It goes without saying that all cideries are on a quest to deliver great-tasting cider to thirsty craft-beverage lovers. But one cidery in Mesa, Arizona, is taking their mission just a little bit further. For Cider Corps, it’s about shining a light on veterans and honoring those who have served and sacrificed, all while offering delicious hard cider.
Brothers Jason and Josh Duren opened Cider Corps on Veteran’s Day 2017, but it certainly wasn’t in the playbook years prior. The two grew up in Kansas, and eventually moved west to Arizona. In 2010, Jason joined the Marines and was later deployed to Afghanistan in 2012. Prior to his deployment, Jason had just finished training to become a firefighter. At the same time, Josh had been running his own business doing brand development for a range of small to large clients. “While on deployment, each five days apart, Jason hit two IEDs and sustained two traumatic brain injuries,” Josh says. And when Jason came home, that dream of becoming a firefighter was no longer feasible.
When Jason returned in 2013, he was met with plenty of medical appointments, including trips to neurologists and speech therapists. “Through that process, he met a neurologist that recommended he find a new therapeutic hobby. They suggested he find something new to learn,” says Josh.
With the boom of the craft brewing movement at the time, along with friends that were interested in brewing, the brothers decided to give a homebrew cidermaking kit a try.
“That first batch was one of the worst things I ever tasted, but we knew we could make it better,” says Josh. The duo started getting apples from around the state, picking just enough to make five gallons worth at a time, and they started fermenting and taking notes with each different experimentation. “It was purely a hobby for Jason at the time, but he fell in love. He was taking notes on everything,” says Josh. “And at the same time, his wife noticed it was helping and changing who he was.”
The hobby of cidermaking was seemingly therapeutic for Jason. “It became an amazing time for him, but also for both of us,” says Josh. “We continued experimentation, kept making tweaks here and there and started to find things we really liked.”
After Jason utilized his GI Bill in 2015 to study sustainable horticulture at Arizona State University, the progress continued. “We had been slowly giving cider out to friends to try, and one friend said, ‘you should think about this as a business,’” says Josh. “Jason had been near the end of his medical retirement and was beginning to think ‘now what?’” Through a connection, the duo serendipitously found themselves in a meeting with the beverage director of a prominent restaurant group in Arizona. They had just been making the cider in their garage at that point, but he asked how he could buy it by the keg to carry it in restaurants.
“That was the moment we said, ‘whoa this could be a business,’” says Josh.
Shining a Light on Military Service
Starting a cidery in Arizona was definitely not a concept thought of often prior to 2017. The Duren brothers cidery was the first opened in Arizona, and it certainly came with plenty of challenges in a state that wasn’t as familiar with the industry. “It made it more complicated, but it also allowed for us to have our own journey. It’s allowed for the creative process to really be as expansive as possible.”
And the creativity certainly doesn’t fall short when it comes to Cider Corps’ offerings. Every cider is deliberately and thoughtfully created to celebrate a military reference. Each cider’s name goes back to military reference as well as the ingredients utilized to make the cider, such as their Tropic Lightning cider named for the 25th Infantry Army Division based in Hawaii, featuring hibiscus and strawberry.
But the celebration of those with military experience just like Jason doesn’t stop there. The brothers have made it part of their mission to create partnerships and use their business as a platform for nonprofits devoted to helping veterans. “Our hope in building a taproom was to create an environment that allowed someone with military experience to sit across the table from someone who maybe doesn’t have the same awareness,” says Josh. “We started with picnic tables so conversations would be shared.” With that goal, the brothers have created a community of patrons who have continued to rally around Cider Corps and celebrate their motto of “drink great cider, honor great sacrifice.”