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Interview with Noble Cider
Shanti: Hi there Lief. Thank you for taking the time to share with us. Please introduce yourself. Where did you grow up? When did you first become interested in cider? Share with us a little about your background.
Lief: Hi! My name is Lief Stevens. I grew up in a little community called Rosie Branch halfway between Black Mountain and Bat Cave. It was a beautiful place to grow up surrounded by lots of forests. Later when I was older I moved into Asheville. I’m half English, my father is a Brit. So I’ve been to England many times to visit family and I think that’s probably where I was first exposed to cider.
Shanti: When did you know you wanted to open a cidery? What inspired you to want to become a brewer?
Lief: You know it’s not really a career I ever thought about having. I was on a very different career path. I went to music school and spent most of my adult life as a professional musician and sound engineer. I bought a house in Asheville and was converting the basement into a professional recording studio and I thought that’s what I would be doing but then this opportunity landed in my lap and my life took a bit of a turn. I think I was definitely ready for a change and so when the idea of starting a cidery was put in front of me I leapt on it.
Shanti: When did you move to Asheville and what attracted you to this area? What did you do before Noble Cider? Tell us a little about your journey.
Lief: I moved to this area when I was seven, so I didn’t have a whole lot of choice but I do love it here. I have been here long enough to see Asheville change significantly. It was a very different place when I was a kid compared to now. Before Noble I was a musician. I moved away to Atlanta to go to Atlanta Institute of music. After I graduated I was recruited into a wedding band there and played in that band for several years. I then decided to move back to Asheville and decided to start another wedding band called Orange Krush. It was quite successful as a wedding band and it gave me the opportunity to play with some of the best musicians in this area. I was also working as a sound engineer recording myself, other bands, but mostly doing post-production and location recording for TV and radio.
Shanti: What led you to starting Noble Cider? How about the restaurant? Tell us a little about that. How is the community reacting to Noble Cider and to the restaurant?
Lief: Well the idea for Noble Cider came about when I was having dinner with Joanna, the singer in Orange Krush and her husband Trevor. Trevor had just been laid off from his job and was trying to figure out what to do next in his life. Joanna said “let’s start a cidery”. It was kind of a joke but I think we had all independently thought why is no-one making cider here? The craft brewing industry was really taking off at the time but there were no cideries in Asheville. Which was strange because this is a fairly large Apple growing region. A few days later I saw Trevor and he said that he was going off to a cider making school. When he came back he said “I’m going to start a cidery, do you want to start it with me” and I said “yes”.
So we started the first cidery in Asheville and that was 8 years ago. At the time there wasn’t a whole lot of cider available. Most of what you could find at the time was extremely sweet. So when we started Noble Cider we wanted to make ciders that were very dry and showcased local apples. The restaurant came about because we wanted to open a space downtown and we wanted to have food there as well. It just so happened that Trevor’s brother Gavin had just moved back to Asheville. Gavin is an amazing Chef who actually started his culinary journey going to ABtech’s culinary school. Since then he’s worked at some of the best restaurants all over the world and started numerous restaurants. So it seems like the perfect fit to open a restaurant with him and that’s how the Greenhouse came into being.
Shanti: When did you first hear about Shanti Elixirs and what interested you in Jun? Tell us a little about Paw paws and why you recommend this ingredient for the collaboration with Shanti Elixirs.
Lief: We started selling Shanti Elixirs at our Tap Room and so of course I tried them and found them to be really amazing. I first came upon Paw paws when I was literally walking through the woods. I came across a grove of trees and smelled this amazing tropical smell. I saw all these fruits lying on the ground and I had no idea if they were edible or not but they smelled amazing so I gathered up a bunch and took them home. I looked them up and found they were called Paw paws. It’s an amazing native tropical fruit. It’s a bit like a cross between banana pudding and mango.
Shanti: Tell us a little about the apple juice. Where does it come from?
Lief: A number of years ago Noble Cider started a juicing company because we wanted to have control of our juice. We partnered with a local orchard and moved our press line to their farm. Every week we press local apples and bring the juice to our cidery to ferment and make into our hard cider. So the apple juice this Jun from local apples that we pressed.
Shanti: What do you love most about what you do? What is the biggest challenge for you as a business owner? Do you have any nuggets to share with other entrepreneurs?
Lief: I love the whole process of creating new ciders. Taking an idea and through lots of trial and error coming up with something new and delicious.
Probably our biggest challenge was starting this company with almost no money. That meant we didn’t have the money to buy equipment or pay professionals to install it. So we had to figure out how to install and build everything that we needed ourselves. It’s very hard to grow as a company when you don’t have working capital. Luckily we made a really good product right off the bat and had a lot of demand for it.
would recommend that anyone starting a new company spend the time to really come up with a good business plan and to fully research that industry. While it’s not always possible, I think it’s a great idea to have plenty of financial backing.
Shanti: What are your visions for the future?
Lief: It’s amazing to think about where we started and what we’ve grown into in seven years. We are working on a number of things that are very exciting to me. One of which is growing cider varieties. Three years ago we grafted and planted French, British. and Colonial cider apples. Next year should be our first real harvest and I’m really looking forward to making cider from these apples. More than anything I’m really looking forward to seeing what this company grows into.