Cider brewer Matt Stetson: How do you like them apples?

Cider brewer Matt Stetson: How do you like them apples?
By Ben Crandell
April 27, 2016

I’m that guy, the one who has never let a Redd’s Apple Ale commercial go by without a discouraging word, its juice-box-in-a-bottle existence just more evidence of the infantilism of American society, right up there with Snuggies, chewable vitamins for adults and Batman movies. So now cider is a thing? Did we learn nothing from Zima?

But I could be wrong.

“The biggest challenge that I face every day that I’m open is to change the face of what people think cider is,” says Matt Stetson, head cidermaker at Accomplice Brewery and Ciderworks in West Palm Beach. “In the beginning, it was two out of three, and now it’s probably one out of three people who walk through the door at Ciderworks, say, ‘Hey, I don’t like ciders.’ And they leave saying, ‘Holy cow, I like ciders.'”

If hard cider as an alcoholic-beverage alternative is a growing trend, Stetson was way ahead of the curve: He’s a sixth-generation cidermaker who learned the craft at age 9 in his grandfather’s orchard in Canandaigua, N.Y.

In 2013, after working in the alcohol industry in South Florida in a variety of roles — from sommelier at Publix to a job with distributor Southern Wine & Spirits — the West Palm Beach resident set his sights on turning the beers he brewed at home into Accomplice Brewery. Then, love happened: His partner, Felonice Merriman, has celiac disease, which means she could not enjoy his gluten-rich peanut butter stout, nor his cherry lager.

Remembering the ciders he made with his grandfather were gluten-free, Stetson went back to the drawing board and began brewing different versions of the fruit-based elixir, including apple, strawberry and cranberry. Friends loved what they tasted, and Stetson soon added “and Ciderworks” to the name of the project, which he and Merriman opened in November in a warehouse near Okeechobee Boulevard west of I-95.

Accomplice, the only craft cidermaker in South Florida, according to Stetson, has a tasting room open 4:30-10 p.m. weekdays, 4 p.m.-midnight Friday, 2 p.m.-midnight Saturday and 2-8 p.m. Sunday.

Possessed of an amiable sense of humor, Stetson will discuss ciders, gluten-free brewing and other topics on Thursday, April 28, at Brass Tap in Boynton Beach during Science on Tap, a free discussion series sponsored by the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium. Stetson’s 30-minute conversation, titled “Fermenting Science: The Chemistry Behind Alcohol,” will be accompanied by $1.50-off drafts. Accomplice will be represented with a keg of strawberry cider, and possibly other examples of Stetson’s work.

Cider is defined by federal rules as a beverage that is primarily fermented apple juice and not more than 8 percent alcohol by volume (anything over 8 percent ABV is considered apple wine). Stetson adds other natural ingredients for flavor and manipulates sugars and yeasts.

The No. 1 seller at Accomplice is a cinnamon double cider called Sidewinder, but Stetson says the best introduction is his traditional Prussian golden cider, based on a recipe in his family for generations.

“It’s semisweet and, actually, believe it or not, it’s really semidry the way I make it. Real crisp, real clean, super refreshing. Good acidity, light-bodied,” says Stetson, calling a growler of his cider “perfect for a day out on the boat.”

As good as that sounds, Merriman told Stetson that she could not live on craft cider alone: She missed craft beer. So he got to work on a batch of recipes for craft beer made from maltable, gluten-free grains, including millet, quinoa, sorghum, sunflower seeds, amaranth and buckwheat. He came up with about a dozen, which the couple tested on friends and people who dropped by their table at local beer shows.

“They’d go through the flight of three beers and three ciders, and say, ‘Wow, these are awesome. When do we get to try the gluten-free?’ And we’d turn around and tell them, ‘You had the gluten-free one already,'” Stetson says. “That was very motivating, when people can drink your craft beverages and not realize that they’ve had something that actually contains no wheat, no barley, no rye. That was inspiring to me.”

The couple is now going through the application process to make Accomplice one of the few gluten-free beer breweries in the country.

Science on Tap will take place 7 p.m. Thursday, April 28, at Brass Tap Boynton Beach, 950 Congress Ave., in Boynton Beach. Admission is free. Call 561-370-7740 or go to SFScienceCenter.org. Accomplice Brewery and Ciderworks is at 1023 N. Florida Mango Road, in West Palm Beach. Call 561-568-7242 or go to AccompliceBrewery.com.