Botanist & Barrel makes surprising cider

by Catherine Currin | photography by S.P. Murray

“I’m not really a cider fan. It’s too sweet for me.” Amie Fields has heard this a time or two, but she’s determined to change our minds. As a partner and pommelier (more on that, later) at Botanist and Barrel, Fields hopes that, after trying her blends, you’ll say, “Wow! Maybe I do like cider!” instead.

The brand started with land: Fields’ husband, Lyndon Smith, and his sister, Kether Smith, purchased a five-acre property and organic blueberry farm five years ago in Cedar Grove, N.C. The farm would join an adjacent 100-acre property that the Smiths’ mother and her husband owned. “The plan was to start a family farm of some kind,” says Fields. The plot also happened to include a 10,000-square-foot warehouse that had been a Whole Foods 365 production facility, which got them thinking about the potential for a business. “They’ve always loved foraging and picking berries, and one day I suggested we start making cider,” Fields says. They purchased equipment at half price from a defunct sake distiller, and got to work. Along with Kether Smith’s husband, Deric McGuffey, the two couples are partners in the business. Kether Smith and McGuffey are both cider makers, Fields handles sales and cider education and Lyndon Smith is the ‘cellarman,’ a nebulous title that comes along with robust responsibilities. “My husband is the glue that brings everything together,” says Fields. “He sources the fruit we don’t grow, he’s the farmer, the barrel man, the collaborator, the experimental fermenter and much more.”

Fields and Smith both have backgrounds in wine, so it was natural to take a winemaking approach when making cider. Without additives and sulfites, Fields says, nature does all the work: bringing out characteristics in the fresh and mostly foraged fruit through natural fermentation, plus creating natural bubbles from the secondary fermentation in the bottle. “It’s fermented like wine. We take the natural wine approach, we don’t take anything away or add in.” While it’s common to add chemicals in order to halt fermentation, Botanist and Barrel stops the process by naturally fermenting all of the sugar out.

The natural process, coupled with top-notch ingredients (think, freshly-picked berries and high-quality cider apples) allows for a grain-free, no-sugar product that is a refreshing, healthier drinking option. Fields says that people are intrigued by the approach, especially as they care more about what’s going into their bodies and where it comes from. They’re also creating their own versions of Pét-Nat (pétillant naturel, the oldest method of sparkling wine production that predates Champagne) with foraged fruit like blueberries and cherries. There’s Less is More, a Pét-Nat cider with light bubbles and a funky taste due to its ‘spontaneous fermentation.’ Other unique blends include Honey Made Me Do It, which is fermented in bourbon honey barrels, or Botanical Blueberry, aged in a gin barrel.

In an attempt to expand her knowledge and share it with customers, Fields studied to become a pommelier, the pomme fruit (apples and pears) equivalent to a sommelier of wine. She passed her certification two years ago and is now one of just 10 certified pommeliers in the world. “I want to educate people that there are many styles of cider. It’s one of the most diverse beverages in the world—because you can play and make a cocktail, can age it in a barrel, age in a spirituous barrel. We try to touch on all of these things at Botanist and Barrel and show how versatile it is and can be.” With all that nuance in flavor, the brand is on a mission to convince prove that there truly is a cider for everyone.