Earlier this spring, my wife Sj and I went to a Happy Gnome beer dinner featuring beers and ciders from local Sociable Cider Werks. Previously both of us had been a bit underwhelmed by their early ciders and were a bit sceptical. However, knowing that we have never had a bad dinner at The Gnome, we decided to take the risk and try it out. While folks were arriving for the dinner, they handed us a glass of the Freewheeler, their flagship dry cider, and we were pleasantly surprised at how tasty and quaffable it was. During that dinner I got to meet one of the founders, Jim Watkins, who's official job title on their website is Bullshitting (Operations). Nice! He was a cool guy, and very excited about what he was doing--a great advocate for their brand. Coming away from the dinner with a distended belly and a new-found respect for Sociable, we jumped their place up on our list of places to visit.
Which brings us to Art-A-Whirl weekend. This is the fun Nordeast art-show/artist studio hop that I have managed to miss every year so far. Finally, the stars aligned and we were able to get down there and wander through a bunch of cool artist studios in old characterful warehouse buildings. After buying a slew of glass beads for Sj's jewelry making, we made our way to the nearby Sociable Cider Werks taproom.
The taproom is located (like many) in a reconditioned industrial space. Unapologetically a "working brewery/cidery" the taproom is not fancy. The inside is a bit dark, but not dingy. A long shiny polished bar takes up a good space to the left side of the space across from the main entry. The fermenters and canning line are right behind that, with more stainless brew equipment off to the right of the building. A few large cable spool tables offer some more seating away from the bar. The place was bustling but not overly crowded during our visit. My one quibble with the setting is that the ceiling has a strange, slightly arts-and-crafts-from-elementary-school twig and yarn thing going on. A small patio outside offers additional seating and folks were just taking down a portable stage from earlier live music.
I wanted to order a sampler to try more things, but apparently they only offer them in the first hour they're open. I understand that samples take longer to pour, but they are the best way for someone like me to get a gestalt of how the whole brewery's line-up tastes in a short period of time. On the other hand, our helpful bartender was more than willing to let us have a couple of tastes to help make up our minds before ordering. They do offer small and large glasses, so we still got to try several of the offerings without getting tipsy. Interestingly they do straight ciders (most fairly dry), beers, and some hybrid beer/cider mixes. This combination is really what makes Sociable stand out to my mind. I got to try some unusual takes of traditional beer and cider styles that were truly unique. My favorite of the group was the Everblack--a fine example of an oatmeal stout that was easy to drink and well crafted. The Pinch Flat was a cider with saison yeast and had an interesting character somewhere between a beer and a cider. I think our least favorite was the Burnout Smoked Apple that just had a chemical phenol that was a bit off-putting--I still gave it a 3 of 5 though. Some of the hybrid styles like the Spoke Wrench (stout/cider) can have the cidery taste that I associate with young or "green" beer which is a flavor flaw when judging a beer.
I'm glad I gave these guys a chance and I think they're trying some cool new things that you can't find anywhere else. They're also putting out good quality dry cider (in cans now too) to compete with the big producers of overly sweet commercial ciders.