m opening a hard cidery here in Monterey, Va. – been interested in cider for a lot of years, since I was a little kid. My parents bought a house just west of Monterey, and it had several old apple trees there, and we made cider since I was about seven or eight years old, and this is just sort of a natural outgrowth of that.
“The business is the Big Fish Cider Company. Obviously, it is named after the building in town, which was the Maple Restaurant. The building was owned by folks in Miller, which was a sign company out of Baltimore, and they came when they had an agreement with Allegheny Mountain Trout to serve trout there. The idea was, they were going to put a big trout on top, and it was either I had to take that down, or just name the business after that, and I could leave the fish up.
“I’m not in production now. I’ve just got my Federal license, and the state license has been approved. Really, those had to be in place before I started any production. Before I start fermenting anything, I have to have the license in place. There’s VDACS standards, and to produce alcohol, you’ve got to go through the licensing process through Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control, and the TTB for the Federal license. Basically, they want to make sure that you’ve got everything in place, and that you pay your tax, so there’s reporting I’ll have to do, each and every month to show how much I’ve produced, how much I’ve sold, how much is in inventory, etc. But VDACS, as far as health, is going to be the main oversight there.
“The facility should have been done by now, but typical construction projects, it’s a little bit slower than it should be, but we hope to get everything up within a month, and then I’ve got to get the equipment in there, and get ready to go. I hope everything will be ready by the beginning of September.
“Most of the good cider apples are not really ripe until mid-October, but I’m hoping that if I can get some of the Grimes Golden, etc, probably go ahead and start pressing mid-to-late September.”
Mr. Billingsley talked about the different varieties he hopes to produce.
“I’ve had a few tastings with friends, and folks that I know, trying to get my recipes down. I can’t even tell you how many recipes I’ve done. I’m going to have, probably the first year, four or five different recipes – one’s going to be probably just an off dry cider, that’s going to be the pure, unadulterated cider, and then, a semi-dry cider also. But in addition to that, I do a maple cider – I also do a honey cider – that is actually one of my favorites. And then I’ll do a raspberry cider – the color from the raspberries come right into the cider, and it’s a little bit sweeter, so somebody that really doesn’t like cider, they come in, and they haven’t tasted cider before, and they’re surprised that it doesn’t taste like Mott’s apple juice, when they taste the raspberry, they’ll probably really like it, because it’s very fruity, and a little bit sweeter than the average cider.
“Those are the ones I’ll,probably start with, and what I call a wassel, or a spiced, a holiday cider. My secret to making cider is doing a slow, long, cold ferment, and it’s hard to do that and have it ready by December, but the spiced cider, because you’re not really tasting as much of the apples as you’re tasting the cinnamon, and nutmeg, I can get that done, probably by December.”
Mr. Billingsley credited his time serving on the Highland EDA, and seeing the need for new economic development that could rely on local labor and product as an incentive for starting the business. He noted while he viewed it as a hobby, his wife Kim might call it an obsession, but she was quick to support his efforts.
“I’ve always thought about this as being as part of a retirement plan for me, so I thought this would be a good segue into retirement. I’m starting a few years earlier than I expected, because cider has just taken off like crazy. Kim and I were talking, and she said “Kirk, if you wait until you retire, and you start this business, and it flops, then what are you going to do? If you start it now, and it flops, then you just keep on working.”
“I don’t want to make it big, I want it to be a high quality cidery that people want to come and find out about, and it’s all about being in Highland, and the apples from Highland too.”