This feature is part 2 of our new Tastemakers series, in which Elizabeth Winslow uncovers the stories behind the most inspiring food artisans, distillers, retailers, farmers, restauranteurs, bakers, chefs, tastemakers, and innovators. For our first installment with Fresa’s, click here.
There’s a new scene brewing in Austin: just southwest of town where the city lights give way to the big and bright stars at night, a new constellation of craft breweries and liquor distilleries are setting up shop. Wes Mickel’s Argus Cider is the Lone Star State’s only hard cider made with local Texas apples, which he loves for their high sugar content and for the farmers who battle crazy Texas weather to produce them. With a yeasty nose and a bone dry finish, Argus Cider is more sparkling wine than fizzy fruit drink, with floral notes and toasty accents from barrel aging. With the help of cellar manager Jules Peterson, Wes has built a gorgeous new tasting room where folks can enjoy glasses of sparkling cider, still ciders by the glass, barrel tastings of whatever is fermenting at the moment, and tasty provisions for the peckish. Wes’s experience in the most exalted kitchens of the California Wine Country informs his commitment to quality and respect for the traditions of this centuries-old drink: think Thomas Keller meets Bilbo Baggins of the Shire. Recently, we took a little road trip out to Argus Cidery to have a glass of bubbly ourselves with Wes, Jules, and Louis the Cidery dog to talk apples, giving trees, culinary inspiration and Mexican prison hooch.
*photography by thomas winslow
Tell your brand story in five words or fewer.
Local, handmade, artisan, vintage.
What is your biggest motivator?
My wife, the fruit, the growers, the wine, all the work in general, and getting the chance to do it for a living.
What has been your greatest mistake?
My business plan, the first one.
Tell us about your lucky break?
That first business plan actually working, against all odds.
Words of wisdom:
Someone once told me a dish is the sum of its parts, so I guess a company is the sum of its parts as well.
Required reading for every food entrepreneur?
The Simple Truth, by Alex Brennan-Martin, The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein, and the Quickbooks manual.
What inspires you?
Wine books and cookbooks.
What other businesses inspire you?
Any business that has zero overhead. It baffles me. For our company, I know we want to have happy and fulfilled employees, not be in the red, have the opportunity to give back and always continue to learn and follow our passions.
How do you measure success?
Having the ability to continue to do what I love as a life and not having to consider it a job.
If you weren’t making handcrafted hard cider, what would you be doing?
What is your favorite cookbook?
Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry Cookbook, based on the fact that it was the first book that I bought that really made me want to cook. I had to buy a second copy because it fell apart. Larousse Gastronomique is another that has fallen apart—I’ve had it for years and still read it.
What’s your next big idea?
Tepache, but it most certainly is not my idea. It is basically Mexican prison hooch… I think it might work with the right packaging.
What flavors inspire taste memories for you?
Bread and butter. That would be the most nostalgic dish that I can think of.
What’s your favorite ingredient?
Butter and chile jam.
It’s Wednesday night at 6:30. What’s for dinner?
Beer, cold seafood, and bread.
What’s in your fridge right now?
Lots of spinach, fruit, apple juice, butters, and condiments.
Tell us about your dream dinner party–you can invite six guests (real, imaginary, living, or dead) to dinner-what, who, & where?
Dream dinner party would be at The Bag End in the Shire, with lots of beer, wine, cider, and mead, and obviously six of my closest friends, because they are the only ones I could convince to be a hobbit with me for a night.
Click here to get the recipe for these Argus Cider-Brined Pork Chops with Fresh Apple Mostarda & Pumpkin Seeds
*recipe by Elizabeth Winslow