When Sam Fitz, Rachel Fitz, Cooper Sheehan, and Chef Alex Vallcorba opened ANXO Cidery & Pintxos Bar in Truxton Circle in June 2016, their aspirations were confined to running a successful restaurant and learning about cider alongside their patrons.
But then ANXO proprietors discovered the District’s wine pub permit that says if you produce cider, you can get a license to sell alcoholic beverages to-go. They jumped at the opportunity and began teaming up with established cider makers from across the country on collaboration ciders.
“But then Whole Foods started ordering them,” Fitz says. “There were orders for ciders we weren’t making and didn’t know how to make. We were like, ‘Oh my god, people want our cider. What is our cider?’”
Meanwhile the budding entrepreneurs were sitting on a lease for a property on Kennedy Street NW in Brightwood Park, and decided to make it ANXO Cidery & Tasting Room. It opened in May 2017. From there they watched with awe as their tart, funky cider took off. “Our cider brand has absolutely exploded,” Fitz says. “We are releasing D.C.-made drafts every couple of weeks and are selling out within 36 hours.”
Part of the reason Fitz is wide-eyed with surprise at the speed at which Washingtonians are guzzling ANXO cider is that, until recently, dry ciders (a far cry from syrupy Woodchuck) had fallen off the radar. “Cider fell out of fashion between prohibition and about ten years ago,” he explains. “During temperance, people cut down trees. Unlike beer, grain can quickly be replanted and grown. We didn’t have the agriculture to make cider the way we did.”
Fitz believes it’s a “really worthwhile and interesting” beverage and coaxing it to catch on again is just a matter of getting it into people’s hands. He hopes to be “the Mockingbird Hill of cider.” Drink Company’s shuttered sherry and ham bar rekindled local interest in all sorts of sherries, and now drinks with sherry can be found on nearly every cocktail menu in town. Dinner club Redeye Menus helped push the sherry trend, too.
With the ambitious goal of producing 22,000 gallons of cider from this year’s apple crop, ANXO might make headway on building a critical mass of cider drinkers, especially now that they’ve tapped Virtue Cider alum Greg Johnson as cider maker. But to meet cider demands, they’ll have to cut back elsewhere.
ANXO opened an outpost on Barracks Row this past June called Porrón. There was an opportunity to turn it into a permanent venture, but ultimately Fitz chose to pass and the pop-up will close Nov. 12. “Opening three places in a year and a half, we just wanted to make sure we were staying true to the brand, which is to produce high quality cider without sacrifice.”
While cider production will be the focus, the Cidery & Tasting Room in Brightwood Park is getting a makeover. The team hopes to build out the front of the space and open a full-scale restaurant there in 2018. Vallcorba, who is also behind the menu at ANXO Cidery & Pintxos Bar, will do the cooking. While Vallcorba’s Barcelona heritage will be reflected in the food, the restaurant will lean more American. Grilling and baking bread will be the star cooking techniques.
Oct. 29 is a huge date for the owners and not just because they’re throwing a Happy Trees Harvest Festival in Bob Ross’ honor. It marks the first time District residents will be able to buy D.C.-made cider for their homes, and retail stores like Whole Foods will have it later that week. Previously only collaboration ciders were for sale.
“They’ll be around for a while, but we’re transitioning over to things being made in D.C.,” Fitz says. On the 29th they’re also releasing two new ciders. The first is Sidra Natural: Batch #2 inspired by Basque-style cider.
The second is “National Colonial Farm,” named after the living history museum at Piscataway Park that preserves how a Maryland middle-class family farm would be run just before the American Revolution. It’s made with a small amount of apples from what remains of the farm’s cider orchard and $1 of every bottle sold will go to rebuilding the orchard.
ANXO’s wholesaling business has also taken off. They sell kegs of draft cider (Cidre Blanc and Happy Trees: Arkansas Black) to about 20 bars and restaurants in D.C. and Virginia including The Dabney, Little Coco’s, Thally, Cafe Saint-Ex, Timber Pizza Co., and Txuleton (a Basque restaurant operating out of the La Tasca space at 2900 Wilson Blvd. in Clarendon).
Despite expanding their cider production at breakneck speed, Fitz says he still “doesn’t know a lot about cider.” That’s hard to believe when he rattles on about how apples originated in Kazakhstan and come in tons of colors. “It’s in its infancy. We get to learn it all together.”
ANXO Cidery & Tasting Room, 711 Kennedy St. NW; (202) 722-2696; anxodc.com/kennedy