By Don Nelson
The journey “from tree to tap” for Sinclair Orchards’ artisanal ciders is not that far in miles, but developing the Sixknot Taphouse in downtown Winthrop was a challenging trip for owners John and Beth Sinclair — one they felt compelled to take.
The taphouse, which had a “soft opening” recently, will have a grand opening celebration this weekend featuring live music, “fresh and local” food and more than 40 beverages — not all of them hard cider — available on tap.
The taphouse is in the former Trail’s End Bookstore building at 231 Riverside Ave. The transformation to a totally different space with seating for about 100 began earlier this year, and bypassers have been curious about what was going on inside.
John Sinclair said the building is structurally solid. Converting it to a taphouse required mechanical system changes and construction of a small kitchen area and keg room, among other things. “There were lots of decisions to make,” he said.
Early visitors have been amazed by the transformation, Sinclair said.
The Sinclairs plan to extend the rear deck about 40 feet toward the river to provide additional outdoor seating.
Sinclair said that he and Beth began thinking about how to evolve as a company as the cider market became more crowded and price-competitive. To remain in that market, he said, “we were being asked to be something we didn’t want to be … an industrial model.” They were told by distributors that Sinclair Orchards needed to start putting Sixknot ciders in cans — something they could not contemplate.
“We realized a few years ago that if we were going to be farm to table, we needed to own the farm and the table. In our case it is ‘tree to tap,’ and that is how the Sixknot Taphouse came to be,” the Sinclairs noted on their website.
The Sinclairs considered other spaces in the valley before looking at the former bookstore. “We saw right away that this was the spot,” Sinclair said of the building.
The Sinclairs built all of the furniture for the taphouse. The tabletops feature designs by local artists Erik Brooks and Mary Sharman.
Building a team
“It is worth noting that almost everyone who works at the taphouse also participates at the farm and cidery, with harvest in the orchard or bottling in the ciderhouse. Our ciderhouse is on the farm where the cider is made, the taphouse is where it is served,” Sinclair said.
“One of the most rewarding things has been putting this team together,” he added.
The Sinclairs’ award-winning Sixknot ciders will, of course, be available at the taphouse, straight from the kegs in which they fermented for months. Sixknot ciders will continue to be widely available in their familiar bottles.
But as the Sinclairs note on their website, “A keg is not thrown away after a single use, but can be reused again and again for years. But the primary advantage is taste — our kegs have never been pasteurized, whether by heat or with additives, and we prefer Sixknot served this way — alive, robust, and straight from the farm.”
Also on tap will be several wines — including Lost River Winery selections — a variety of craft beers, kombucha, root beer (made by the Sinclairs), and “nitro coffee” supplied by both of the valley’s coffee companies, Lariat Coffee Roasters and Blue Star Coffee Roasters.
The menu won’t be elaborate but will feature locally produced foods from a variety of sources, with seasonal and organic ingredients. The Sinclairs plan “specialty nights” and guest appearances by local chefs.
Sinclair said that the winter offerings will include hot drinks such as mulled wines and ciders.
Entertainment will be a vital part of what the taphouse offers, Sinclair said. The stage will host music, performing arts, poetry and literary readings and other events, he said.
The performers this week will include the Sinclairs’ son, John Jr., an up-and-coming professional musician who performs under the stage name Saint Claire.
Sinclair said the Sinclair Orchards, located between Twisp and Carlton, is one of only two organic cideries on the West Coast (the other is in Port Townsend, Washington). The Sinclairs, who lived in Seattle where John was an attorney and Beth a marine biologist, moved to the Methow Valley full-time in 2003 and began planting apple trees shortly thereafter. They now have about 8,000 trees.
Mandi Donohue contributed to this article.
At the taphouse
Events and entertainment this weekend at the Sixknot Taphouse grand opening include:
• Friday, Sept. 29, “Harvest is Over Hour” from 4 – 6 p.m.; the Liberty Bell String Quartet at 6 p.m.; Laura Love and Terry Hunt at 8 p.m.
• Saturday, Sept. 30, “Harvest is Over Hour from 4 – 6 p.m.; Saint Claire with David Takahashi on cello and Brook Lizotte on keyboards, 8 p.m.
• Sunday, Oct. 1, “Harvest is Over Hour,” 4 – 6 p.m.; Annie Emanegger and Matt Gentry, 7 p.m.