Jim Watkins and Wade Thompson moved to New York together to work in finance after they graduated from Carleton College in 2007. They grinded out long hours, “chained to a desk,” as Watkins put it, as entry-level employees at Citibank and Piper Jaffrey. When they did have a spare moment, the two college buddies would go out for beers, where conversation often drifted toward moving back to Minnesota.
“When we would talk about what we would do if we ever escaped our office jobs, beer and brewing always seemed to be at the top of the list, for whatever reason,” said Thompson, laughing.
The duo will soon be opening Sociable Cider Werks, Northeast’s latest brewery. The 6,000-square-foot facility is located at 1500 Fillmore St. NE, across the street from Northeast Park and just four blocks from Indeed Brewing. It will brew both cider and beer, house a 1,000-square-foot taproom and an outdoor patio with a bocce ball court.
“We saw the beer boom happening in Minneapolis and that gave us enough appetite for risk to finally pull the trigger and move back to try to get in on it,” said Watkins.
Thompson’s father-in-law, Dan, has brewed cider for three decades, and it was always a hit when he broke it out for special occasions. Watkins and Thompson had screwed around trying to brew beer in college, but when they did decide to move back to Minnesota, first Thompson in 2009, then Watkins a year later, they started brewing cider.
At first they copied Dan’s recipe, which creates a dry, crisp, champagne-style cider. Then they began to experiment by adding malt adjuncts – lightly hopped, cane sorghum or malted barley based brews – to the cider to create what they call an apple graff. A graff is similar to cider, but it isn’t as sweet and has higher alcohol content.
“We’re going after the same craft beer drinkers that enjoy an Indeed or a Dangerous Man,” said Watkins. “Craft beer drinkers love variety, and we think we’re bringing something no one else is really doing right now to the market.”
To start out Sociable will offer Freewheeler, a traditional, European-style cider, Broken Spoke, a milk stout-cider hybrid, and a variety of small batch beers.
Sociable has contracted Niko Tonks, another Carleton alum, to brew the adjuncts and beers. Tonks is the head brewer at Fair State Brewing, which will be Minnesota’s first cooperatively-owned brewery when it opens sometime next year.
The adjuncts and beers are brewed in miniature two-barrel tanks that sit adjacent to the five 50-barrel tanks the cider is brewed in, making it easy to experiment with different flavors and recipes. Thompson said they plan to brew a cranberry and a apricot cider in the future, and Watkins added that they will be aging the apple graffs in a variety of different oak barrels for special releases.
The duo will be doing all of the canning, labeling and distributing in-house. They’ve purchased a small canning line that will be visible next to the fermenting tanks at the back of the tap room, and Watkins has a CDL license to deliver Sociable ciders across the metro.
A soft opening will happen sometime in November to show off the taproom and sell beer. Cider needs an additional 2-8 weeks to age, so a grand opening featuring Broken Spoke and Freewheeler probably won’t come until late November-early December.