On August 12, 1805, William Clark and Meriwether Lewis became the first Americans to cross the continental divide as they entered into present day Idaho through the Lemhi Pass. More than 200 years later, descendants of Lewis are also hoping to become pioneers in the Gem State.
College of Idaho alumnae Kate Leadbetter ’10 and Molly Leadbetter ’11, along with their parents Gig and Ann, are in the process of opening Meriwether Cider Co., which will be one of Idaho’s first hard cideries.
“The business is really fun,” Kate said. “You’re bringing a product to people that you’ve really worked on, are passionate about, and you are sharing that with them.”
Hard cider once was the most popular beverage of burgeoning America. According to George Mason University English professor Dr. David Williams’ article Hard Cider’s Mysterious Demise, villages in colonial New England reported making over 3,000 barrels of cider per year. And founding father John Adams drank a “tankard of hard cider every morning.”
Some speculate the Temperance movement and Prohibition may have caused the cider industry to tank, but it remains a mystery as to why America’s past drink-of-choice vanished.
But the Leadbetter’s are hoping to satiate American taste buds once more in a market that’s ripe for success.
After traveling to Australia and seeing how big the hard cider industry was, Gig and Ann Leadbetter knew it was only a matter of time before hard cideries started popping up in the States. Gig has been experimenting with home brewing for more than three decades, so it seemed like a good fit.
“It was one of those things where we could all do this as a family…and that’s how business used to work,” Molly said.
Kate and Molly, who came to the C of I from Colorado, stayed in the Treasure Valley after graduation and worked as wild land firefighters. And while degrees in kinesiology and psychology may not directly correlate to the hard cider industry, there are connections.
“You learn how to communicate with people in college, and that is huge for us right now,” Kate said. “We’re going around and talking to all these people trying to convince them not only that our product is tasty, but also that we’re adept enough to do business with.”
They were also instilled with a hard work ethic while at the C of I and remember having to be tenacious to push through their challenging school work. That work ethic was specifically put to use when they once tried to press apples the ol’ fashioned way.
Over the course of two days working with a rickety press, laying on top of the machine, and pounding it as they tried to grind apples in the rain, Kate and Molly produced about two gallons of fresh squeezed apple juice.
“It was the most miserable thing,” Molly said.
Luckily, they won’t have to press apples by hand for the cidery. The Leadbetter’s will get their juice from Washington, as nobody in southwest Idaho presses apples. From there, the juice will get pumped into big fermenting tanks. They’ll add yeast and other ingredients to adjust the pH levels and the acidity, and then wait for the yeast to consume all the sugar. The concoction will then be filtered and aged before being flavored with juice, fruit flavors or hops. The process takes about 19 days from juice to bottle.
As of now, five flavors will be offered once the cidery is online this summer: Strong Arm Semi-Sweet, Sidewinder Semi-Dry, Ginger Root, Hop Shot and Trailhead Cherry, along with about five other seasonal tastes in the works.
To help the cidery get going, the Leadbetters successfully completed a Kickstarter campaign, with 248 backers pledging $30,000 to help bring Meriwether Cider Co. to life. To view their website and stay informed on the cidery's progress, click here.
With the spirit of Meriwether Lewis, the Leadbetters are taking steps out into the unknown. And they hope folks will enjoy their cider with the same fervor of colonial Americans.
“It’s scary, but you have to jump in with both feet, and that’s what we’re doing,” Kate said.
Founded in 1891, The College of Idaho is the state’s oldest private liberal arts college. The C of I has a legacy of academic excellence, a winning athletics tradition and a history of producing successful graduates, including seven Rhodes Scholars and 14 Marshall, Truman and Goldwater Scholars. The College’s close-knit, residential campus is located in Caldwell. Its distinctive PEAK Curriculum challenges students to attain competency in the four knowledge peaks of the humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field—empowering them to earn a major and three minors in four years. For more information, visit www.collegeofidaho.edu.