When Derrick Cannon first started drinking, he drifted toward ciders because he didn’t like the taste of beer. The available boozy ciders he found — the big names like Angry Orchard and Woodchuck on practically every store shelf — were too sweet for his liking. Those ciders, though, sent him on a journey that ended with him opening Distinct Cider Room (46 Lois Avenue), Greenville’s first cider bar and cidery.
After years of making cider at home, and numerous trips to other cider-making regions such as North Carolina, Vermont, and others, Cannon realized he wanted to take the next step.
“Greenville had beer and wine bars, but nothing for cider,” he said. An avid CrossFitter, Cannon had rented out an old truck docking bay with the intention of turning it into a CrossFit gym back in 2015. Then the question struck him: What do CrossFit athletes like to do after a workout? Have a drink.
“I told my fiancée (now wife) that it would be a cool bar/gym kind of thing,” Cannon said, “I wanted to do cider because everyone else was doing beer.”
Meanwhile, over in Campobello at Fat Ass Heifer Cidery (10125 New Cut Road), John Macomson was busy taking a slightly different approach to producing cider. The property where Fat Ass Heifer sits is also home to Macomson’s software business, which has been running since the mid-90s, and Motlow Creek Ranch, a cattle farm. After a land purchase that essentially doubled the property (and allowed the cidery the space to plant orchards), Macomson knew he wanted to work on turning the property into a recreation ranch that highlighted both aspects of the agriculture the property was practicing — cattle and apples.
“The cidery would be an excellent way to really make use of the enjoyment I get from farming and taking it into a business venture,” Macomson said.
The distinctive name came about one weekend morning when Macomson came upon a cow that didn’t want to follow directions. As it lumbered by, Macomson recalls thinking, “Dang, she’s plump.” Being annoyed with the cow, though, he was aggravated and what came out was “Fat ass heifer,” and the name was set.
“We wanted to come up with something different. We knew it was edgy, but it would be an excellent way to tie what we’re doing with the cows to the cidery,” he said.
Both cideries opened within a year of each other. Macomson began the process in 2017 and opened in 2019, while Cannon opened his first taproom in 2018, at the time offering a variety of ciders from other places to athletes and curious drinkers. Just as their approaches to opening cideries varied, so do the ciders themselves. Cannon describes his cider styles as “a little different or edgy,” such as his play on a wit beer, Pom Chicka Wow — a pomegranate, orange, and coriander cider. That particular cider started as a collaboration with Wandering Bard Meadery in Greenville, but since purchasing a facility to produce his own, he has expanded his lineup slowly, adding Distinct ciders to his tap room, including Fall Vibes (apple, cinnamon, vanilla), Hip Hop Puree (cherry and pineapple puree with vanilla), and Cherry on Hop (dry hopped cider with dark cherries and Citra hops).
Macomson’s approach to cider-making also veers away from what you usually find on store shelves, but for a different reason. Fat Ass’s ciders are primarily still — non-carbonated. “In the beginning, we were doing still ciders because we didn’t have kegging equipment. All we had was enough equipment to produce one-barrel batches and we didn’t have the equipment to carbonate.”
Macomson added that at the time they thought it would be a drawback to their products, but as they continued developing their recipes.
“We didn’t do it on purpose, but once we tasted them, we went, ‘Dang, these are pretty great.’”
Now, Fat Ass offers a few bottle-conditioned ciders with low levels of carbonation, which help balance the overall profile available from the cidery. Their current offerings, include ciders such as Sassy Black Baldie (cider back-sweetened with blackberry and blueberry juice) and Lemon-Ginger, using locally sourced apples while their orchard of more than 4,000 trees grows to an age where they are able to produce usable cider apples.
The goals for both Cannon and Macomson, when it comes to growing their operations — and by extension knowledge of cider — are similar. Both are looking forward to producing more cider over time, and both have aspirations to grow their facility footprints. For Cannon, that means opening up other Distinct Cider Rooms in the Upstate. For Macomson, it’s turning Fat Ass into both a destination cidery — complete with a climate-controlled facility that will allow them to be open more than one day per week — and to produce enough apples that he is able to wholesale to other cider-makers.
Both cider-makers, too, are taking the aspect of cider education seriously. Before either opened, there were not many ciders made in the Upstate (Ciclops Cyderi and Brewery in Spartanburg being one of the exceptions). Now, as palates become more refined and consumers are branching out more (arguably thanks to the craft beer and craft cocktail movements of the last two decades or so), both cider-makers see and understand the importance of their work. As two of the only Black cider-makers in the entire country, they have the opportunity to not only produce craft cider for thirsty masses of the Upstate, but to educate and potentially introduce new people to the category of cider as a whole.
“I think a lot of people will come in and, it’s surprising how many people are not familiar with cider. They’ve heard of Angry Orchard or Woodchuck, but with that most of that stuff is on the sweeter side, so I think a lot of people think ciders are just that,” Cannon said. “When they come in here, they have a chance to see that cider is more than that, and from there hopefully they get more into it.”
For Macomson, education about cider will hopefully lead to bigger things for the category, especially when it comes to Black consumers.
“With cider, it’s just like anything else, there will be more of us getting into it. I would love to see a high-profile celebrity that wants to come in and take on a part of this operation and put us on the map worldwide. If the Jay-Zs and Beyoncés of the world are listening and want to invest, I’m all ears. We could put cider in vogue for us as a people,” he said with a laugh.
Distinct Cider Room is open Wednesday, from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.; Thursday and Friday, from 4 p.m. to 9p.m.; and Saturday 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. Fat Ass Heifer Cidery is open Saturdays from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.