By Dave Manzer
A short 20-minute drive from Austin, down a couple well-worn rural roads, will take you to a spot perfectly suited for a memorable holiday fete: Argus Cidery. One of a new crop of craft cider makers sprouting up across America, Argus makes acclaimed hard cider and cider wines from apples sourced exclusively from Texas orchards. The best news of all is that the cidery recently opened a well-appointed tasting room for visitors who want to discover the surprising complexity of cider aged to perfection in oak barrels.
Now lest you be concerned upon arrival at Argus, allow me to explain the dubious visuals of this diamond in the rough. The tasting room is of a stand-alone metal variety set back in a tiny industrial park. In fact, from the outside, you’d be hard-pressed to guess this is a hot spot for cider connoisseurs. Despite the outside industrial scene, the tasting room itself is so artfully decorated you’ll get the feeling you’ve been transported to a retro summer cabin on Martha’s Vineyard. Exposed pine wood trusses, wood paneled wainscot weathered to a bluish-white hue, hand-crafted wood bench seats and a little seating area with what looks like some of Grandma’s antiques from the old homestead – all conspire to give Argus a feeling of belonging. Like an old apple tree, Argus appears to have sunk deep roots into the Central Texas soil and happily produces fruits of the season for all to enjoy.
One Saturday morning, we caught up with the owners of Argus Cidery, Wes Mickel and Jules Peterson, to talk about their plans to make Argus a destination for holiday merrymaking. “We opened the tasting room in February, so Jules and I are excited about starting some holiday traditions at the cidery,” said Mickel. The tasting room is open Saturdays from noon until 4pm, although holiday parties are welcome just about anytime. Normally, guests can choose between $10 cider tasting or a $20 tasting and picnic prepared by Mickel, who was a professional chef with an impressive culinary resume before he switched to making cider. Because a holiday event requires more advanced coordination on details like décor, menu, and entertainment, Mickel recommends making reservations at least 2-3 weeks out.
Argus can accommodate up to 40 people but the ideal size would be around 20, according to Peterson. He said he’s been known to even rent a van and drive a party from a single location in Austin to keep cider-infused revelers off country roads at night. To make the space even more intimate – which will be a challenge given how downright comfortable it already is – the duo plans to place candles and flowers around the benches inside while stringing lights outside to go with a fire crackling in the fire-pit.
Argus can make your holiday party menu according to your tastes but because this is a cidery and not a restaurant, Mickel leans toward easy-to-prepare dishes like heavy hors d’oeuvres, cured meats, and fruit-and-cheese plates. For a truly special occasion, request a “fruits de mer” platter of gulf fresh oysters, cold shrimp, clams and scallops served with homemade aioli – all of which would pair beautifully with a bottle of 2012 Idalou Brut, a dry, slightly-effervescent cider with mellow citric notes.
Of course a party at Argus wouldn’t be complete without a tasting of Argus’ outstanding ciders currently on tap. My favorite was the High Plains, aged 2 years in barrels made of American and French oak. Not far behind are the Baxter and Medina Idalou Cuvee.
If the weather turns nippy and you plan to spend time outside by the fire, don’t forget to request a batch of Argus’ mulled hot cider. Petersen said they could even whip up a traditional fondue made of Gruyere cheese to go with the mulled cider. Throw in a few chestnuts roasting on the open fire and the only thing missing is the snow!