Jerry Thornton has one foot in the county, one foot in the city, and enough apples to keep him busy in both.
Thornton owns Bryant’s Small Batch Cider, at 308 N. Adams St. in Jackson Ward, which opened in November and offers a variety of ciders. His most popular, Unicorn Fuel, is made with rose hips and hibiscus.
He keeps eight varieties on tap, including Hell Hop, a New England-style dry hop cider, and Chaider, made with chai spices. Coolbanero has cucumber and habanero peppers, and Red Eye is a coffee cider. But there are others made with ingredients such as gin and juniper, cranberry and rosemary, bourbon and peach, and other seasonal varieties.
And if you’re looking for something sweet — stick to apple juice. Unlike many commercial brands, Bryant’s ciders are dry, made with no added sugars.
“I’ve never really liked sweet ciders, so everything I make is dry,” Thornton said, and he’s hoping those preferences catch on. Much like the craft beer scene, “people have the commercial stuff, have gotten into it, and now they’re branching into the craft piece of it and seeing all the different ways you can make it.”
Although Thornton lives in Richmond, all of his apples are harvested on the farm and the ciders are produced there. There’s also a tasting room.
Raised by his grandparents, Thornton grew up on the 400-acre Nelson County farm, land that had been in his family since the 1850s and used as apple orchards for as long as he or anyone could remember. Hurricane Camille in 1969 wiped out the orchards, he said, though they were back by the late 1990s.
The leap from corporate America to apple farmer and cider master was a big one.
Thornton had the opportunity to take over when his grandmother died several years ago. He was working in finance when he purchased the farm, and then spent several years figuring out how to use it — the “growing pains” years, he called them.
“It’s always been my home,” Thornton said about the farm, and one day owning it “had been my objective for a long time.”
The orchard grows a variety of apples, including red and golden, but also those used specifically for ciders — “they’re typically the apples you don’t ever want to eat,” he said, because they’re too tart, tannic or bitter.
Bryant’s — across the street from the Maggie L. Walker statue near Broad Street — offers art nights on Wednesdays with rotating local art installations, as well as game nights on Thursdays. In addition to his ciders on tap, Thornton currently sells 750 ml bottles. He will soon offer smaller cans for those looking for cider to go. He’s collaborating with neighboring Max’s on Broad to provide food — pub fare, such as flatbreads, charcuterie boards and appetizers — and Bryant’s offers cider mimosas on Sundays.
Current hours are from 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 2 to 8 p.m. Friday; noon to 8 p.m. Saturday; and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday.
Following a suggestion, Henrico County resident Mac McWilliams said he and his girlfriend ventured out to the farm’s tasting room last year. He said he was impressed not only by the hard work Thornton has nearly single-handedly put into growing his business — he’s currently the only full-time employee — but also that Bryant’s ciders were refreshingly dry.
“The cider — it’s really balanced,” he said, noting that he assumed they contained added sugar and was pleasantly surprised to find out they did not.
Chester resident Amber McGuffin said by email that she and her husband first tried Bryant’s cider at the farm’s tasting room while visiting Wintergreen, also in Nelson County.
She has celiac disease, which limits her options for beer because some contain gluten. But she’s a fan of Bryant’s Hell Hop and Red Eye, a coffee cider, “mainly because they remind me of beers I can no longer drink,” she said. Thornton produces small-batch varieties, so he “has the ability to try different flavors, and that has been really fun.”
They recently tried Corpse Revival, a new beer created after a gin beverage and made with star anise, Angelica root and juniper berries.
McGuffin added: “Every time we come in, we get to try something new.”