How Wes Mickel, a trained chef and hobbyist beer brewer found his way to being one of the first cider makers in Texas is a question he still asks himself on a regular basis. The Arkansas native took on the challenge of making cider from Texas-grown apples purely by happenstance. But as his Argus Cidery in West Austin has grown in popularity and production, he’s found a variety of ways to make dry and off-dry ciders using apples from Texas and Arkansas, and even Mexican pineapple.
Texas Monthly: What made you decide to become a cider maker?
Wes Mickel: In the back of my head, I’d always had an interest in cider. I had already loved brewing beer at home and Cider was one of my favorite beverages from early on. Researching Texas apples became fascinating to me. As I started to taste the different varieties that grow this far south, I found they were so distinctive in their different flavors and there was this ‘aha moment.’ I wasn’t really seeking it out, it sort of found me.
TM: Is cider more of a beer or a wine?
WM: In terms of the law and permitting, it’s technically a wine in that a winery works with fruit and only fruit. A brewery uses cereal grains. That’s really the only distinction. We were the first cidery to apply for a license in Texas and they didn’t really know what to do with us.
In terms of production there are two schools of thought. Some people use yeast strains that are more for beers. They make cider that turns around quicker, which means you can get them to market faster. But you can also use wine yeasts, which makes cider that is very sharp and typically needs a little aging to develop more layers.
TM: What are some of the misconceptions about Cider that you’ve run into?
WM: On a commercial scale, most people assume cider is sweet. But that’s not the case. And that’s something I love to dispel. As more great producers come online, that’s becoming a more commonplace thought.
A lot of people don’t realize that there are a lot of styles of cider that are made much more like wine. The fruit is pressed, the cider goes through malolactic fermentation, and it’s aged. There’s a lot of effort to go into the bottle.
TM: What type of cider do you produce and what brought you to this production style?
WM: We make dry styles across the board. For me, it’s a personal preference, sweets don’t appeal to me. As far as production, it’s a matter of yeast selection and fermentation. Nothing that we make is pasteurized or filtered. It runs its course for fermentation and then it generally needs to be consumed young.
That’s because we want the yeast character to stand. It makes it more interesting and brings out a lot more wine characteristics.
TM: Where do you source apples?
WM: We source a little from Medina and in the past have gotten a bit from the Panhandle. As of last year we started going to a grower out of Arkansas, where I’m from, for the majority of our crop. For our fermentables line, we’re sourcing from all over country to keep an annual supply.
What sets us apart is that we press all of our apples here. We don’t just buy juice. We bring all of the apples in for our large format cider and I’m here all the time; just pressing apples.
We use commercial strains of yeasts, but there are always natural yeast flora floating around out here in the Hill Country and it gives our large format ciders these crazy layers of flavor.
TM: How is dry cider as a food pairing?
WM: That’s actually another reason we make it dry. I prefer dry beverages with food because they’re great palate cleansers. For instance, if you’re eating a rich cheese, you need something to act as a palate cleanser. But at the same time, something really delicate, this won’t overwhelm some tomatoes with olive oil and shallots. Enough fruit, but not too apple juice assertion to overwhelm what you’re eating. .
TM: Where can people find your cider?
WM: We have limited distribution on our large format bottles as well as 12-ounce bottled and draft “Fermentables,” which fall more in the beer category and come in $10 six-packs. You can find them at places like Whole Foods Market and Central Market.