Friends Dustin Walker and Oliver Koch first worked together as beer reps — now they’ve started their own business in Raleigh.
by Catherine Currin | photography by Matt Ramey
Tucked just off Whitaker Mill Road in the new East End Market, a development with food, drink and entertainment, you’ll find bright, punchy ciders inside a refuge of greenery and good vibes. East Bower Cider Company was founded by friends Dustin Walker and Oliver Koch, who together have decades of experience in the beverage industry.
The two met as bartenders in Athens, Georgia, and later crossed paths when they worked as regional beer reps for Terrapin. Eventually, they both landed in Raleigh and started talking about opening up their own place.
That didn’t turn into a concrete plan until a visit to a cidery six years ago. “We tasted some amazing ciders — the kind that aren’t like sugar bombs,” says Walker. “As beer reps, we didn’t typically lean into cider, but we figured we could do this.”
During quarantine, Walker taught himself to brew cider through online classes at the Cider Institute of North America (CINA). He took a few courses on the basics, tested different recipes and learned the techniques. “I made some at-home batches to test it out,” he says. “I didn’t have brewing experience, but with my time in the beer industry, I wasn’t going in blind. I understand flavor profiles and know what people enjoy.”
While Walker focused on brewing delicious and approachable cider, Koch took the reins on planning the front of house operations. The two credit the folks at Trophy Brewing for supporting their endeavors — they allowed Walker to shadow the brewing team to learn more on the process, and Koch gained experience running a business while managing at State of Beer for several years. The efforts turned into East Bower Cider Company, Raleigh’s first cidery.
“It was great to share the lessons we have learned with Dustin and Oliver and possibly help them avoid some of the mistakes we have made,” says Chris Powers, co-owner at Trophy Brewing.
“Working together, plus being friends with each other and our families, makes their success that much more important to us. And if we can enjoy a great locally made cider at the same time, it’s a win for all of us.”
Today, Walker’s the head brewer for East Bower, batching up everything from mainstays like the Queen Bee — a semidry cider sweetened with a hint of local honey — to funky flavors that incorporate ingredients like habanero peppers.
“While the process is quite similar to beer, cider is more of an agricultural product, grown rather than brewed,” Walker says. “Naturally sweetened ciders — as opposed to those with added sugar — are akin to a dry, slightly fizzy wine.”
East Bower sources local as much as possible, including the blueberries and strawberries to make their Jam On cider. Each brew takes on the flavor profile of its added ingredients — a bite from fresh ginger or a lingering sweetness from mango or honey.
At the cidery, you can try a flight to taste a sampling of four flavors or grab a growler to take home. You can also find East Bower on draft at spots like Poole’side Pies, State of Beer and Raleigh Beer Garden.
Koch is the mastermind behind the space’s calming aesthetic, which is filled with natural wood and lots of live plants. The green space is inspired by the name. “A bower is a shaded spot in a garden, and the ‘East’ is obviously a nod to our location,” says Walker. “We wanted to create a space that was visually pleasing but had a different feel than a traditional brewery.”
The outdoor patio is a highlight of the space, with a sprawling lawn scattered with fire pits, seating and, on weekends, a food truck parked front and center. Guests can also bring their own food to enjoy with a beverage; children and dogs are encouraged, too.
Koch and Walker feel there’s something for everyone to drink at East Bower. In addition to cider, they offer a carefully selected beer and wine list, and cocktails made with cider. But the two hope you’ll at least have a taste of their craft in its pure form. “That’s the best part,” Walker says. “Our favorite customer is the one where we can change their mind on what cider can be.”
This article originally appeared in the April 2023 issue of WALTER magazine.