The jury of consumers has yet to convene, let alone render a verdict on the hard ciders of Jester & Judge.
Only last week, the latest venture of serial cider slinger Bruce Nissen and his posse of pomme bombers was still in build-out. Drain lines had just been installed, and concrete was curing where brewing tanks and a bottling line will soon stand.
After developing and selling the Fox Barrel and Crispin cider brands to brewing behemoth Miller Coors, Nissen, his wife, Carrie, and their two kids decamped Colfax, Calif., and in late 2014 moved to new digs in Stevenson, Wash.
One place is their house. The other is 27,000 square feet of industrial space leased from the Port of Skamania, overlooking the boat ramp at the east end of the waterfront industrial zone.
They have multiple corporate identities, as befits an enterprise with split ambitions. The parent company is Let’s Dream Big (LDB) Beverage. It will produce and market the Jester & Judge cider brand. It also will provide contract brewing capacity for other brands that may find themselves tapped out on the production side, but looking at untapped market reach.
In short, it’s all about serving the upside potential of other brands. One thing they have no desire to do, however, is beer of their own.
“We have no desire to ever ever ever make a beer under the Jester & Judge brand,” Nissen says.
As a kiteboarder launched into a frigid east wind, Nissen and his team tasted through early, unfiltered batches of cider. Jack, the dog, and Braeden, the daughter, swirled through the room, linking the tasting team.
Carrie Nissen calls herself “the chief judge,” which means she’ll oversee operations.
Brian Perkey, with experience in beer (BridgePort, Full Sail, Gordon Biersch) and his own Hood Valley Hard Cider effort in Parkdale, will handle “fluids” for LDB and its customers.
Matt Harnden is point guy on business development (sales and marketing).
Once the facility is finished, it will offer 200,000 gallons of annual fermentation capacity, and packaging potential of a million cases a year.
Nissen cites Sierra Nevada brewing and its founder/owner Ken Grossman as inspiration. Nissen likes the triple-bottom-line philosophy that underlies Sierra Nevada’s business model — economy, ecology, community.
“Grossman is hard working and humble,” Nissen says. “He does things right.”
Jester & Judge will be sourcing apple juice from Hood River’s Ryan Juice. Beyond that, it’s an open road.
“It’s like building a car,” Nissen says. “We can drive it anywhere. We’ll see where it goes.”