Behind a loading bay door of a warehouse in Seattle’s SODO District, unique cider creations are fermenting under the guiding eye of Chris Brownrigg. His namesake brand, Brownrigg Hard Cider, is focused on infusing cider with original, homegrown flavors.
“I want to occupy a space of the market that no one else currently is,” he says of his aspirations, sitting in his modest tasting room, wearing black Carhartt overalls. “I don’t want to cover what everyone else is covering.”
From his 50-tree urban orchard in the West Seattle’s Arbor Heights neighborhood, Brownrigg grows apples, plums, pears, cherries, figs and hops — all of which make it into his small-batch ciders. With each fermentation, he says he strives to question each rule or regularity about cider and come up with uniquely surprising and satisfying profiles.
Cidercraft sister publication Sip Northwest awarded Brownrigg’s White Peach Basil cider the double gold medal this year in its annual Best of the Northwest for stone fruit ciders. With the first sip it’s easy to distinguish each ingredient, the culinary-quality peach puree used to make the cider balances perfectly with the herbed basil finish. Brownrigg says it was difficult to source the peaches for this cider because most peach juices available wholesale are pasteurized and taste like canned peaches. The difference is astronomical, like biting into a fully ripe peach versus chewing a Trolli Peach O.
Brownrigg began his ventures into the alcohol industry as a home winemaker while working full time at Boeing. “I started off by just wanting to use what I had, as a backyard organic gardener,” he says.
In 2012 Boeing sent him to Southwest England to work at the Farnborough Airshow. While there, he tasted dozens of homemade ciders with distinct flavors and profiles. “These ciders knocked my socks off, they were fantastic,” he says. “Most were still, or just barely carbonated and completely different than anything I was getting on the American market. I came back and just dedicated to cider after that exposure.”
Brownrigg Hard Cider was born after a transition out of Boeing, cider guru Peter Mitchell’s class, a few years of searching for the correct location and wrestling with the licensing. The class “gave me a great foundation for all aspects of running a cidery including the business end,” he adds. “I came back off that 10-day class super hot and incorporated right there and began looking for a place.”
He landed on a quaint warehouse in SODO, sharing the space, and often ingredients, with local distiller 3 Howls. Brownrigg says he recently used leftover blood oranges from one of 3 Howls’ distills. Getting ahold of extra fruit is not a rare circumstance for him either, he says customers often will bring in extra fruit for him to make ciders with.
“I had a customer bring in some yellow transparent Estonian cooking apples,” he says. “At that same time I had another customer bring in a bunch of blackberries.” He combined the two community-sourced fruits into a cider and it sold out immediately.
Moreover, Brownrigg says he hasn’t been able to do a single sales call all year because he’s just keeping up with existing customers for his draft-only ciders. Right now, he maintains 12-18 taps around the city and is currently working on a crowd funding campaign to obtain bigger equipment so he can knock out larger batches and streamline his production model. Until then he will be busy working away in the noisy warehouse, crafting his next award-winning creation.
“I’m just trying to combine high-quality ingredients with my point of view,” he says. “I want to create recipes that have an impact on the market and I want to occupy a space that no other cidermaker is.”