April 22,2016- Hendersonville Lightning

Jim Sparks, a native of Hendersonville, prides himself on local everything when it comes to Naked Apple Hard Cider and its new tasting room downtown, Flat Rock CiderWorks.

“We grow our own apples and what we don’t grow we buy here in the county,” he says. “It’s all local. With us being an artisan cider we don’t use concentrate and fructose syrup and sugars. It’s all natural.”

His three-year-old cidery won two double blue ribbons at a North Carolina competition, for Wicked Peel and Blackberry Gold, and it’s now at 250 distribution points in the Carolinas. A retail shop in his hometown was the next logical step.

“We looked for the right spot on Main Street,” Sparks said on Friday, the day before he and his partner, apple grower Jim Reavis, threw a grand opening party. “We knew we wanted to do a tasting room and we found the right spot last year during the Apple Festival. We’ve got honey, we’ve got jams, jellies. What we’re trying to do is promote the local agriculture economy. As things come on line we’ll have blackberries that you can purchase. We’ll have apples in here.”

Aside from selling directly to customers downtown, Sparks figures an added advantage is test-marketing new products.

“We’re going to bring out some other flavors and let the public see what they like and what they don’t like,” he said. “We’ll track that and then determine what flavors are the best sellers and we’ll put those out in the market in bottles and cans.”

Sparks plans a variety of community oriented and family friendly events.

“We’re going to do some fun things in here,” he said of the spacious digs at 305 N. Main St. “We’re going to do some fundraisers. We’ll do a fundraiser for Mom and Rick’s scholarship (in honor of his mother, Connie Sparks, and Rick Sparks). We had about 30 Realtors yesterday from Beverly Hanks. We had food from Hannah’s. We’ve got a 16-foot indoor shuffle board, we got cornhole. It’s not a bar. We like to say it’s a tasting room.”

It’s appointed with creative wood signs, decorations and cabinetry made from recycled wooden pallets. They turned apple bins on their side and installed shelves. A 50-year-old apple ladder is suspended above the bar. They took their own cider bottles, heated them up, stuck them in ice and busted the bottom out to make light fixtures. The woodwork was done by Tommy Tolles, the professional golfer who lives in Laurel Park.

“He’s an incredible talent in woodworking and we appreciate him being part of it,” Sparks said. “Everything that we’ve done is just using things that you’d find on the farm.”

Aside from the large selection of Naked Apple Hard Cider, the bar has four craft beer taps and also serves wine. Sparks plans to rotate the taps to feature local breweries. A flight of four hard cider or beer samples is $6. Five bucks will fetch a pint.

Customers can order food from Hannah Flanagan’s and pay at the CiderWorks waiters pick it up from across the street and serve it.

“We’re not in the food business,” Sparks said. “All my neighbors with restaurants have good food so why reinvent the wheel. So we work with them and it’s a win-win. They sell food. We sell cider and beer and wine.”
Mark Williams, executive director of AgHC, the county’s farm-promoting agency, said he was glad to see the tasting room open.

“We’re very excited with the opening of the local taproom,” he said. “They’re growing a significant portion of the product and they work with some of the other growers. Everything they put in their product is coming out of Henderson County. One thing that’s really unique about Naked Apple is that they’re totally vertically integrated. They’re growing, pressing, bottling and marketing the product. It is a true artisan cider. It’s not like a lot of the ciders you see out there that is mostly concentrate.”

“They’re the first on Main Street, which I think is real exciting,” he added. “I see the cider industry as continuing to take off. I don’t think it’s going to be a flash in the pan. I think it’s going to be a trend.”

Flat Rock CiderWorks is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. For information visit flatrockciderworks.com.

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