true love & hard work
The Sage Bird Ciderworks Story
We first made mead in 2014 in our tiny apartment on Gay Street in Harrisonburg, VA. We didn't have much; we had just gotten married, I had just started working as a graphic designer downtown, and Amb was getting her masters degree in teaching. We had (and still very much have) a strong DIY attitude and figured we would try and save a little money and make our own alcohol at home. We researched the process on the internet, spent what little extra money we had on honey, oranges, and cinnamon sticks from Sharp Shopper, and set about making a gallon of mead in a cleaned-out plastic milk jug. We stashed the brew away in our cabinet for a few months, anxiously checking on the progress every week or so. Finally, the mead was ready to drink. We poured ourselves some a glass and took a sip.
It was terrible!
We were disappointed with the results, but we had been bitten by the fermentation bug. I got got some beer extract brewing kits for Christmas and Amb started to explore the world of wine. We continued to experiment and started making cider with store-bought apple juice, eventually buying 5-10 gallons at a time from a local orchard. Every batch was better than the last one; we kept meticulous notes, poured hours into research, and learned through trial and error. The obsession was setting in.
A friend’s dad mentioned at a yard sale that he had an old screw-style apple press collecting dust in his basement and asked if we knew anyone who would be interested in buying it. We jumped at that opportunity and for $200 we became the proud owners of a 700lb antique wood and cast iron apple press (thanks again Mike Guinn!). Though in surprisingly good condition considering its age, I stripped and refinished the entire press, made repairs to the grinder, and added an axle and some wheels to the legs for relative portability in preparation for upcoming apple season. That fall and winter, many a weekend was dedicated to grinding and pressing countless bushels of apples on the front porch, and many a weekday was spent nursing sore arms and tired backs. It was truly a labor of love.
In the fall of 2018 we began to dream of sharing our cider with folks beyond our immediate friend group. We submitted cider to competitions around the country (and won!), sought out feedback and criticism everywhere we could, and poured ourselves into research and practice. I began taking classes through Portland State University to learn the ins and outs of the craft beverage industry and doubled down on perfecting the dry, tart ciders that we prefer. We wrote and rewrote and rewrote and rewrote our business plan, met with numerous knowledgeable friends and family members, and began taking real steps towards opening a cidery. We began working with a realtor to find a location, sought feedback on our plan from industry professionals, and started the long and arduous journey through the maze of regulation and oversight that governs alcohol production.
In the summer of 2019, we signed a lease for a space in one of the old Big L tire buildings in the northern end of downtown and started the process of rezoning and obtaining building permits. I did a short internship at Blue Bee Cider in Richmond, and we started renovations in November. Over the next nine months, we put in countless hours painting, installing the walk-in cooler, building a tap system, building the bar (unending thanks to Keenan Rowe for his vision and expertise), installing trim, etc., slowly transforming a dingy old garage into our cidery. We are so proud of what we have made, and we cannot wait to share our hard work with you.
It is with equal amounts of excitement and anxiety that we will be opening Sage Bird Ciderworks in downtown Harrisonburg in the summer of 2020. We are proud to be Harrisonburg’s first cidery, and we look forward to sharing our passion and our cider with the community we have called home for the last 10 years!
- With love, Zach and Amberlee Carlson
The Folks That Make It All Work