After 20 years in the banking and finance industry, John Gessner wanted a change. He hit the road with this family and left Bend behind.
“We packed up in an RV and did a full loop of the United States, and it took about a year,” he said. “We rented the house out and took a drive, just my wife, my kids and my dog.”
Gessner and his family stopped at multiple breweries during their journey, along with a cidery outside of Wisconsin. It was there Gessner had an epiphany: He could start a cidery in Bend.
Upon his return to Central Oregon in 2012, he briefly stepped back into banking, but decided to venture out on his own and pursue his cider-making entrepreneurial dream. He started searching for a facility and leased the former Nectar of the Gods Meadery on NE Second Street in January.
Gessner’s cidery, called Far Afield Cider, will be Bend’s third. Last year Atlas Cider, on SE Wilson Avenue, and Red Tank Cider Co., on SE Woodland Avenue, opened.
“It’s a chance to be on your own, to have a lot more control over your future and your own situation,” Gessner said, referring to starting his own cider business.
According to the 2013 State of the Craft Beer Industry report from Demeter Group Investment Bank, the cider industry had a compound annual growth rate of 15.7 percent from 2006 through 2012. In 2013, cider makers across the country bottled 18 million gallons, nearly double the amount bottled in 2011, according to statistics from the Alcohol, Tobacco and Trade Bureau.
Red Tank co-owner and cider maker Aaron Cousins, said his Bend cidery is producing about 100 barrels every two weeks. A year ago, he said, he was lucky to make about 20 barrels every two weeks.
“I’m basically sold out of everything before I make it,” he said.
Red Tank Cider is in at least 200 locations in Oregon and Washington, including growler stations, bars, restaurants and grocery stores such as Whole Foods, Market of Choice and Trader Joe’s. Cousins said the cidery plans to expand within the year to keep up with demand.
Gessner, who formerly homebrewed as a hobby, said he’s doing something a little bit differently than the other Bend cideries — aging the cider. He currently has about 1,200 gallons aging and hopes to have it available in kegs this month.
One day he would like to have the apples pressed on-site. But for now, he said, he gets his juice from the Yakima Valley in Washington. When the juice arrives, he ferments it. He adds yeast, lets it sit for up to 10 days, removes the yeast and stores it in the cooler to age from two to six months.
He plans to sell the cider in kegs to start, and eventually bottles. He expects to have his tasting room open by Aug. 30, in time for a block party in the Makers District, the area, roughly, between Greenwood and Olney avenues and NE First and Second streets.
In addition to cider, Gessner is also producing an apple cider vinegar, made with peppers, ginger, lemon juice and turmeric.
“It’s easy to go from one to another, and I think there is a big missed opportunity there,” he said. “The bulk of my focus is going to be on apple cider, and apple cider vinegar is going to be a side venture.”