I’ve been putting off writing up some of my favorites (notably, Fullsteam, Mystery, Haw River, and Bull City Ciderworks).
Bull City gets Durham kudos for finding a hole in the wall on a couple-block section of downtown that was not yet full of awesome businesses and made it cool. Pre-renaissance, downtown Durham was apparently full of just brick tobacco-associated buildings and car garages/gas stations. Alivia’s, Motorco and Geer Street are rehabbed and repurposed garages. And we can, briefly, add Bull City Ciderworks to the list. (The police station is moving in, now that the section is revived, and a successful Kickstarter was launched to help relocate the ciderworks, which will be popping up in a few weeks/months elsewhere. Oh, and you can get used to seeing my lovely name “immortalized in BCC history with [my] name on the founders plaque for all to marvel.”)
The founders are a merry band of awesome (now beardless, thanks to the Kickstarter) and odd assortment of former baseball players, molecular biologists (cider guaranteed cholera-free!), asset managers, etc. The staff has had some change-ups lately (so I can’t really tell who was there and is there), but every server I’ve had has been friendly, professional, fun, and knowledgeable. And one of the founders’ nephews pitches in whenever he gets a chance and does a great job remembering regulars and what they have and haven’t tried.
There’s (almost) always a food truck out front. One of my favorites is Bull City Street Food; Harry Monds makes fantastic Southern food, including black eyed pea fritters, and even did a 5 course pairing with foods riffing off (and incorporating) the Bull City Ciderworks. Sometimes there’s live music, sometime’s there’s games, dogs are welcome, and there’s always a good time.
And the ciders. I took my grandmother here for her 83rd birthday (and she has since been a long-distance BCC fan from Fayetteville). I bring jugs of cider for family events — Thanksgiving, Mother’s Day. It’s one drink that beer drinkers, wine-drinkers, and even folks who like muscadine and scuppernong wines from Duplin Cellars can all agree upon. They sell tasting flights, half-pints, 9 oz. (for the small batch high gravity), pints and growlers, as well as some gear.
- Off Main: Four apple blend, this is the go-to cider on draft here at Bull City. I grab a growler for parties because it’s a crowd pleaser, but go with something a little more unusual when I’m drinking at the bar.
- Sweet Carolina: Sweet Carolina is a honeyed cider with a sweet, smooth flavor and light carbonation.
- Steep South: Steep South is welcoming to both adventurous and unadventurous palates. This cider combines an Off-Main feel with a powerful black tea flavor (one lump of sugar, not two).
- Smooth Hoperator: A beer-drinkers cider, smooth hoperator ditches the sweetness and rolls with an apple kick. It tastes more like a beer than Canada’s Unibroue Ephemere. There’s also an Amerillo Underground (collab with American Underground) India Pale Cider for hops fans.
- Rhiz Up!: This is an awesome ginger cider (ha! ginger is a rhizome! aka mass of roots! but clever!) that’s one of my favorites. The ginger is strong with this one.
Seasonal and Small Batch:
- Cardinal Cin: This is an old school sweet cinnamon cider, but it just slays me. I’m in love, but it’s like Sweet Mullet and only appears when it’s cold outside.
- Spruce Bringsteen: Spruce Bringsteen is a love-it-or-hate-it cider with an awesome name. With NC spruce tips, this has a distinctly state park and Christmas feel. It was originally a winter cider, but is back on tap in May. But while I was at BCC today the namesake’s “Waiting on a Sunny Day” came on the speakers, so it maybe it works in the summer too. 🙂
- Winter Blues: Winter Blues is done (for now), but it was a collaboration with Brave Ciders (a Matthew Beason venture) when Matty B happened to “come into some blueberries.” Not a sweet cider, this had a nice earthy funk to it and a purple color.
- Sweet Mullet: It’s great listening to people ordering Sweet Mull-et (French pronunciation) and Sweet Mullet (Southern hair pronunciation). This spicy mulled cider is winter-only and weekend-only, and there’s never enough. Served warm and in mugs with a cinnamon stick, this sweet mullet won’t have me bemoaning the early emergence of Christmas songs and store decorations as long as it reappears as soon as I need a sweater.
- Pommiscuous: Pommiscuous is a single variety Pink Lady cider (higher ABV) and served in a 9 oz. pour. It was aged in bourbon barrels, and it has a great booze and oak flavor with a tart apple.
- As-Yet-Unnamed Strawberry Cider: This is an incredible 6.7% ABV strawberry cider. Over 300 pounds of strawberries went into this, over three days of hand-pressing (in a press on display in the cidery) and maybe 300 name nominations on the chalkboard in the back. My personal nomination was Hip Hop Strawnonymous, but I particularly enjoyed other corny nominees Strawshank Redemption and Berry Fanilow. If as-yet-unnamed strawberry cider is too sweet for you, try a half-and-half with Rhiz Up! (ginger strawberry) to cut the sweetness. Another patron tried a half-and-half with Smooth Hoperator and it was apparently good enough that he ordered a Round 2.
Virginia Fitt lives somewhere on the border of Orange County and Durham city limits, and loves risk-taking brewers who use local ingredients, sours, Bretts/wild ales, strange collaborations, and all good beers.