Logan Barger and Tyler Butcher stumbled into something wonderful one Saturday afternoon three years ago, which ultimately led to the creation of the Kekiogna Cider Company, which has been producing hard cider on Fort Wayne’s northeast side since earlier this year.
“Tyler called me up and asked if I wanted to make some cider,” said Barger. “His cousin had an old basket press – my brother had an apple tree – so we just decided to go for it.”
It was a learning experience at first for the pair.
“Our first batch was very vinegar-like…we didn’t wash the apples, we used every worm apple…it was pretty bad,” he laughed. “We didn’t even know the type of apples we were working with, but we kept tweaking things from there.”
At first, Barger and Butcher enjoyed making cider, because it was a chance to get together and have fun. But then they got to a point where they wanted to make good cider.
Barger says, “I did a lot of reading, checked out YouTube videos, just did a bunch of research. The goal was to keep learning more and getting better.”
In the beginning, Tyler’s “Busch Light fan” father acted as a sort of tongue-in-cheek cider sommelier.
“We gave it to him and he was surprised! He said, ‘I can drink this!’” said Barger. “We gave it to more and more people, and they liked it, too. We realized maybe we were actually making something people will enjoy and we can market.”
Barger has been in alcohol distribution since the age of 21. With cider making, he’s enjoyed the opportunity to transition to the supplier side of the industry.
Kekionga’s building, the Goeglein Mill, is owned by the Goeglein family, and it was originally an apple mill. When Barger and Butcher heard that Don and Greg Goeglein were thinking of making a hard cider, they jumped at the chance to become business partners instead of competitors.
“Fort Wayne is really growing, and it supports multiple breweries now. We weren’t sure about multiple cideries, and it made sense to work together,” said Barger.
As the only cidery in town, Kekionga’s business is booming. They started with one fermentation tank at the end of June and by October they upgraded to three. Demand is high and they plan to add more tanks in the near future.
“People have been really receptive! More and more newbie’s show up, and we’ve got a die-hard loyal fan base already, too. It’s exciting!” said Barger.
What makes Kekionga’s cider unique?
“Kekionga” (meaning “blackberry patch”) was the name of the Miami tribe settlement located in what is now Fort Wayne. Northeast Indiana’s rich history has also inspired the names of several of Kekionga’s drinks. Old Bicorne refers to General Anthony Wayne’s two-cornered hat. Brass Cannon is named after his favorite gun, which was nicknamed the “brass cannon.” Johnny’s Grog is an homage to Johnny Appleseed.
Kekionga sources the majority of its apples from a single family-owned orchard in Torch Lake, Michigan. For small batches they’ve used more local fruit. Harmon’s Orchard provided the apples for Johnny’s Grog and Golden Bush.
“Our cider has more of a wine flavor profile,” Barger explained. “Old Bicorne is carbonated heavily, but most of our ciders are not. And they’re not sweet like Angry Orchard [national hard cider brand]. We don’t filter – all of our ciders naturally clarify. So if it’s cloudy it means it’s fairly new cider. Also, we use actual fruit, not natural flavoring. In fact, sixteen pounds of cranberries went into making just 40 gallons of our Holy Crapple!”
The Kekionga team considers themselves to be more like winemakers than brewers since there is nothing to cook during the process.
“There are thousands of yeasts out there, but we use white wine yeast instead of traditional cider yeast,” said Barger. “Some cider people will use champagne yeast, some use English ale. It’s really about taste preference. We still experiment with different yeasts in smaller batch sizes.”
Kekionga’s Old Bicorne cider can be found at Acme Bar, 800 Degrees Three Fires, The Hoppy Gnome, Ted’s Market and, of course, the cider mill itself. Four taps of seasonal and small batch brews are available at mill.
Kekionga recently installed a small line bottling line, which fills 18-20 bottles per minute. Labels are being printed, and Old Bicorne will soon be available for carry-out at mill and for purchase at Hotel Tango Two in Covington Plaza. There are also plans to heat the mill’s tasting room area so it can be used all winter. By next fall, Kekionga hopes to be a weekend destination, complete with produce, outdoor seating, caramel apples, and planned events.
“What’s great is, hard cider has no season,” said Barger. “Now it’s another drink that people like to have year round.”
For more information about Kekionga Cider Company, go to their website.
7328 Maysville Road, Fort Wayne, IN 46815