When Justin Engle started Town in City Brewing Co. in 2015, he also applied for a winery permit, which would allow him to produce cider. The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission gave him the go-ahead to make beer, but it took a while to get approved for wine, as he had to convince the TABC of the legality of having both permits at the same time.
Town in City’s beer quickly gained a following. Nevertheless, once he got the second permit, Engle enlisted cidermaker Brandon Baldridge to get going with boozy, bubbly apple drinks. They called the operation the Houston Cider Company, with the first batch filling a few tanks in December 2017. Now every tank at the Heights brewery and taproom is reserved for cider.
“We kept it a little quiet,” says Engle, who suspended beer production in December. The Town in City website is still live, while its Facebook page advertises Houston Cider Company events at the brewery space. There’s probably no more Town in City beer left in the wild.
But there’s plenty of cider to be had: Cans of Dry, Cherry, and Rosé can be found at H-E-B and Whole Foods locations, as well as bars and restaurants throughout town. Of these, Dry is the highlight—golden, with subtle carbonation and a crisp bite.
Made from apple juice sourced from Oregon and Washington that’s brewed and fermented here, all three varieties have a bit of residual sugar, which adds a touch of sweetness and a fuller body. At 6 percent ABV, they pack as much of a boozy punch as a standard IPA, but with fewer calories, which Engle thinks could be one reason cider consumption is growing nationwide, while beer’s share in the market has fallen.
Other breweries are getting in on the trend, too: Earlier this year Saint Arnold released its first cider, a dry coming in at 5.5 percent ABV. Still, there are barriers. The TABC doesn’t make things easy, and it costs more to make cider than beer in Texas, primarily because we don’t produce a lot of apples.
As for Engle, he’s not ruling out the possibility of bringing Town in City beer back into the mix. But for now, it’s all about the apples. “Surprisingly, we do have some of our regular beer drinkers coming in for cider,” he says. “Most of them were actually surprised by how much they like it.”