Beertender Alex Gonzalez pours a beer at Stable Craft Brewing on June 29, 2018.

Augusta County’s only farm brewery is adding a line of craft ciders, according to a Thursday announcement from the company and local tourism officials.

Stable Craft Brewing, located on Madrid Road about six miles north of Waynesboro, is planning to invest more than $200,000 to add ciders to its lineup, creating six new jobs, according to the announcement.

Stable Craft was waiting on a license from the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority to allow it to begin offering ciders, which eventually will be produced by apples grown from as many as 150 trees that will be planted on the farm. The news means it will be the county's first cidery.

With its new farm-winery license, Stable Craft will partner with other wineries to offer ciders and wines in its tasting room and to guests attending wedding events at its sister business, Hermitage Hill Farm & Stable.

Stable Craft expects to have guest cider taps and wine available this month.

"We've been holding off. We know where we can put the [trees] and what will survive here," said Stable owner Craig Nargi.  

Stable, launched in 2016 and with a current workforce of 32, sells its beers throughout central and western Virginia through wholesale beer and wine distribution partner, the Augusta County-based AgriBev Distribution.

Nargi said a decision to add cider is in part due to his love of apples.

"I grew up around apple orchards as a kid in New England," he said. "I just remember a soft cider, with no alcohol, that you could only get in the fall. It was just a pulpy, sweet [cider]. I just remember how delicious that was and want to emulate that in a hard cider."

The plan, he said, is to aim for at least three other ciders: a crisp, sweet variety; one that's barrel-aged; and a dry cider.

Nargi said he will be planting apple trees from all-Virginia root stock. The farm will spend summer and fall prepping where the orchards will be planted next spring.

Full growth of the trees isn’t expected for another five or six years, Nargi said. In the meantime, Stable is leasing an orchard near Winchester to produce the apples needed for its ciders, he said.

"We wanted to take our time so we are very satisfied with our end product," Nargi said.

Diversifying the Stable Craft brand with craft ciders fits in well with the brewery and Hermitage Hill, which has served as an event venue since 2008. 

Nargi said that in addition to the farm growing the apples for Stable’s cider, just as the farm grows the hops used in its craft beer, staff will be able to share this work and experience directly with guests.

"The reality is we have a pretty brisk event business, but we can only provide them beer," he said of the decision to add ciders.

Adding cider, he added, also takes the business "full circle ... getting back to what we are meant be, a true farm."

Expanding into ciders also comes at a time when sales at Stable Craft have been kicking into high gear.

"It's been fantastic. We've grown faster than we thought we would on the beer side," Nargi said. "We're seeing sales that are double over what they were last year. ... It just puts a smile on your face."

Stable Craft contributes a unique combination to the local economy because of its model of offering food and beverage as well as tourism, according to Augusta County Development and Tourism.

Amanda Glover, Augusta County’s economic development director, said craft beer, cideries and wineries are boosting overall tourism spending in the region.

Glover pointed to a May 22 report from the Virginia Tourism Corp. that shows tourism generated $25 billion in visitor spending in 2018, a 4.4% increase over 2017. Food and beverage overall is a strong sector for both Augusta County and the Shenandoah Valley, which is attributable to the region’s lengthy history of agriculture and a supply chain that supports the industry, she said.

“We definitely see a growth in interest in craft breweries … a reason people travel and visit new locations,” Glover said. “That’s one of the reasons we are partners with Staunton, Waynesboro, Harrisonburg and Lexington-Rockbridge on the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail to market our entire area.”

Once visitors travel to craft breweries, cideries and vineyards, tourism officials “encourage them to visit other attractions the area has to offer,” she said.

“Stable Craft is a unique combination of tourism and manufacturing,” Supervisor Gerald Garber, chairman of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors and representative of the Middle River District where Stable Craft is located, said in a statement. “Food and beverage is imperative to Augusta County and the Shenandoah Valley, and we embrace our entrepreneurs who are growing their own notion of today’s agriculture.”

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