It’s said that the second president of the United States, John Adams, began his days with the emptying of a tankard of cider because of the drink’s health-improving qualities.
Those in the Tri-Cities and across the state will have more opportunity to join Adams in tipping back a glass of cider as of Friday — the first day of Tri-Cities Craft Beer Week — after Aaron and Stephanie Carson officially opened the Gypsy Circus Cider Company in Kingsport.
This production-only craft cidery is the first of its kind in the state. There is a massive cider production facility in Memphis, owned by the macrobrewery group MillerCoors, but what it does compared to what the Carsons do, is night and day.
“We’re very roots-driven,” said Aaron Carson, who held a launching event for the cidery at Kingsport’s Chamber of Commerce.
By roots, Aaron Carson was referring to his formative years, growing up in Jonesborough and going with his family to Erwin’s Apple Festival each fall, getting homemade apple butter and generally growing strong knowledge on the area’s apple varieties.
Because apples mean so much to the Carsons and the region, Aaron Carson said he wanted to do this all the right way. The result is a 40-barrel facility where a special emphasis is put on a few elements of his craft: the cider has to be produced in an organic, gluten-free, adventurous way, which goes along with family’s motto to have fun with everything they do.
“Circus is the whole name of the game,” Aaron Carson said.
The cidery’s staples will be their Rain Dancer dry cider, the Queen of the Swords sweet cider and then some additional varieties that especially hit on that adventurous tone that oversees all the Carsons do.
In the cidery’s Puppet Master and Elixir Series, you can find ciders flavored with peppers, vanilla beans and ginger, among many others. These typically sit at around the six-percent alcohol level, which make them a sessionable elixir, or one where multiples can be consumed in a several-hour period without much chance of trouble.
Gypsy Circus ciders are made of local apples to ensure the right blend of crisp and sweet taste, using Red and Golden Delicious, Pink Ladies and Granny Smith varieties. Unlike some of the mass-produced ciders, the Carsons admit to paying a little bit more for their products, so they don’t use artificial sweeteners, preservatives or ingredients like high fructose corn syrup.
“Less is better in our eyes,” Aaron Carson said about their ingredients list.
They also aged some of their ciders in Tennessee whiskey barrels in their cellar program for approximately three months, which is part of the Puppet Master series.
These locations got tapped first because of the special support they’d showed the craft beer and craft cider movement in the region in recent years, when there’s been a resurgence of artisan-made adult beverages.
Gypsy Circus will be poured from taps just below some special hand-blown tap handles, made by the Pretentious Beer and Glassware Company, an East Tennessee artisan craft company.
Aside from the Rain Dancer and Queen of the Swords, which will be readily available, the Carsons said some of their most fun and adventurous varieties of cider will only be available at the upcoming Thirsty Orange Brew Extravaganza. These special ciders are being shipped across the world for the tasting of judges who could very well hand out awards to Gypsy Circus for its ciders.
Their Rain Dancer was recently awarded a gold medal at the International East Meets West Wine Challenge in California.
Andrew Felty serves as Gypsy Circus’ sales manager, but also doubles his efforts as the director of the Brewly Noted Beer Trail, which was put together by the Chambers of Commerce in the area to promote the craft beer and craft cidery scene. Felty said Gypsy Circus’ opening shows there was a missing puzzle piece in the region’s offerings.
“Cider is that next movement, and that’s not because a saturation level’s been hit for craft beer in the area, but because it’s so strong and people like to have another drink option other than craft beer,” he said.
“This was an untapped market and just a continuation of what you’ve been seeing.”