Cider and Bluegrass Come Together at the Quickly Growing Stem

An array of modern cider varieties are poured at Stem.
Krista Kafer
An array of modern cider varieties are poured at Stem.
Stem Ciders, at 2811 Walnut Street in RiNo, is hosting its annual Cider Grass fall festival from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. this Saturday, October 7. No, not that kind of grass: Stem Ciders is a family-friendly craft cider maker. Grass, as in bluegrass music, will play live all day, with six Colorado bands taking the stage, delicious eats from food truck partners, face painting and games for kids, and best of all, some of the tastiest hard cider I’ve ever had.

Tickets are $15, and patrons will receive a commemorative glass. Food and cider are extra. Proceeds will benefit the Colorado Mountain Club.

If you’ve never had Stem's hard cider, I recommend first trying the L’Acier. It’s delicate and dry, almost wine-like; it’s a good place to start. The Crabby Neighbor is made from Colorado crab apples and Granny Smith apples. As you’d expect, it’s tart, as is the ruby red Raspberry cider. Don’t be afraid to try the hopped cider. It tastes like sauvignon blanc, not beer. The pear cider, one of my favorites, is sweet but not too sweet. Just watch your intake — cider goes down far easier than beer and wine. 
click to enlarge Stem's annual Cider Grass festival combines cider and bluegrass music. - KRISTA KAFER
Stem's annual Cider Grass festival combines cider and bluegrass music.
Krista Kafer

Stem Ciders likes to experiment with flavors. If you’re adventuresome, try Coffee Batch #4. Stem Ciders partnered with local coffee company Method Roasters to cold-brew coffee with cider. The result is a malty coffee-flavored cider with the bonus of caffeine. I loved the A Salted Cucumber hopped cider, a pickle-inspired beverage made in conjunction with the Real Dill. It would be the perfect summer picnic drink to pair with cheese, chips and a sandwich — and also bacon. All told, Stem makes a dozen or so ciders, some of which are mainstays while others are seasonally offered. Behind the bar, you'll see machines turning out cider slushies (yay!).

The ciders, which are available by the glass, can, bottle, growler and little taster cup (my favorite), are created and aged eight to ten months in steel or oak, and occasionally in used whiskey barrels. Stem Ciders’ passion for the craft and skill is evident; the ciders are more nuanced in taste and bouquet than the national brands you’ll find on most liquor-store shelves.

The taproom, which is open daily, is also well worth the visit. Hours before the band started up for the weekly Bluegrass Thursday, Stem Ciders’ taproom and adjoining patio were nearly half full when I was there. There was a diverse group of patrons – young men with big beards, families with kids, couples playing board games, and a few happy dogs languishing on the patio. While I sampled the wares, friendly bartender Josh Nesspor gave me a lesson in cider history.

Who knew cider was more popular than beer in the early days of the Republic? Sadly, prohibition killed off a thriving industry. Unlike the big beer companies that weathered the dry spell by producing other products, family cider businesses simply closed their doors. It has taken a while for craft cider to make a comeback, but come back it has; Denver now has several cider makers, among them C Squared Ciders just a couple of blocks away and the Colorado Cider Company. Stem is coming up on its fourth year and is building a second, larger location in Lafayette which will include a production facility, a taproom and a restaurant.