Last fall, Kate Taylor opened Flora & Ferment, a cider house on Solano Avenue. Taylor told me that she really does enjoy wine, but that she had struggled with the industry itself. Formerly a partner at San Francisco’s B3 wine bar, she said, “I’m a firm believer in, ‘You like what you like.’ I sometimes felt slighted because I would like or dislike something I wasn’t supposed to by wine-industry standards.” The hard-cider industry, on the other hand, is still at an exploratory stage. “An off-flavor that would make a wine a ‘bad wine’ might add some complexity to a cider,” she said.
Traditionally, the term cider refers to a fermented beverage made from apples. Once other fruits are added, Taylor—though not an expert on the terminology—believes they’re considered “fruit wines.” Flora & Ferment isn’t the flagship store of a movement to make cider a trendy new “it” beverage. But Taylor has observed that by simply making different varieties of cider available to her customers, they’ve been willing to try what she carries. “People expect a sweet, dark cider,” she said, “but there are all these new cideries popping up, making fresh, things that can be very dry.” During her first month, Taylor admits that most of her sales were beer, with occasional 5-ounce pours of cider. “Now, I barely sell the beer on tap. People needed to see that cider was an option. It just had a bad rap.”
In addition to cider, perry or pear cider, craft beer, hard kombuchas and hard seltzers, Flora & Ferment serves mead, a fermented combination of honey, water and yeast. “There are a lot of people who are surprised [we serve it] because you think of a medieval festival where you have a turkey leg,” Taylor said. “There are types of mead that aren’t carbonated. They’re lighter and dryer and just so much more enjoyable. You can have that honey flavor without all that sweetness.”
Taylor does love mead, but she drinks it as a 5-ounce pour rather than as a whole pint. “But I do get people who come in who’ll drink pint after pint of mead,” she said. “Because it’s lighter than you imagine, and less alcoholic. The ones I have are 5%, just average ABV [alcohol by volume] for beer. A lot of fermentation science nerds who make mead at home want to talk about it—and that’s fun for me.”
The “Flora” half of the ciderhouse’s name comes from a partnership Taylor started with a nearby plant nursery, Pamana Plantas. “I had initially planned on selling plants myself. I envisioned a daytime wine-shop feel, where if you were headed to a party and you wanted to grab a gift, you could pick up a 750-milliliter bottle of a fancy cider and a houseplant,” she said.
“But remembering back to my wine bar-slash-restaurant days, I didn’t want to run two businesses,” Taylor said. “So I approached Dominick [the owner], and she was very enthusiastic about it.” Taylor sells the plants on consignment, but their primary purpose is to enhance the light and airy ambience. She’s hoping to get more plants this spring, “and just cover the place.”
Food is not yet part of Taylor’s menu. “I hope to do snacks at some point. Cheese, charcuterie or something like that, but I don’t really have space or a kitchen, so it would have to be super simple,” she said. In the meantime, Flora & Ferment allows customers to bring in outside food. Some of the restaurants on Solano Avenue will even deliver food to her front door. “That way I get to support neighboring restaurants. People come in with pizzas, and I love it.” Staff come in from Zaytoon, a Mediterranean restaurant across the street. Taylor’s also noticed that her next-door neighbor, Everest Kitchen, delivers meals on their own plates. “Then they have a busboy come back to pick them up,” she said. “It’s great.”
Because the location is such an intrinsic part of the Albany neighborhood, Taylor wanted Flora & Ferment to be very approachable. “Most of my customers live really close by,” she said. “And if they’re regulars, I want them to have what they like.”