Ronan Feely and his friends wanted to drink, but were underage and living in the kind of town where everybody knew everybody else (basically the Irish version of Canby). So, being rather resourceful teenagers, they decided to make their own alcohol.
“I found a recipe for cider in my mother’s cookbook,” he said. “We went and raided a few apple trees and grated the apples by hand, probably lost most of our knuckles, and then put this mess of cider underneath my bed in a five gallon bucket. And a couple of weeks later you know we pulled it out and it was this putrid stinking mess that looked like it would kill you and tasted even worse.”
Despite being “sorely disappointed,” Ronan said, “the bug stuck.”
About 10 years ago, his wife “dragged” him here to Oregon, and when they moved to Aurora seven years ago, he tried making cider again.
“It was okay,” he said. “It didn’t taste great, but it reminded me of the kind of homesteading thing, and the ingredients were cheap.”
Ronan started thinking about going into business a couple years later, but with two small children, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to take the risk. But after the company he worked for was bought out, he found himself in a position to go for it.
After experimenting with recipes, filling out all the dreaded OLCC forms (“The licensing is a nightmare,” he remembered), and getting everything squared away with the city, Aurora Cider Company was up and running.
“I’m a really small operation,” Ronan said. “The idea of it was to do this kind of holistically. It’s like you know when a band starts off, and you really like the band, and then they get bigger and they become more commercial and then you go, ‘Yeah, I preferred their earlier stuff.’ So I’m trying to do this incrementally, so that I don’t lose sight of what it is that I’m trying to do, which is to make really good cider.”
He makes that really good cider using a blend of apples that novice cider drinkers may not expect.
“Crabapples, I love. They call them ‘spitters,'” Ronan said. “They say ‘spitter’ because you eat it, and then you spit it out because it’s too bitter. The apples that I typically use are Manchurian crabapples, which are a little thing about the size of an olive. But they’re really high in sugar and tannin ,so the alcohol is very high and it gives a nice kind of musty taste to the cider.”
He also uses GoldRush, Snow Apples, Russets, Michelins, and several other varieties.
Ronan freely admits that his cider won’t be for everyone. American cider tends to be very sweet, while his is more akin to drier, Irish style “that’s nothing except apple juice and yeast.”
Right now, Ronan produces only kegs, but this year, he plans to start bottling his cider. You can find his cider all over the Willamette Valley, including Cutsforth’s Marketplace (his first customer), The Highland Stillhouse in Oregon City, and Filberts Farmhouse Kitchen.
Photos courtesy of Aurora Cider Company.