Oct. 23—MARIETTA — The Gem City has welcomed a snazzy new drinking establishment, where the libations are made from apples instead of wheat and hops.
Atlanta Hard Cider debuted its new tasting room and production facility Thursday, located on Roswell Street just west of Cobb Parkway. It's the first brick-and-mortar location for the cidery, co-founded by Marietta locals Mark and Liz Deno.
The craft cider company previously used a co-packer in upstate New York to manufacture its alcoholic cider, which is distributed in Georgia grocery stores, liquor stores, bars and restaurants. The new facility in Marietta will host all of the company's production going forward, as well as the tasting room, where city officials sipped pints after cutting the ribbon on the building.
The cider is made with fresh-pressed apple juice and champagne yeast. On offer are flavors such as crisp apple, pomegranate, honey bee and rosé. Pints are $6-7. There are also vodka cocktails, made with the company's new apple vodka, for $8. A flight of cider can be had for $12, offering a sampling of four flavors of the customer's choice in smaller glasses.
The ciders are about 6% alcohol, similar to a stronger craft beer.
Mark Deno, whose career was in real estate development, explained that the journey began seven or eight years ago when he developed a gluten intolerance. Craft beer no longer cooperated with his stomach.
Someone introduced him to hard cider, which is most popular in the United Kingdom.
"The problem was, most of the international conglomerates that make cider are using high fructose corn syrup — super, super sweet," Deno said. "So after two or three, you couldn't drink any more."
Deno then discovered craft cider, prompting the "entrepreneur lightbulb" to go off in his head. Seeing a lack of craft cideries in the South, he began home brewing and took courses in cider-making in Oregon.
After starting Atlanta Hard Cider and developing recipes, the Denos partnered with a Washington state-based apple grower to get ingredients, while the New York co-packer made and canned the stuff. Now, the ingredients will be shipped to Marietta.
"(Tuesday) we got 5,500 gallons of fresh-pressed apple juice delivered," Deno said. "The Friday before that, they pressed several hundred thousand pounds of apples, put that in a tanker truck, shipped it from Washington State (to) here ... and that's what we make everything out of."
The company, which Mark Deno said was the top-selling hard cider producer in Georgia, is a family business. Liz Deno oversees sales, marketing, and the new tasting room. The couple's three daughters help out with production and social media.
The property was once a funeral home but was bought by the city of Marietta when the city was purchasing right-of-way for the Roswell Street streetscape, beautification and widening project. The city sold the property to Atlanta Hard Cider in 2019 for $547,000.
"The new Atlanta Hard Cider site represents another success in the renaissance of Roswell Street and will be a tourist and local visitor draw into the heart of our community," a city press release declared.
City Manager Bill Bruton said in an interview that the business will help enhance Roswell Street as a destination. The city envisions the street becoming an extension of downtown Marietta on par with Marietta Square.
"All these people building all around it (Roswell Street), all these houses and stuff, they'll be able to walk to it ... that was the thought, that they could walk not only to the Square, but they could walk to Roswell Street," Bruton said.
Deno described the city's sale as an "ideal opportunity" to bring production from New York to Marietta.
Production takes place in the back, where tanks can hold 50,000 pints of cider. There's also a still imported from the Netherlands to make liquor. In addition to the vodka, Atlanta Hard Cider plans to develop an "American apple brandy," aged in oak barrels.
Atlanta Hard Cider has equipment to can cider and bottle liquor in the facility. The company uses a bonded warehouse in Marietta to store product.
To oversee all this, the cidery recruited Lane Williams from a winery in the north Georgia town of Cleveland.
"This is state of the art, and all the equipment is exactly what you need to do the job," Williams said in an interview. "Kind of takes the labor out of a lot of it, having the right equipment, doing it the right way. I love it, man."
Williams' favorite flavor is the ginger cider, which he described as "kind of sweet, kind of spicy." It got a thumbs-up from Councilwoman Cheryl Richardson, too.
The Denos have big plans for the business, which now employs about 15 part- and full-time employees.
In the deal with the city, they also purchased an adjacent lot where they plan to build phase two of the business. The newly opened building is 6,000 square feet, while phase two is expected to be 25,000-30,000 square feet.
The plan, Deno said, is for the production area in the current building to be used exclusively for liquor. The phase two building will house expanded cider production, an event space for corporate meetings and weddings, and maybe even a rooftop bar. If all goes well, it will be complete in about 18 months.
More production space is needed so the company can expand its distribution. Atlanta Hard Cider plans to expand sales to Florida, Alabama, Tennessee and the Carolinas next year.
"So as we grow that over the next couple of years, we definitely need a bigger, much bigger building," Deno said.
Both Deno and Williams spoke of the relatively untapped craft cider market in the region. There are established craft cideries in other parts of the country, but not many in the Southeast.
"The market is still open, I guess you would say," Williams said. "There's not as much competition. A lot of these craft breweries that are really successful, they got great beer ... they started years back. We're kind of ahead of the game ... we're gonna be in the forefront of this industry, especially in the Southeast."