Anxo opens its long-awaited Brightwood Park cider production facility and tasting room on Saturday. In addition to the 1,000-gallon stainless-steel tanks and three Italian-wood casks, the space features a full bar and a kitchen serving Basque-style snacks. Customers can order ciders and craft beers from around the world, as well as draft cocktails, Spanish wine, vermouth and sherry. Most of the attention, however, is going to be on Anxo's own ciders.
This weekend marks the release of a collaboration with Vermont's Eden Specialty Cider: Anxo + Eden Collaboration #7, the result of blending four varieties of heirloom Vermont apples. It's available on tap, and bottles will be for sale for $14.99 each.
This year, Anxo will begin selling ciders produced on Kennedy Street, under the guidance of new cidermaker Greg Johnson. Johnson, who will move to Washington in early June, is a veteran of Michigan's Virtue Cider, which is known for its Old World farmhouse techniques and barrel-aging program.
“I am looking forward to figuring out what we can do in Brightwood that not many people in the U.S. are doing in an urban setting,” Johnson says. “I hope to emulate to some degree many of the cider styles traditionally found throughout Europe, especially Spain. I want to do a lot with natural fermentation, coercing the yeast and bacteria on the apple skins to create distinction amongst the ciders.”
Johnson discovered brewing in college and moved onto ciders once he discovered the world of traditional varieties beyond Woodchuck and Hardcore. On a whim, he says, he applied for an assistant cider making position at Virtue, a farm cidery owned by former Goose Island brewmaster Greg Hall. “My experience at Virtue really demonstrates what apples are capable of through fermentation, wood aging and blending, without the need for other fruits to provide character and complexity,” Johnson says. “This is an approach I hope to carry on with at Anxo.”
The main difference between Michigan and the Washington area, Johnson says, is that it's harder to get access to heritage and Old World apple varieties there than it is on the East Coast, which should allow him to experiment with funkier or unusual flavors. At the same time, Johnson says, “I don't like to get too hung up on the chic apple varieties in a similar way that brewers obsess over hops. I am more interested in what I can find." He plans to work on foraged ciders and collect apples from old orchards for small-batch runs, which is familiar territory for Anxo; the cidery released two “foraged ciders” last year, made with crab apples found growing wild in Washington.
While Johnson is excited to begin making cider in Brightwood Park, he's also looking outside the area: Next month, he'll fly to England to work on a collaboration with the award-winning Oliver's Cider and Perry. Then he'll get down to work while enjoying his first D.C. summer.
So what's his ideal drink for our warm weather? “I'm a big fan of earthy, low acid, high tannin ciders almost all the time, though something brighter with a bit more acidity definitely pairs well with summer barbecue,” Johnson says, citing Shacksbury Farmhouse and Isastegi Sagardo as examples.
Hopefully soon we can have one from Anxo, as well.
Anxo Cider, 711 Kennedy St. NW. Open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday. On Memorial Day, the cidery hosts a special event called Sardinada, with whole sardines cooked on a grill, and will be open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.