In the quaint city of Harrisonburg, Virginia Amberlee and Zach Carlson are the creative force behind Sage Bird Ciderworks. Their journey from homebrewing enthusiasts to proud owners of Sage Bird is a testament to their passion for community, creativity, and continuous learning.
We had a chance to meet Amberlee at a Virginia Cider Week event and we loved learning about the roots of Sage Bird, the influence of Virginia’s food system, and the relationship between community and craft. Sage Bird’s story celebrates creativity, local flavor, and a passion for brewing.
As creatives, Amberlee and Zach have always been interested in trying new things, creating things from the ground up, and learning new processes. They also spent years studying, formally and informally, the business of craft brewing, trends and needs in Harrisonburg, and how to foster a positive work environment.
Q1: Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you got started in the food industry?
My husband and I have always been interested in making things ourselves, so we started homebrewing in 2014 with mead, and that quickly moved to cider. One gallon became five gallons, which became hundreds of gallons a year, so we started to explore the idea of opening up our own cidery. After some classes, internships, and tons of research, we finally took real steps in securing a building, renovating it, and opening our doors in September of 2020.
Q2: What inspired you to pursue a career in cider making here in Virginia?
My husband and I have lived in Virginia our entire lives. We have grown up in Virginia woods, climbed Virginia mountains, and picked Virginia berries, and we want our Virginia experience to be highlighted in our business. All our ciders at Sage Bird are inspired by Virginia-grown flavors, and our taproom is a haven for local events.
Q3: Can you share some highlights or achievements in your career related to Virginia’s food scene?
Everything about our taproom and production feels so special, and we are so grateful to our community for their support! In the three years of being open, we are especially proud of these achievements:
- Virginia Living Best of Virginia Cidery First Place
- Virginia Living Made in Virginia Award for our Long Night Pommeau
- GLINTCAP Best in Class Award for our Virginia Hewe’s Crab
- Taproom expansion in 2021 to include more outdoor space and a cozy gallery room.
- Production expansion in 2023 to enhance our canned cider and distribution reach.
Q4: How has Virginia’s food and beverage scene evolved over the years and what trends do you see emerging in the local food industry?
We’ve found that customers are looking for a holistic experience with food, drink, and good vibes all being essential components. In our taproom, we offer a variety of events, cider styles, and cocktails/mocktails. Additionally, we are currently looking to expand our food offerings and continue to be innovative in our beverage menu so customers can come to Sage Bird for a full experience.
Q5: Farm-to-table dining (and drinking!) has gained popularity in Virginia. How does your Sage Bird work contribute to this movement?
We have a close relationship with an orchard, Glaize Orchard. We love that crew! So it is easy for us to highlight exactly where our fruit that we ferment comes from. We also have a similar ethos in the flavors we use in our ciders — everything is made with products that are or could be grown in Virginia.
Q6: Can you share your perspective on the importance of sourcing local and seasonal ingredients in Virginia?
We strive to highlight a tangible connection between people and what they consume. Visitors to Sage Bird can learn about different types of apples, where we source our apples, and the stories behind our flavors and names of ciders. We want people to know the real people and the real process behind Sage Bird and we hope that they want to come back and support us for that authenticity. Locally owned businesses invest in their community as a whole, and we want customers to know that when they support these small businesses, they are making their own community a better place to live.
Q7: What advice do you have for consumers who want to support local farmers and producers in Virginia?
Shop local! Go to farmer’s markets, co-ops, and locally owned businesses. Ask businesses where they source their products and learn their stories! We always hear that people are surprised by our ciders because they assume cider is a general term for a sweet alcoholic drink, so we always encourage people to have an open mind and don’t make assumptions before giving something a try!
Q10: What are your favorite local dishes, restaurants, or breweries? Any hidden gems you’d like to recommend?
Harrisonburg is full of some awesome businesses! We particularly love Mashita, Lola’s Delicatessen, and Broad Porch Coffee. Not only do these businesses create delicious food and drink, but they are owned by incredible people who are passionate about creating cool spaces in Harrisonburg.
Q11: Are there any upcoming events or projects you look forward to working on?
We recently purchased a vintage teardrop Campact camper trailer that we renovated into a tap trailer that we call The Hitchhiker! We are excited to use this at festivals and other pouring events in addition to renting it out for special occasions. We don’t have any big events over the winter, so we are focusing on our regular events that customers can expect and look forward to every week: Wednesday Game Night, Thursday trivia, Friday karaoke, and Sunday yoga. Our favorite big events of the year are our Summer Kickoff “Butts Up!” Cider release in June, Apple-achian Music Anniversary Show in September, and our Apple Harvest Festival in November!
Sage Bird Cider Works is located at 325 N Liberty St, Harrisonburg, VA 22802. If you can’t stop by their taproom, be sure to shop their cider online!