Lost Boy Cider finds a home in Alexandria

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Artist Keith Grubbs painted the Lost Boy mural outside of the cidery on May 7. (Photo Credit: Missy Schrott)
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By Missy Schrott | mschrott@alextimes.com

Lost Boy Cider began when a commercial banker decided to uproot his life and start brewing booze.

It was 2015 when the trajectory of Rosemont resident Tristan Wright’s life began to shift from banking executive to cidermaker. Four years later, Lost Boy Cider, the first urban cidery in Northern Virginia, is slated to open in a warehouse off of Eisenhower Avenue in early June.

An unexpected illness sparked Wright’s vocational 180. He had spent months dealing with mounting headaches and joint pain before he ended up in a hospital halfway through a family vacation. When doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong, he underwent about four months of testing, the uncertainty weighing on Wright and his family.

Tristan Wright (Photo Credit: Missy Schrott)

“We [had] just had our second kid, and we [had] just bought our forever house, and it was not good,” Wright said. “There was a moment where I thought that the doctor was coming to tell me, ‘That’s it.’”

Rather than delivering the fatal diagnosis Wright had been expecting, his doctor brought good news; they had figured out what was wrong.

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“Long story short, I’m not dying; I have a severe soy allergy,” Wright said. “Severe. So for like 38 years, I’d been poisoning myself. My body couldn’t keep up. It was basically shutting down. … There is soy in everything that we eat.”

Wright said the experience, from thinking he was dying to learning his illness was treatable, led him to rethink his life.

“I was like, ‘Man, am I happy?’” Wright said. “I looked in the mirror and I was like, ‘I … hate what I do, if I’m being really honest with myself. I do not like my hour commute, I don’t like the guy I’m working for, and it’s all about cash.’”

Having decided to change career paths, Wright’s pursuit of cider was born out of his new soy-free diet. After a period of time during which Wright drank no alcohol at all, his doctor recommended he start reintroducing it, swapping beer and whiskey for soy-free alternatives like wine.

“She goes, ‘Why don’t you go out to the store and get some wine?’” Wright said. “I told her I was going to the baseball game, and I’m like, ‘I’m not going to go to the baseball game and drink [wine] with my buddies sitting in 88-degree weather.’ And she goes, ‘Well, all the kids are drinking cider these days.’”

Wright said the mention of cider bought back fond memories of his honeymoon in Ireland and inspired him to start looking into the cider scene in the D.C. region.

A rendering of the interior of Lost Boy Cider. Rather than designing the space to look like a finished bar, Wright said he’s embracing the industrial look of the building since the cidery is, first and foremost, a production space. (Courtesy Rendering)

“There wasn’t a lot of great cider at the time,” Wright said. “[I] realized that there are people in pockets of the country making incredible cider, and that nobody was really doing it locally for us. And off to the races. … I was like … ‘I’m going to make booze. I’m going to bring people together, and we’re going to have fun.’”

Wright enrolled in the cider production program at Oregon State University, then went on to pursue a degree in viticulture and enology – winemaking studies – at Cornell University. Shortly after, he started looking for a place in Alexandria to put the cidery.

“I told Tristan in the very beginning that it wouldn’t be easy,” Mike Porterfield of Tartan Properties said, “and that it would be more of an endurance event rather than a sprint to finding the right space, and I think that was truly the case.”

After spending the better part of two years looking at properties and negotiating leases, Porterfield found the cidery’s home in an old print shop at 317 Hooffs Run Drive.

“I truly think this is the best of all that we looked at,” Porterfield said. “I knew right away that that was an ideal building for him. … It’s just in a great part of town that’s growing quickly, so we jumped on it right away.”

In addition to Tartan Properties, Wright sought help from the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership for everything from finding the space to navigating the city’s permitting processes.

“We think it’s going to be catalytic in that area,” Adrianne Griffith, marketing and communications coordinator with AEDP, said. “All that growth in the Carlyle, Eisenhower area, this is going to be another great place for people that are living in the apartments over there or parents that are having soccer practice on those fields.”

Two-and-a-half years after the search began, an ABC license has been granted, the 2,000-gallon fermenters have been installed, the apple trees have been planted and Lost Boy is all but ready to open.

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Wright’s mother, a master gardener, helped him plant eight apple trees in front of the cidery. Having the “orchard” out front allows Wright to operate the space as a farm winery with a tasting room. (Photo Credit: Missy Schrott)

A small orchard space along the road with eight apple trees allows Wright to operate the space as a farm winery with a tasting room, since cider is technically wine made from apples.

Lost Boy’s occupancy permit allows 79 people, although Wright said he’s looking to increase it to around 120 and to include an outdoor seating and game area. Inside, the tasting counter will have 12 taps for cider. The space’s design will feature a lot of plant life and natural light, while still maintaining the industrial vibe of a cider making facility.

“I’m not painting in here, I’m leaving it as is,” Wright said. “It’s really a working cidery, so we’re not trying to build like a Georgetown bar that’s all finished and fancy and what not. It’s production space, so I thought people might enjoy that.”

The tasting room will be open from 4 to 9 p.m. during the week and 4 to 10 p.m. on the weekends. Wright said he might extend weekend hours to be open noon to 10 p.m., depending on demand. The cidery will also be available for special events.

While the cidery’s tasting room will be one of its major attractions, the facility is primarily a working cidery capable of producing up to 60,000 gallons of cider a year, though Wright said he suspected it won’t start at that scale. He said he’s in the process of figuring out the logistics of distribution and how to get his products from the warehouse to grocery store shelves.

“I do want to build a mid-Atlantic presence and become somebody,” Wright said. “We want to be down at the baseball stadium, and we want people outside of Alexandria to know about us.”

The process of making the cider itself begins at Glaize Apples, a fifth-generation family orchard in Winchester, Virginia, where Wright will get most of his apples. The orchard employees will pick and juice the apples, then ship them to Lost Boy, where they await the fermenting, aging, carbonating and pasteurizing processes that transform them into cider.

Four of the tanks in the cidery’s “tank farm” are fermenters for the ciders, while one of them force carbonates them. (Photo Credit: Missy Schrott)

Lost Boy’s ciders won’t be as sweet as some of the mass-produced ciders like Angry Orchard or Bold Rock, Wright said. Instead, most will be fully dry, the majority with less than five grams of sugar and under 100 calories per 12-ounce pour, Wright said. Their flagship cider, “Comeback Kid,” will be a crisp, dry cider with about three grams of sugar.

“There generally will be less than [five] grams of sugar in anything that you consume, which is really one of the issues with ciders, the sweetness,” Wright said. “You don’t want to put a lot of sugar in your body if you can help it. You get the headaches, or the stomach aches or the whatever, and generally it’s just not that healthy to have 30 grams of sugar.”

The cidermaker at Lost Boy, Kevin Storm, is a former brewer from Hardywood Park Craft Brewery in Richmond.

Wright said Storm will be experimenting with seasonal flavors, including pineapple and watermelon for the summer, pumpkin spice in the fall and Christmas tree for the holidays.

“We’re going to put a Christmas tree in one of these smaller tanks and we’re gonna ferment that,” Wright said. “We’ll add back some cranberry juice and some ginger … so probably 10 kegs of that, send it out, see what the response is.”

While cider has been around since as early as Julius Caesar’s time, according to Wright, it lost a lot of its momentum during the prohibition era. Cider is making a comeback – as Lost Boy’s signature “Comeback Kid” cider alludes to – and because of that, a big part of opening a cidery is education.

Wright said the boy in the Lost Boy logo is meant to look defiant as he stomps on an apple. (Courtesy Photo)

“We’re basically frontiering a new market. People don’t totally understand cider,” Wright said. “Orchard-based juice that’s not wholesale, mass-produced, that’s 100 percent juice, low residual sugar … it’s not beer.”

Cider might not be beer, but Lost Boy is on track to have the same lively, comfortable atmosphere patrons experience at Alexandria’s Port City Brewing Company.

“It’s no surprise how successful Port City is, and I suspect that, because of the level of preparation Tristan has put into [Lost Boy], I just don’t think he’s going to do anything other than skyrocket with his success,” Porterfield said.

“I’m doing my best,” Wright said. “I’m ensuring the wine-making process will be on par with the best cidermaking processes in the country. And so from there, I just hope people embrace it. So we’ll see.”

As for the cidery’s name, Wright said “Lost Boy” is a nod to the life he’s leaving behind.

“I was on this path of commercial banking, and in my 20s, I was really ambitious, like a lot of people, and I wanted to prove something to somebody,” Wright said. “I’ve always chased something. [I’m] not sure what I was chasing or who I was trying to prove anything to, so I named it ‘Lost Boy’ because I think the apples kind of found me. I didn’t know I was lost. That’s the story.”

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