The directions will guide you to a house. Park on the street and trust the signs, which will take you to the alley behind 5115 S. Fife St.
There, you’ll find an otherwise unremarkable garage. Step inside to discover a rustic hideaway with wood walls, a few picnic tables, and — why you’re here — a small bar with five ciders on tap.
Owner Brennan Sandstrom and his brother, a project engineer, outfitted the space using mostly recycled materials sourced nearby. The keg refrigerators are industry standard, though.
In other words, it looks like a taproom: a little rough around the edges, but on purpose.
It’s not exactly normal to find a cider taproom on a residential street, but judging by Tin Hat Cider’s very real Washington state cidery license, it’s an option.
Once Sandstrom decided to go for it — to convert his detached garage into a taproom — he wondered when the buck would stop.
When the state would say, ha, no. Not possible.
At one point in the process, a city clerk tried to backtrack, but it turned out to be a mistake, said Sandstrom. He was asked to build a wall around the area holding his modest fermenting jugs, but otherwise the space satisfied regulations.
The state classifies cider as wine, but the finished beverage must fall under 7% alcohol by volume. Most of Tin Hat’s ciders land in the 5% to 6% range.
‘I’LL ALWAYS USE WASHINGTON APPLES’
Sandstrom makes his flagship, called Tin Apple, with Granny Smiths. It’s crisp and dry with a touch of sweetness.
For the others, he collects apples from nearby orchards where fruit typically goes to waste.
The resulting ciders feature ever-changing combinations, depending on what he finds through scouring Facebook. Plenty of people live on land with apple trees, he told The News Tribune, but many don’t have the time to gather all those apples. They’ll post about their unused fruit, which so far has allowed Sandstrom to experiment on a shoestring budget.
He started tinkering with cider-making four or five years ago after trying, to no avail, to get into beer. Through cider festivals, he learned his way around the vast array of styles and his own tastes. His friends added their palates to his experimental batches.
“If you don’t like cider, honestly, go to a cider fest,” he said. “I liked ciders, but only some.”
So he bought a jug and got to fermenting. His process involves manually pressing apples in a vintage wooden press. The juice undergoes a 10-day primary ferment using only champagne yeast followed by up to a 30-day secondary fermentation period. Then he force-carbonates for additional effervescence and lightly back-sweetens with sugar, honey or fruit.
“I’ll always use Washington apples,” said Sandstrom, though eventually he’ll have to buy some wholesale. For now, he relishes the subtle changes from batch to batch with the whims of local apple trees.
His first official lineup includes the Rassle, a tart cider sweetened slightly after fermentation with raspberry purée, and a Blueberry Pomegranate made with fresh-pressed fruit. There’s also a Winter Blend infused with cinnamon, cloves, vanilla and a touch of honey.
“I like crisp, clear ciders, but not flat or dry on your tongue,” Sandstrom said of his style.
Did I mention Sandstrom is also a beekeeper? Don’t be alarmed if you see a chicken or turkey wandering around the yard, either. They occasionally get to eat the pulp leftover from apple pressing.
Sandstrom works more than full-time as a corrections officer but right now is on leave while on active-duty orders for the National Guard through September. His wife Berlyn is a nurse and is, by law, the only other person allowed to work in the cidery. (Only residents of a home-based business can work there, per Tacoma law.)
He hopes Tin Hat Cider provides friends and new faces a cozy place to learn to enjoy cider — starting at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 1. He’ll consider it a success if he breaks even and “if all goes well and it’s fun.”
In a year or so, he plans to explore opening a full-service cider taproom.
“This was never really my intention,” he said of his own production space. “I want to have a place to put people’s ciders on tap.”
▪ 5115 S. Fife St., Tacoma, 253-273-9849, email@example.com
▪ Hours: Friday-Saturday* 4-8 p.m.; Sunday noon to 8 p.m.
*grand opening Saturday, Feb. 1