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One Tree cidery branches out

Spokane Valley venture broadens distribution, hopes for mass appeal

Neal Hennessy, left, and Grant Barnes, rear, run One Tree Hard Cider. Barnes’ brother Nathan Barnes, right, occasionally helps out. (Dan Pelle)
Neal Hennessy, left, and Grant Barnes, rear, run One Tree Hard Cider. Barnes’ brother Nathan Barnes, right, occasionally helps out. (Dan Pelle)

If all of One Tree’s hard ciders actually came from a single source, it would be quite the tree indeed.

Since launching in June, in addition to straight apple, the Spokane Valley cidery has produced versions flavored with ginger, lemon, cinnamon and cranberry, not to mention fresh hops.

And One Tree keeps growing. Six months in, it has already moved into a larger facility and signed a distribution deal that will place its ciders in stores, bars and restaurants from Coeur d’Alene to Ellensburg.

It was the biggest seller and won the people’s choice award at its first public event, the PowderKeg beer and cider festival at the Spokane Convention Center earlier this month. 

Unlike many in the new wave of smaller cideries that focus on drier, traditional styles – such as Liberty Ciderworks in downtown Spokane – One Tree makes the sweeter sort of ciders like you find in supermarket six-packs.

“We want ours to drink like beer. We think that has a little bit better mass appeal,” said co-owner and cidermaker Grant Barnes.

“Liberty makes great cider, but it’s not what we like,” added his partner, Neal Hennessy. “That’s good for both of us; we don’t have to be direct competitors.”

One Tree’s process begins with an apple juice blend of several regular eating varieties, all Washington-grown, which starts sweet but finishes somewhat tart. That’s further sweetened, then the sugars are fermented out to produce alcohol, with more juice added at the end for a fresh, sweet touch.

That’s all that goes into the original Semi-Sweet. Lemon juice and mild young ginger are used in the Ginger – “like summer in a bottle,” Barnes says – while a brown sugar syrup and Saigon cinnamon are added for the Caramel Cinnamon, with the slightly sharp cinnamon balancing the apple/sugar sweetness.

“What we were going for is the same sort of flavor you get from apple pie,” said Hennessy. “We want to let those flavors pop out more than the sweetness.”

“We try to make more complex flavors,” Barnes said. “Sweet is easy – anyone can do sweet.”

The tart Cranberry came about after they attempted a cherry cider but couldn’t get the flavor right. The Dry-Hopped – conditioned with whole hops, borrowing a beer-making trick – features fruity Cascades, for an effect Barnes compares to Snapple iced tea lemonade.

All are between 6 and 7 percent alcohol by volume, comparable to stronger microbrews (higher wine taxes kick in for ciders above 7 percent).

It all began when Barnes got a cider-making kit from his wife, Jennifer, for Father’s Day two years ago. While he had hoped for a beer kit instead, he started making cider and got hooked.

“At one point, I had 33 bottles of cider going,” Barnes recalled. “My wife said, ‘You’ve got to do something with this.’ ”

So he teamed up with Hennessy, a fellow cellphone salesman – and the numbers guy behind the business – to launch One Tree out of a commercial park in the Valley. They self-distributed a few varieties to several accounts and started gaining a following, then approached Click Distributing East about broadening their scope.

“We asked them, ‘How many cases do you want?’ ” Hennessy said. “They said, ‘A pallet of each flavor.’ So we went and quit our day jobs and decided to make this work.”

Starting in October, he and Barnes leased space around the corner that’s almost three times as large, with a cooler that’s six times bigger. They went from two 250-gallon fermenters to 15, and their brite tank, where fermented cider is conditioned and carbonated, grew from one barrel (31 gallons) to 10.

In addition to draft, One Tree ciders come in 22-ounce bottles for regular retail (they sell for around $8), with 12-ounce bottles targeted to bars, which prefer that size.

Down the road, they’re looking at possibly producing a dry Old World-style cider, as well as some barrel-aging.

“We want to think about those things now, rather than try to catch up later,” Hennessy said. “It’s easy to get bogged down in what you’re doing right now and not think long-term.”

A tasting room also is in the plans, whether it’s at the production facility or another location like downtown Spokane.

“It’s a question of whether we spend the money right away or put that into other parts of the operation,” said Barnes. “I want to do it right. I don’t want it to be a hole in the wall. I want the correct feel.”

For now, they’re staying plenty busy making their cider, kegging and bottling it – the first day on their hand-built bottling machine took 16 hours – and spreading their story to prospective accounts and customers.

“Grant and I haven’t had a day off since we quit our day jobs,” Hennessy said. “It’s terrifying and exciting, all at once.”

Said Barnes: “It’s taken a lot of effort, and now it’s game time. There’s potential – that’s more rewarding sometimes than security.”

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