Springdale has long been known as a chicken town. But before feathers were flying apples reigned supreme. Orchards stretched across the countryside as far as the eye could see, and in the late 19th and early 20th centuries businesses sprung up everywhere to support apple production. In fact, the region’s largest evaporator – the Kimmons, Walker & Co. plant – was located right in the heart of Springdale.
Eventually the industry declined due to disease and insect infestation. Farmers turned to poultry to make their living, and Springdale’s legacy of apple production became a distant memory.
The town will soon return to its roots with the opening of Arkansas’ first modern cidery at 321 E. Emma Avenue. Noble Crossing Cider House is set to pour the fruits of its labor with a soft opening in May.
Partners John Handley, Trey Holt, and Leo Orpin purchased the historic downtown building that once housed a hatchery and offices for local poultry grower George’s Inc. Renovations are underway, with many of the original structural elements being exposed for the first time in decades.
“We love the open rafter look,” said Orpin, referring to the production floor ceiling. Brick walls are in the process of shedding years’ worth of plaster, dirt, and grime.
Orpin, who previously worked for a local craft beer distributor, plans to oversee the business side of things, while Handley and Holt will focus on production and quality assurance. The latter two have a background in microbiology and will utilize an onsite QA lab to ensure a consistent cider is produced.
Alcoholic cider – or hard cider as it’s commonly known – is experiencing explosive growth that resembles craft beer’s recent rise. According to Nielsen, off-premise sales of cider grew by 71% last year, which followed 89% and 90% growth in 2013 and 2012 respectively.
What will set Noble Crossing apart from other well-established brands on the market?
“We’re aiming for balance,” said Orpin. “Most of the commercial ciders out right now – Angry Orchard, Wood Chuck – are very sweet. We want to do a semi-dry, semi-sweet cider that’s easy to drink.”
Most of the team’s energy will be aimed at producing a flagship cider with a target ABV of 6%. But once Noble Crossing finds its production groove other varieties will be available, said Orpin.
“Trey and John will eventually cut loose with different fruits and yeast strains. There are a lot of cool ways you can play around with cider.”
Keg accounts will be the primary focus out of the gate, but packaging for retail sales will come in time.
A taproom was not initially a part of the plan for Noble Crossing, but the square footage of the Emma Avenue facility made it a possibility. Now onsite consumption is very much a part of Noble Crossing’s business model.
Space will be leased to retail shops that will occupy the street-facing portion of the building. Access to the taproom will be at the rear.
Enjoying a pint of cider where it’s made should add another aspect to the resurgence of downtown Springdale. The Razorback Regional Greenway has created excitement for the area, and whispers of new retail shops and restaurants have reached deafening levels.
“We’re hoping that we become an attraction too,” said Orpin.
In a local market dominated by craft breweries, it’s becoming harder and harder to stand out from the crowd. Noble Crossing Cider House is attempting to do just that by taking a different approach. Holt, Handley, and Orpin may not realize it, but they are reaching into Springdale’s apple-laden past to contribute to the city’s future.