PEACHES MAY BE the official state fruit, but here in North Georgia, apples reign supreme. Throughout Ellijay and the surrounding area, orchards and apple houses dot the landscape, and nothing says fall quite like picking a fresh peck and sinking your teeth into that fruity flesh. Sliced on salads, baked into pies, cooked down into a sauce, or tucked whole inside little lunch boxes, there’s no shortage of ways to enjoy the area’s seasonal bounty.
But this year, there’s an all-new reason to fall in love with the Apple Capital of Georgia with the opening of Reece’s Cider Co., Ellijay’s first and only cidery, where local apples get a little kick in the form of hard cider.
Tanner Reece grew up among apples—his grandparents founded BJ Reece Orchards in the 1960s and his parents took over when he was still a child—so some of his earliest memories involve apples.
“I can remember being in [the orchard] when I was five years old,” he says.
Tanner’s childhood home, just about a mile from the apple house, had a 100-acre orchard right out front, and he started taking on farm chores at an early age. By the time he could drive, he was on a tractor spraying trees and started working in the farm market as a teenager. As he got older, he was introduced to hard cider from Mercier Orchards in neighboring Blue Ridge, and began to dream of starting this branch of the family business; interestingly, the venture also carries a connection to its roots.
“They actually made brandy out of some of the apples [back then],” he says of the orchards’ origins.
Tanner and his wife, Sarah, began to make plans for their own cidery in earnest a few years ago, purchasing three acres across the street from the orchard from the Reece family and setting out on several research trips to learn about the cidermaking process—Canada for classes about fermenting, Oregon for insight into the business side, and a dedicated cider conference in California.
In 2019, the couple started working on permitting for their facility and small business loans, but when Covid hit, the process was delayed. Construction at the building site began in summer 2020, and after a year of slow progress and a few setbacks, completion is finally on the horizon. At press time, the grand opening is slated for early fall—the perfect time to coincide with apple season in Ellijay.
The process of making hard cider is quite simple, letting the flavor of the apples shine. Unlike apple wine, which is made by adding sugar and results in higher alcohol content, cider is simply apples that have been pressed and fermented. The result is a light beverage with about 6 percent alcohol—particularly refreshing on those notoriously warm North Georgia autumn days.
“We use apples directly from the family farm,” Sarah says, listing varieties such as Arkansas Black, Crimson Crisp and Gold Rush. “We’ve been making small batches of cider in our home, perfecting our methods.” When the cidery opens, all pressing and fermenting will take place on-site. Some of the juice will also be frozen before fermenting, making it possible to produce cider year-round.
The couple’s flagship cider is Ellijay Apple, a semi-dry cider that will be available in cans and on tap exclusively at Reece’s Cider Co. year-round. As the business gets underway, new offerings will be added.
“We want to have at least one cider that’s a little sweeter, and we’ve talked about doing a hopped cider, which is almost similar in taste to an IPA beer,” Tanner says. “We’re probably also going to have a spiced cider with habanero peppers and some type of fruit.”
SAVOR THE SEASON
Reece’s Cider Co.’s location in the heart of apple country makes it the perfect addition to a day of apple picking or a tour of the area’s wineries and breweries.
“We want it to be family-friendly,” Tanner says. Visitors can take a peek at the fermenting process in the barn-like facility and enjoy a crisp, cold cider on the outdoor patio.
The cidery will also serve local wine and craft beers from partners like Cartecay River Brewing Co. Plans are also in the works to bring in food trucks and live music on the weekends.
While you’re there, be sure to pay a visit to BJ Reece right across the street. The fall season, which runs through October 31, features U-Pick apples, a market and bakery (we can’t resist those fried apple pies!) and fun farm activities like a petting zoo, wagon rides, an apple cannon and even cow milking.
REECE’S CIDER CO.
9110 Hwy. 52, East Ellijay