Jason Lummen, owner of The Peoples Cider Co., is a man who wears many hats: proprietor, bartender, van driver and cider wizard, to name a few. He looks like a guy who’s lifted a thousand kegs, because he has. Lummen told me about a recent excursion to the junkyard where he and his son spent the morning ripping door handles off old G-Vans to replace his own. Hard-working and resourceful, his cider company reflects that.
Established in 2012, Peoples Cider has grown its reputation thanks to word of mouth, with tap handles popping up all over. At the new tasting room on Leonard, I opted for a pint of the Johnny 3 Landlords and understood the hype immediately. Like a crab apple stuffed with dynamite, the flavor was full-bodied and tannic, balanced by boozy smooth hints of honeysuckle. With every sip, it’s clear this is a product of integrity, one that steers away from trends and instead toward complexity and attention to ingredients. Jason sat down with Revue to explain how he’s able to make magic from apples.
Over the years, cider has gained a lot of traction.
Why did you decide to enter the market?
I think you’re either one of two types: an avid homebrewer who’s really into the craft or an avid business person who’s really into rubbing nickels. I’m a blue-collar kid. This whole place is pretty DIY. Not for a lack of imagination, but when I started, all I wanted was to run a business, make cider and get out of my day job. Everything since then has been uncharted territory. Now, every bar carries multiple kinds of cider — the goal is to convince them to carry good cider. I go to spots I like and their cider selection is usually sugary stuff pumped full of sulfites.
In a market that’s starting to see some saturation, what do you think separates your cider from the competition’s?
Time. Whereas a lot of people are turning over cider in a couple of weeks, the fastest we turn over a keg is around five months. We finish our product in barrels, usually for a minimum of six weeks. We don’t use sulfites, sorbates or any additives that can cheapen cider. Another thing that makes it unique is its terroir — where it’s from. We use one farm to source our apples: Hill Brother Orchards, and it’s a magical place. Their trees are old root stock, mature trees that grow a wide variety of styles. And you can taste the difference. You can’t make wine from shitty grapes, and you can’t make cider from shitty apples.
What kinds of apples do you use for your ciders?
Winesaps, Northern Spies, a couple we use that we can’t talk about, secret apples. Some culinary apples, some cider-specific. All kinds.
Happy to see the bar is finally open! What can you tell me about the space here on Leonard?
Someone gave me some great advice years ago: build the biggest bar you can afford. I still get people who walk in here and say, ‘Wow, this place is tiny!’ and I say, ‘Thanks! It was a struggle to get here!’ The fact that I even have a place is amazing. After spending so much time invisible in the industrial park, it’s really cool to feel cemented in a spot. At the old location, people had to be aware of where they were going. Here, we get overflow.
It’s true, you have some pretty cool neighbors (Long Road Distillers, The Mitten Brewing Company) doing interesting stuff. Have you had the chance to collaborate?
I use hops from Wob (Mitten’s head brewer) and Long Road makes their apple brandy from our cider. We share customers and as the city is becoming very competitive in the beverage scene, you come here and can drink beer, spirits and cider without leaving one side of the street. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for those guys. When the space next to Long Road became available, they called me up and asked if I wanted to move in. Of course I said yes!
How do you see Peoples Cider growing in the future?
I always try to be happy where I’m at and for all the support we’ve gotten. When we had the bar on Maryland, there were some nights when our regular customers were our only customers. First and foremost, I’m thankful for those people, and then coming here I’m thankful for the new support we’re getting. It’s time to hunker down and concentrate on this pub and make the company work around it. I’d like to expand my wholesale to serious culinary spots and dive bars.
Lastly, any industry pet peeves?
The term ‘hard cider.’ You don’t say, ‘Hey, want to get some alcohol wine with me later? How ‘bout some hard beer?’ Cider means alcohol. There’s apple juice and there’s cider.