If summer had a drink of choice, my bet is that it would be cider. It’s like craft beer and a juice box had a baby—ice cold, refreshing, bubbly, with a hint of apple to bring back all the nostalgia of childhood while the ABV ensures you still feel like a legit grown-up.

Owners of 1859 Cider Co., Dan and Patricia Fox, have experienced first-hand what it takes to care for a cidery in its infancy. I had the opportunity to check out their newly-built taproom during their grand opening celebration last Friday in their alley location between Chemeketa and Court. I caught Dan for a quick chat in between his rounds to check the kegs. He laughed, openly admitting that they’re still obviously in construction mode. But as I looked around and took in the details of the taproom, I was pleasantly surprised by what they’ve accomplished thus far with the place. Especially after Dan informed me that he and his wife, Patricia, built the cidery themselves, with help from friends who volunteered their time and muscle power. Sure, any customer can see that there’s work still needing to be done, but the quality of construction and overall character of 1859 is quite impressive.

People sharing glasses of locally made cider, sharing tables, some even sharing chairs because it was so busy—and not a single frown to be seen….“This is my city. Our city. Look at her flourish.”

The ambiance at 1859 Cider Co. is cozy and clean, with warm, rustic wood blending in well with the industrial steel used to fortify the space. Indoor and outdoor seating gives the tasting room a larger feel, even though it’s technically a tight fit. Yet while it was a packed house on Friday, it felt more like an intimately-rowdy community experience rather than a claustrophobic mess. I loved that they kept an open-concept design between the apple presses and the bar (you literally have a front row seat to the cider making process), and it gives the room the illusion of being huge. Details were clearly important to the owners; Dan told me that even the bar tops were crafted from reclaimed wood from 150-year-old distillery floorboards. They took every opportunity to help cut cost during construction, but they never cut corners.

Their impressive lineup of ciders proves their commitment to quality over quantity. With only six ciders flowing from the taps during their grand opening, cider-lovers had a chance to focus on what Dan and Patricia deem worthy of pouring—again, quality over quantity. My tasting partner and I ordered the popular tasting tray to give each cider a try (the carved, wooden tray with nails holding cider labels is another excellent touch). We definitely narrowed down our favorites, but we both agreed that each cider was genuinely good, each with their own unique profile. A full list of tasting notes is on-hand for the cider aficionados out there. I have no doubt that even with six ciders on tap right now, 1859’s selection is broad enough (dry, semi-sweet, sweet) and tasty enough to please any palate that comes through their garage door entrance.

Vagabond Victory Club, one block south of 1859 Cider Co.

Vagabond Victory Club, one block south of 1859 Cider Co.

With Victory Club a few doors down in the adjacent alley, and Venti’s and Taproot dotted in between, the downtown alleyways are really starting to shape up. Once a shameful symbol of our city’s neglect, Salem’s alleys are attracting entrepreneurs like the Foxes who have taken notice of the distinctive location tucked behind Salem’s central historic buildings. I sat back during 1859’s grand opening and soaked in the buzzing camaraderie that was going on around us. People sharing glasses of locally made cider, sharing tables, some even sharing chairs because it was so busy—and not a single frown to be seen. And I can’t help but think, “This is my city. Our city. Look at her flourish.”

Seriously. Thanks to the hard work of people like Dan and Patricia, and so many others, Salem is becoming the city we have always dreamed of, but had never put forth the effort to create. (Until now.) Delicious change is happening, and Salem is noticing. Downtown has become a destination, and with increased venues, shows and entertainment, dining options, breweries, and now a cidery, Salem is starting to look mighty fine. And we get to reap (and sip) the sweet benefits.

See the full story behind 1859 Cider Co. on their website, www.1859cider.com. Find their alleyway taproom at 249 Liberty St. NE, Ste. 140, in downtown Salem.