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July 27, 2020

Cider Lab in Sumerduck ‘overwhelmed’ by response

Our opening was four times bigger than we thought it was going to be. And our week after was still twice as big as we thought it would be.
— Cider Lab co-owner James Rasure
Cider Lab
• What: Cider house offering up to six hard ciders, perrys and jerk’ms on tap daily; 5.2 percent alcohol content.

• Where: 5344 Sumerduck Road, Sumerduck.

• Owners: James and Andrew James “A.J.” Rasure (father and son.)

• Hours: 5 to 9 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

• Phone: 540-212-9745.

• Website: www.cider-lab.com

• Facebook: Click here.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
Five years ago, the father and son discovered cider making and turned it into a hobby.

“We enjoyed the process,” recalled the son, Andrew “A.J.” Rasure, 32, of Stafford County. “We enjoyed being together. We enjoyed the experimenting of making new flavors.”

But a series of events led him and his father, James Rasure, 55, of Fredericksburg, to test the commercial market potential for their home-batch efforts. That resulted in their opening Cider Lab on Friday, July 11, in the former Sumerduck Trading Co. building at 5344 Sumerduck Road.

The initial public reaction far surpassed the partners’ projections.

“We were expecting about 150 people to come through the weekend — Friday, Saturday, Sunday — for the grand opening,” said A.J., a physicist and civilian employee with the Navy at Dahlgren in King George County. “And I think we hit about 500 people. We were overwhelmed a little bit with the amount of support we got.”

That weekend they sold about 880 pints of hard cider and two kinds of “perry” — a fermented pear juice-based drink.

Largely because the Rasures both have day jobs and want to focus on selling kegs to restaurants, Cider Lab serves on weekends only.

“Our opening was four times bigger than we thought it was going to be,” said James, a systems engineering and technical assistance officer for a Chantilly-based federal government contractor. “And our week after was still twice as big as we thought it would be.”

The first two weekends generated a combined $14,000 in sales, he said.

“We were hoping for $2,000,” James said.

With an abundance of cider — more than they could consume or give away — the Rasures about a year ago took some of their Mango Habanero to Red, White & Bleu Brew in Orange County for the owners to try.

Impressed, the restaurant and beer garden wanted to know how soon the Rasures could deliver a few kegs.

“That’s what really got us thinking, ‘Yeah, we could do this’ ” on a commercial scale to make the enterprise a break-even or a money-making proposition, James said. “That was almost a year ago, and we started looking for a place.”

The Rasures soon will get a distributor’s license from the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority to start selling kegs to restaurants — the primary focus of Cider Lab’s original business model.

They learned of the Sumerduck property by accident.

Returning home from work in late October 2019, James passed through the Southern Fauquier village to avoid heavy Interstate 95 traffic.

“The little building was for sale,” he said of the vacant Sumerduck Trading Co. space. “And I went, ‘Huh, I wonder if something like that would work’?”

He stopped, peered through the windows and took about 20 exterior photographs of the approximately 1,600-square-foot building and immediately texted them to his son.

“I think I shocked him when I said, ‘You know what? Let’s buy it’,” James remembered. “We looked in Fredericksburg a lot. But the rent was just horrendous. We wanted to find something we could afford, that we could start small batches and pay the rent or mortgage.”

At first skeptical about the Sumerduck property, A.J. said he realized that “it had the potential for us to be in there and grow with it and not have to spend a huge amount of capital upfront.”

The Rasures on March 6 paid $160,000 for the main building, garage and 1.7-acre commercial property, according to county real estate records. The monthly mortgage payment totals $900, James said.

Out-of-pocket, they have spent about $7,000 to remodel the building and to purchase equipment and ingredients, he said.

With numerous variations, the Rasures produce essentially three kinds of “blended,” fermented beverages:

• Cider, an apple juice base combined mostly with fruit juices.

• “Perry,” which combines a pear base with other fruit juices.

• “Jerk’m,” which combines a base from pitted fruit, such as plumbs, cherries or apricots, with other juices.

In time, the list will grow to 11 options, James said.

Today, Cider Lab mostly uses fruit juices that it buys from a national winery supplier.

“Eventually, hopefully, that flip-flops,” said James, explaining that he and his father next year plan to begin harvesting berries onsite and later perhaps from leased farmland — ideally in Fauquier.

On Saturday, Cider Lab featured three ciders (mango habanero, apricot and ginger and raspberry), two perrys (pear and pineapple) and Blackberry Jerk’m.

The cider house’s $250-annual membership provides:

• 12 growler refills.

• A 10-percent discount on all beverages Cider Lab produces.

• Exclusive access to certain batches Cider Lab produces.

The building has a tasting room in the front part and a production area in the back.

While the tasting room remains closed to sit-down service because of the coronavirus pandemic, customers can order beverages at the counter and drink them at socially distanced tables outside. Tents cover many of them.

An approximately 1,110-square-foot garage onsite also has picnic tables for additional seating.

A food truck provided meals and snacks on the first two weekends.

“What we’re trying to do is have a different one come out weekly,” James said.

Tim and Shayna Eicher of Stafford County visited Cider Lab Saturday afternoon.

Paying $15, the couple bought a “flight” of five different 4.5-ounce samples on tap.

They particularly liked the ciders.

“This Mango Habanero is the bomb,” said Mrs. Eicher, 28, an administrative assistant for a Stafford-based defense contractor.

“Raspberry’s really good, too,” said Mr. Eicher, 27, a General Services Administration project manager.

He later had a pint of the raspberry and she a pint of the Mango Habanero — each costing $6.

Mrs. Eicher believes the beverages’ relatively low alcohol level allows the fruit flavors to stand on their own.

“It doesn’t have that alcohol taste to it at all,” she said. “It’s nice and easy to sip.”

With that in mind, the Rasures said they limit alcohol content to 5.2 percent.

The couple purchased a 32-ounce glass container of the Mango Habanero and of the raspberry cider to take home.

The Rasures welcome the walk-in traffic. And if it continues grow, they probably will open more days, provided it makes financial sense.

“We were originally just going to produce (five-gallon) kegs to sell to restaurants — not to have what this is kind of turning into, which is Sumerduck wants to sit out, and they want to have a place to hang out,” James said. “They just don’t have anywhere.”

He added: “We have tons of locals that will sit around picnic tables until it’s dark. Just sitting and chatting.”

Post retirement in five to seven years, he views the business as chance to stay engaged, get out of the house and not lose money doing something he enjoys.

“That’s really my motivation — to have a hobby that paid for itself,” James said.

But the initial over-the-counter purchase response — if sustainable — plus kegs sales to restaurants could accelerate his retirement timetable and provide A.J. his next career sooner than he thought.

“Now it’s turned into a thing where it looks like it’s going to be successful enough that if we want to just work at Cider Lab, we can,” A.J. said. “And if that happens in three years, then it’s not something that I’m going to say no to. I don’t think any of us are going to say no.”

Contact Don Del Rosso at Don@FauquierNow.com or 540-270-0300.

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