Bryant’s Small Batch Cider in Bryant, Virginia, stands for a long line of tradition, family and legacy. Jerry Thornton, the owner and founder of Bryant’s, grew up on his family’s farm, the very farm that Bryant’s makes use of today.
“It’s been my life’s mission to take over the farm,” he says, remembering his grandmother, who was born on the farm and lived her entire life on the land. Thornton’s family first acquired the farm centuries ago after the Civil War. It’s been maintained and passed down through the family for more than 150 years. After returning home to Virginia after completing grade school and starting his career in finance, Thornton inherited the land from his grandmother in 2010 and quickly learned he needed another means of using the property.
“When she passed, I took over,” he says. “I turned to cider as a way to maintain the farm and got way more into it then I initially thought I would.”
Thornton got into cidermaking from the roots up, literally. He planted 13 acres of cider apples on a portion of the farm that spans 45 acres as a commercial orchard run by an outside company. On his cider plot, he planted 13 acres of heritage apples, mostly GoldRush and Harrison, with some Crabs and Russets mixed in.
“I figured, if I was planting orchards, I might as well make the cider,” the self-starter says, noting he learned how to ferment through Google and online forums, consulting with other local cidermakers along the way.
He spent about a year making cider at home, reading and learning as much as he could about the craft. In 2017 Thornton attended a week-long course on cidermaking through Cornell University in Geneva, New York. “I came back from that class and had my lightbulb moment,” he adds. “I started building the cidery immediately when I got home.”
Thornton converted the 1940s-era garage built by his grandfather into the cidery, and an 19th century building he turned into the tasting room and Bryant’s was up and running.
In the early days of Bryant’s, Thornton had to do it all himself: build the business, oversee production and shipping, all the while, working a full-time job in finance. Now, two years later, Bryant’s has expanded enough to provide Thornton with his only job. The business has grown steady since production began in January 2018, with a second production facility and tasting room 100 miles east in Richmond that just opened.
Bryant’s currently has 12 ciders on tap, all of which hold true to the company’s motto, fermenting until all the sugar is gone and not adding any afterwards. This leaves the 7.9 percent ABV ciders dry and perfect for pairing with flavors like ginger, cucumber, hibiscus and chai.
Thornton says he currently splits his time between the farm in Bryant and his house in Richmond so with goals to continue to grow his business with a second tasting room in the city, he emphasizes that quality takes precedent over growth. Like a true craftsman, he is loyal to his trade and the execution of it.
“I want to keep it small batch, authentic, craft,” Thornton says of his cidery. “I want to stick to our mentality of using whole ingredients and taking our time with slow ferments. I wouldn’t say I’ve met my goal yet. We’ve grown a lot and people seem to enjoy the stuff.”