A perfect pear: Hemly Cider

Pioneering Delta farmers expand their cidery

Sarah Hemly stands by her family business’s cider.

Sarah Hemly stands by her family business’s cider.

Photo by James Raia

The Sacramento and Davis Natural Foods Co-ops carry Hemly Cider, as does Corti Bros. in East Sacramento and Nugget Markets in Elk Grove and El Dorado Hills. It is also served at Grange, LowBrau and Masullo Pizza in Sacramento. Pangaea Bier Cafe has Hemly Cider in rotation on tap.

The pear orchards in Courtland are vast and quiet, but not quiet for long. The trees have begun to bloom, and flowers mean fruit is not far off—pears are harvested before they are ripe, beginning in June. Fruit means the Hemly family, its relatives and crew will be in full work mode. There’s cider to be made.

Beginning in 2015, and recently relocated from 35 miles away in Lockeford, the sixth generation family-owned enterprise has made three varieties of craft hard cider—Original, Dry and Sloughhouse Jalapeño.

While craft beer brewing may be reaching saturation overload, cider is at the forefront of a new beverage-frontier, based on its enduring past. Moderately light of alcohol (about 5.5 percent) Hemly pear cider is harvested and produced unfiltered and oak aged on about 1,000 acres in the hamlet 17 miles south of Sacramento along the Sacramento River.

Apple cider is more well-known, but pear cider is the newbie (again) in the alternative alcohol market. It has a rich history, as does the Hemly’s association with pears. A variety of ciders were vastly popular before Prohibition.

“When we got started, cider was starting to make a comeback,” said Sarah Hemley, the company president, during a recent tour of the orchards and plant. “But cider is limited and usually marketed more in the beer industry. If you’re following the craft beer scene, you can see markets like San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles are blowing up, and the Sacramento market is large.”

The Hemly family heritage dates to the early 1850s, when a pioneering relative bought the property unseen and underwater. He built the first levee on the Sacramento River and began to grow fruit. The rest is a long and winding history of family farming, all built around pears and apples and reflected in the company’s mottos: “165 Years in the Making” and “Pears Well With Everything.”

Hemly Cider, made with dessert pears and with a combination of 60 percent pears and 40 percent gala apples, is expanding its reach in the Sacramento region.

Two Rivers Hard Cider Company in Sacramento is the region’s only other craft cider maker. The recently opened Cider Junction in San Jose, a cider-only bar, is apparently the first of its kind in Northern California.

“When you are paying attention to the fruit, paying attention to the yeast or not using concentrate or sugars, it’s a different beast unto itself,” Hemly says.

Angry Orchard, based in New York, may be the biggest thing in the cider industry, but, Hemly says, craft cider is a whole different experience.

“You realize there’s more than Coors Light,” she says. “People are waking up.”