Brothers are opening Arizona’s 1st cider house & taproom in downtown Mesa

BY Jess Harter Wednesday, May 10, 2017

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In a round-about way, Cider Corps – Arizona’s first full-fledged cidery and taproom – can trace its origins to a Taliban prison in Afghanistan.

That’s where Jason Duren, a heavy equipment operator in the U.S. Marines Corps, was helping to tear down an abandoned complex when his excavator hit two improvised explosive devices in October 2012.

Duren (pictured above on left) was airlifted to Camp Bastion with traumatic brain injuries and eventually sent home to Mesa, no longer able to serve in the military or return to his previous job as a firefighter.

He and his brother, Josh (right), tried to figure out what he could do with his time, both short-term and long-term. As craft beer drinkers, they considered home-brewing beer, but wanted to find something a little more unique.

“I said, ‘We should try cider,’’’ Jason Duren says. ‘‘So for (Josh’s) birthday I bought him a (cider) home-brewing kit and we made cider. It was absolutely terrible. It was so disgusting.”

About the same time, Jason Duren started working on a degree in sustainable horticulture at ASU. As he learned more about chemistry, and experimented with fermentation techniques, his ciders improved – dramatically.

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The production

‘‘Most cideries that exist in the U.S. are families that own apple orchards, so they’ve always kind of been around apples and apple cider,’’ Josh Duren says. ‘‘For us, we’re huge craft beer guys. So we kinda started off on a completely different path.’’

Traditional cider makers ferment cold-pressed apple juice until all the sugars are gone (converted into alcohol), and then have to add juice or other sweeteners afterward for taste.

The Durens, however, taste their fermenting ciders every day and ‘‘crash’’ each batch – stop fermentation by dramatically lowering the temperature – when they taste perfect. No added sugars or other sweeteners are needed.

Additionally, the Durens use a variety of beer-brewing yeasts, instead of standard cider yeast, and even use hops in some flavors.

‘‘Right now, the biggest (cider) sellers in the world are Woodchuck, Angry Orchard, and Crispin, and I think people automatically think of those when they hear ‘ciders,’’’ Jason Duren says. ‘‘They don’t think of craft. They think of mass-produced and really sugary.’’

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The market

Soon, the brothers were making ciders in dozens of flavors – from traditional apple to smoked pineapple to mango habanero hopped to Moscow Mule – all in Jason’s Mesa garage.

The small batches were a hit with family and friends, but the Durens wanted some professional opinions. One of the earliest ‘‘pros’’ they met with was Mat Snapp, beverage director for Fox Restaurant Concepts.

‘‘We sat down with Mat and he tried about 10 of our ciders,’’ Josh Duren says. ‘‘We were just looking for an expert opinion. Instead, he said, ‘If you guys can make enough of these, we’ll carry them in all of our restaurants.’’’

Since signing an agreement with Fox, the Durens have a waiting list of about 20 other Valley restaurants and bars that also want to carry their ciders, most of which range from 6.5% to 7% ABV, similar to craft beers.

All they needed was some place to set up a larger operation.

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The building

The Durens thought they found the perfect location near Apache and Dorsey in Tempe, but after negotiations dragged on for five months they decided to move on.

The very next day they got a call from the owner of a small building on Robson, just south of Main, in downtown Mesa. An old garage, next to the former Mesa Tribune building, was being expanded and renovated.

The brothers secured 4,500 square feet and construction of Cider Corps – the name a nod to Jason Duren’s military background – now is underway.

While others in Arizona – such as Superstition Meadery in Prescott and Desert Rock Winery in north Scottsdale – have produced an occasional cider, Cider Corps will be the state’s first dedicated cider house.

With Jason overseeing the brewing and Josh, a brand developer and graphics designer, promoting the business, they hope to start cider production in mid-June, distribution in July, and open the tap room by Veterans Day.

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The future

In the meantime, they’ve done several collaborations, including two malted ciders with downtown Mesa’s Oro Brewing (the second one will be released next week) and a cold-pressed coffee cider with Peixoto Coffee in downtown Chandler.

They’ve also done several cider dinners at Valley restaurants to help build Cider Corps’ reputation.

“When people ask, ‘What’s the difference between your cider and what’s already on the market?’ the simplest way to explain it is the difference between apple Kool-Aid and apple juice,’’ Josh Duren says.

‘‘Apple Kool-Aid sorta tastes like an apple, but if you taste it next to apple juice you realize, ‘That doesn’t really taste like apples.’’’

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