Chris Brownrigg / Owner, Brownrigg Hard Cider, Seattle, Washington
Chris Brownrigg’s urban micro-cidery starts at his home orchard on a 6,500-square-foot residential lot in Seattle where trellises of hops, grapes and berries are fertilized by chickens and rabbits and bounded by 50 fruit trees. Brownrigg grows most of his own flavor additions, like organic basil, and compromises his hyper-local focus for nothing short of the best ingredients.
“I’ll go all the way to Hawaii to find the appropriate ingredient,” Brownrigg says, referring to the organic ginger he sources from Hilo. “That’s how I found The Perfect Purée, in my search for a really high-quality tropical.”
That search initially led him to products that were targeted at the beverage market but tasted cooked and jammy.
“That’s especially notable in peach and in tropical flavors. The stabilization process is hard on fruit and degrades the flavor,” Brownrigg says.
By comparison, he said frozen purees retain the bright flavor of fresh-picked fruit. Brownrigg says the “mimosa-like” quality of The Perfect Purée White Peach Puree extends the availability of his popular White Peach Basil cider, which was awarded a double gold medal in Sip Northwest’s 2019 Best of the Northwest contest for stone fruit ciders.
“It’s very tropical off-season purposely with all the acid and the huge vibrant color and those big flavors coming through,” he says.
Another tropical, The Perfect Purée Mango Puree, balances the citrus and spice in a recent test batch keg of cider that plays off the popular Mexican flavor combo chile y limon with house-made lime simple syrup and Santa Fe chilies from Brownrigg’s native state of New Mexico.
Brownrigg is experimenting with The Perfect Purée’s beverage blends and surprised himself (and his customers) with a cider flavored by the prominent pineapple notes of The Perfect Purée Thai Basil & Black Pepper blend and his own basil syrup.
“That one is a great seller because it has all this interest,” he says. “I like to make everything in house as much as possible but I don’t mind doing something that has a lot of ingredients if I can maintain that high quality.”
Brownrigg’s niche in the cider world stems in part from a trip with his former employer, Boeing, to the Farnborough Airshow in England, where he tasted ciders with profiles unlike anything he’d experienced at home.
Chris offers tastings and sells draft cider by the glass and in growlers at his production location tasting room in SoDo, Seattle’s craft drinks capital. For now, he’s busy enough filling orders for draft customers around Seattle but says he wants to expand distribution out-of-state in 2021.
Brownrigg adds purees to stable, dry cider at the end of fermentation, a strategy he adapted from modern winemaking methods that also serves to reduce haze from fruit pectins. From there he can barrel age a cider, add botanicals, or tweak it to make it sweeter or drier. He says playing with the acid-sugar balance in purees is tricky and tends to work better with certain flavor combinations like lychee and prickly pear, in which the high acid content and sharp, bright tannic notes of prickly pear are offset by the viscous, milky base of lychee.
Purees aren’t suitable for every cider base. Brownrigg recommends using purees to flavor a base dry cider of table fruit or dessert fruit — one that’s asking for interest and not made to be aged as opposed to a heritage cider that can be aged past six months.
“You wouldn’t want to use a complex cider juice with any puree,” Brownrigg cautions. “You want those ciders to stand on their own.”
The pandemic has affected Brownrigg’s wholesale numbers substantially, but they remain positive as retail sales remain strong with an emphasis on to-go growler fills for regular customers and new fans. Both alcohol and craft beverage sectors have grown significantly in the US with online orders and in-store sales during the shelter-in-place, and Brownrigg plans to access and take advantage of the renewed value of craft by fulfilling consumer’s desire for home delivery.
Right around the time when the epidemic was becoming apparent in February 2020, Brownrigg had filled two whiskey barrels to allow the cider to mature and increase in value as times became more turbulent. At the end of May 2020, they featured the first of that Rye Whiskey Barrel Aged Cider and received rave reviews.
In June 2020, one of the ciders in the running for the celebration of Pride month is the delectable and bright pink Lychee Prickly Pear, while Root Beer Cyser and Sour Plum Cider (a favorite last year) are both set to be featured in July and August respectively.
On July 12, 2020, Brownrigg will embark on an investment campaign on the Wefunder platform to grow further and hire their first actual employee.