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Cider House Rules

With Julian Hard cider earning a global reputation, founder paul thomas proves there’s still gold in them thar hills.

Julian Hard Cider founder Paul Thomas, pictured here at the US Grant, is reinventing cider’s image, with his crisp brew starring on swank menus and featuring as an in-demand cocktail mixer.

Original Sin 

While IPA hopheads might dominate San Diego’s brewing map, building the county’s reputation as a world-class beer destination, a fruitier brew is gaining national attention just up the hill in a town known more for its pies. Julian Hard Cider founder Paul Thomas, a fifth-generation S.D. rancher and farmer, had never made cider when he left his successful publishing career behind to return to the town he’d loved as a child. “I worked up here as a summer camp counselor,” laughs Thomas, who’s also a full-time volunteer firefighter and last year hosted a mountaintop fall festival, the proceeds of which went toward the planting of 10,000 pines on scorched ground around Cuyamaca. “Some of the first girls I dated lived here.” Despite his rookie roots, quick-study Thomas spun a recipe dating back to 1670 into pure gold. “We call ourselves the 1 percent,” he jokes, “because we use only fresh-pressed juice, and the rest use apple concentrate. You wouldn’t want to order wine and get wine concentrate.” Only five years in, Thomas’ cider and its fruity offspring (including tart Cherry Bomb, a crisp Black & Blue made with blackberries and blueberries, a pear cider, Razmataz raspberry and Apple Pi) are in 28 states and five countries, including Hong Kong, Korea and Japan. The growth spurt has been so fast, Thomas, who’s helping start the local growers’ association and adding 1,000 new apple trees to the Julian landscape, had to partner with a grove in Oregon just to keep up with demand (“There just aren’t enough sustainably grown apples up here to go around”). But don’t call Thomas anything but a Julian mountain man. Next up? A calvados-like distilled apple brandy he’s currently barrel-aging and preparing to release sometime next year. “It’s my hidden moonshine.”

Original Sin: Apple-pie flavors shine in this sweet cocktail courtesy of the US Grant.

We all owe applejack, the old-school brandy the French know as calvados, a debt of gratitude. “Calvados was the first spirit I ever tasted that really made me go, ‘Wow!’” says Jeff Josenhans, who had his first sip in Stockholm, back when the US Grant’s famed mixologist was a student intending on a career in international finance. A fan ever since, Josenhans blended the Gallic spirit with brown sugar and bitters in this cocktail he custom-created for Riviera and named the Original Sin, in which Julian Hard Cider (served at the Grant Grill) lends effervescent sparkle. You know what they say: An apple a day...

1 oz. XO Calvados
½ oz. butterscotch schnapps
4 dashes Fee Bros Old Fashion bitters
Julian Hard Cider

Blend all ingredients except cider in a shaker and strain over rocks into a pilsner glass. Top with Julian Hard Cider and stir. Garnish with a slice of Julian apple.