In the last year and a half, downtown Boise hard cider watering holes have increased 200 percent. More simply, the number went from zero to two, starting with Long Drop Cider Co., and now Meriwether Cider Co., which opened the doors to its location at Ninth and Bannock streets on Sept. 4.
Molly Leadbetter, who owns one-quarter of the company (along with her mom, dad, and sister), was only too excited to show Boise Weekly around the new taproom, which is Idaho's first cider house, with 20 ciders available from around the world. She and her sister, apart from running the company's communications and event planning branches, respectively, also pull double duty as bartenders in both the Garden City location and the downtown spot.
A cider house was never where Molly and her family intended to end up. Molly and her sister were wildland firefighters, and their parents were professors who occasionally dabbled in homebrewing as a hobby. It wasn't until her parents went on sabbatical in Australia that their "real life" began.
Down Under, cider was everywhere.
"Oh my gosh, cider is the next big thing," Molly's parents told her. "This is what we should do."
Debuting their cider in 2015, they were warned repeatedly that cider was no easy market, and they attended seminars on how to "force bars to take your cider" as Molly put it, how to "show them that they need cider." She prepared eloquent speeches and impassioned pleas about the importance of diversifying bar taps, but she never got to use them. Or, better put, she never needed to use them.
"Everyone was so receptive. It was just incredible," she said. "I knew Boise was a wonderful place...but the extent to which the community accepts and envelops you was surprising, and really lovely."
Molly partly attributed Boise's receptiveness to cider to the fact that hers is a local, family business. Bars and restaurants loved the story Molly told, about family, about community, and about the passion they're trying to spark in Boise bar-goers.
"Boise loves to drink," Molly laughed.
It was inevitable, then, that Meriwether would outgrow its Garden City taproom.
"We have a great community here," she said. "The writing was on the wall. Downtown is popular. We needed to be downtown."
Then it became a matter of watching and waiting. Several leases on buildings downtown had ended, opening up options for Meriwether, but with the company only two years old at that point, the risk was high. Older companies warned the Leadbetters to wait. Molly paused at their words of caution, but Boise's rising trajectory, its growth and potential, told Molly and her family everything they needed to know: It was now or never.
"In five years, when the next set of leases will be up, prices will be insane and no one will be leaving," Molly said. "And it'll be cost prohibitive at that point."
Molly and her family considered several possible locations, weighing the pros and cons of each and factoring in the money they had for the expansion. Then, when the Ninth and Bannock corner space opened up, Molly described it as a "no brainer."
It was the perfect combination: in close proximity to the foot traffic on Eighth Street, but at a remove from the bar crawl routes. Having 10 Barrel Brewing Company as a neighbor, along with Coiled Wine Bar, made the block a hotspot for local craft brew fans, too.
The Garden City taproom will stay put as the hub of operations. The location has its own community that Molly said is vital to the company. The best aspects of it will be cloned for the downtown cider house: Meriwether cider on tap, a family member behind the bar, board games and a bring-your-own-food policy. The differences at the cider house will be simply "more"—more ciders, from around the country and around the world, more hours, more space and more staff.
"We actually get to hire people," Molly said. "For the longest time it was just the four of us."
And those new employees are well trained. The staff is working toward certified cider professional status, the cider equivalent of a wine sommelier. The Leadbetters said they want education and accessibility to be a big part of the cider house. With so many diverse ciders in the its selection, they want to empower their patrons to take control of their tastes, to know that they don't like the French cider, or that they do like the spiced ciders from Spain. As much as they want their customers to drink Meriwether cider, they also want them to know that there is a whole other world out there.