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Oberon's bartenders start cider business

For the Tidings

If you’ve ever walked into Oberon’s Restaurant and Bar, then you’re familiar with its Shakespearean theme, tiny wooden stage and its claim to be “Ashland’s Most Ashlandiest Spot.” You’re also probably familiar with the bartender, Sapphire Stevens, who works so often she might be considered the face of Oberon’s and has invented at least one drink on their cocktail menu.

With her business partner Patrick McSweeney, close friend and fellow Oberon’s bartender, they’ve created a rather unique line of ciders, appropriately called Sapphire’s Cider.

Stevens and McSweeney began working at Oberon’s when they were both 21, and have been working there since, almost four years.

Stevens said the idea stemmed from her mixology experience and her love of wine. Technically, the development of ciders requires a winery license because of the fermentation process.

In her beginning research, she found a class at Oregon State University, the very first craft cider startup workshop on the West Coast. But it was full, and she was the 13th person on the waiting list. She was notified two weeks later that one slot was open and it would be filled by a first-come basis via online application and payment submission, and she got it.

She said she closed Oberon’s around 2 a.m. and drove straight to Corvallis to begin the five-day workshop. Stevens said they not only learned about the crafting process, but participated in all kinds of blind testing so to better understand the way the mind perceives certain colors, smells and flavors — all key components to the crafting process she uses today.

“Cider is just starting to grow because during prohibition the government burned down all the orchards, and so apple trees are just now good enough to harvest commercially,” Stevens said. “And to not only eat apples, but ferment them too.”

Stevens said she makes a base cider, and then infuses it with different flavors similar to the way Oberon’s infuses their spirits.

“The fermentation process is going to change the entire composition,” Stevens said. “So, if we started with apples and strawberries, the strawberries would have an entirely different flavor after.”

Their ciders are different from the familiar fruit variations because they like to infuse them with herbal ingredients. The flavor currently on tap at Oberon’s is vanilla chai.

They said the spectrum of cider flavor profiles are just beginning to be tapped into. It’s a relatively new and small business industry.

“There’s not as much competition as you think,” McSweeney said. “Think about how many local breweries you can name and then think about how many cideries you can name.”

“The demand is much higher than what is being produced,” McSweeney said. “I won’t say people are hungry, but people are thirsty for new cider companies.”

Their goal is to produce ciders that aren’t currently on the flavor spectrum, in between dry and sweet, the two main marketed types of ciders.

Stevens said she feels she has the advantage in the industry because her fellow classmates came from brewery or agricultural backgrounds, but she has a consumer’s point of view.

“From my standpoint I’m a bartender,” Stevens said. “So, I have the market’s feedback constantly. I’m constantly serving cider, whether it’s my own or someone else’s and hearing feedback.”

Stevens said she doesn’t have a tasting room yet, but Oberon’s serves the cider and is home to her tasting and branding events. Sapphire’s Cider is solely distribution for the time being. Although, her goal is to be on tap in many well-known bars in Oregon within the next year.

But they hope to remain a small, local business.

“I plan on staying a small business, staying at the forefronts, meeting people, talking to them about our product,” Stevens said.

They’re producing out of their small cidery facility in Medford and are only kegging, as opposed to canning, to remain environmentally friendly.

“Our business was born inside of another small business,” Stevens said. “If you have to go to a bar to get my cider, then you’ll be supporting that business and you’ll be supporting my business.”

For more, find them on Instagram (@sapphirescider) and Facebook (facebook.com/sapphirescider).

— Contact Ashland freelance writer Caitlin Fowlkes at Caitlin.fowlkes@gmail.com.