Firefighting and the Best Cider in Boise: The Story of Meriwether Cider

Inspiration at Meriwether Cider, Boise, Idaho. [dailyblender.com]
Inspiration at Meriwether Cider, Boise, Idaho. [dailyblender.com]
To adventures big and small.

It jumped out at me as soon as I read it. I was downtrodden when I arrived in Boise in September of 2016, weary from a long year. I had never been to the Idaho capital, and I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the downtown area was welcoming and easy to navigate, as were my hosts and fellow media companions. I traversed tastings and tours throughout the long weekend, filled with small talk, wineries, and restaurants. At Meriwether Cider, I found renewed inspiration next to their incredible Foothills Semi-Dry.

Showcased on various employees, and available for any visitor wanting a cidery memento, are the Meriwether Cider staff t-shirts. “To adventures big and small,” they read across the front in orange ink, juxtaposed with a two-man crosscut saw used to fell timbers. To adventures big and small, I thought to myself, finding a moment of peace amid the ever-changing life terrain.

It was at Meriwether, in the original tasting room out in Garden City, where I learned about the history of the Leadbetter family. About their big and small adventures.

“My parents met while they were both fighting fire in Alaska,” explains Molly Leadbetter, co-owner and marketing director of Meriwether Cider. “Once they got married and my mom became pregnant with my sister, they went back to school to get their graduate degrees and were college professors most of our lives.”

Once they were old enough, daughters Kate and Molly, undeterred by the dangerous duty of fighting wildfires, followed in their parents’ footsteps.

“My sister worked in fire mostly on Hot Shot crews for eight years and I worked in fire for six years – the last two being on Heli-Rappel crews,” she shares of the legacy. “It was a fantastic job and I do miss a lot of aspects about it, but ultimately it’s pretty great having a summer to hang out with friends – and my knees have never felt better!”

Nowadays, everyone’s knees are feeling better, but their passion and drive hasn’t wavered. During the second year of production, in 2018, Meriwether Cider expanding their reach across the city, adding a second location – a proper cider house – in downtown Boise. With nineteen ciders on tap, the Idaho Statesman says it’s one of a kind in Idaho.

“It was such a big exciting expansion of Meriwether! Now we’re still kind of recovering from it and thinking up our next big plans,” says Leadbetter. “I’m just so happy with where Meriwether is right now, we’ve got an incredible staff, amazing Meriwether regulars, and our production staff is making unique award-winning ciders! It’s all so great.”

Meriwether Cider, Boise, Idaho. [meriwether.com]
The Leadbetter family (Kate, Gig, Ann, Molly). Photo: Meriwether Cider

A Passion Ignited

Q: How did you get from firefighting to cider?
A: My parents were getting ready to retire from teaching and my sister (Kate) and I were both reaching a tipping point in fire where we needed to choose whether to actually pursue it as a permanent job or find something else to do. My mom had a flash of inspiration that we start something as a family, and since my dad was already making really great home-fermented cider, and we all had an interest in craft beverages, starting our own cidery was the idea that caught fire (laugh) – and we ran with it! It’s been a huge crazy adventure! None of us had any business training at all when we first got going so it was a steep learning curve but we’ve all got a hard firefighter work ethic so we managed to get it up and running!

Q: What kind of work went into launching Meriwether Cider?
A: Oh boy, so much! Figuring out which licenses to get and in which order was the first big hurdle. Then figuring out which equipment to buy and at what sizes, then how to make cider at a scale that was massively larger than anything my dad (Gig) had done before. Then just getting the taproom and production facility ready and getting ourselves out into the community to let people know who we were and what we were up to. Everything was a huge learning experience and still is! Running a business is just a long series of puzzles to figure out, and we’re awfully lucky we have each other to figure them out with!

Q: What are some of the big lessons you’ve learned along the way? 
A: So many things! If you had asked me seven years ago what I thought I’d be doing now, there is no way I would have thought it would be this. The whole experience has just been one lesson after another. I think some of the biggest lessons have been:

  • I would never start a business with anyone but my family. Running a business is hard and scary, and I can’t even imagine doing it without the support, trust, and love that we have for each other. At the end of the day, knowing that your own personal wellbeing and happiness matter more to the other people in the company than anything else is a good and grounding feeling.
  • One of the most surprising things that I’ve learned from running this company is the ability businesses have to support causes they care about. I like to think of myself as an active person in the community, but with Meriwether behind us, we’ve been able to do so many fun and meaningful things. We’ve held full-blown fundraisers for local causes, made specialty ciders to raise money for local non-profits, and donated tons of product to local events. Having the ability to reach so many people and put on events that get people excited about being in the community and what is going on here is such a joy.
  • My true passion for cider. I liked cider before we started this company but it really has grown so much. I am currently studying to be the first pommelier in the state of Idaho. We opened the Cider House a year ago and we’ve been able to source some really interesting and unique ciders which has helped me grow as a cider professional and get a chance to taste ciders from around the world and learn about them first hand.
  • The cider industry as a whole is just so wonderful!

Q: Why Boise? 
A: Boise is home! Kate and I went to college at The College of Idaho right outside of Boise and fell in love with the city. It’s got everything I love! Easy to get to outdoors, a thriving downtown, great concerts, events, people who love living here, and a population that is so kind and friendly all the time! I have never opened a company anywhere else, but I assume it would be so much harder than it was in Boise because Boise supports its own and really comes out when someone local opens something. I call it a “cheater city” because everyone is just so supportive and lovely and really will give you the shirt off their back if they feel like you love Boise as much as they do, which we absolutely do! I could not love this city more. I’m the biggest advocate around!

Q: What’s next for Meriwether?
A: World domination? Haha, just joking! We actually aren’t that interested in leaving the Treasure Valley because this is where we live. Anyone who drinks our cider can look us up and come actually meet us face to face, and we love that. We love the human connection that establishments like ours create. The hospitality aspect of our business is what we take the most pride in (besides making quality cider…) so I guess what I’m saying is whatever is next for Meriwether will almost certainly be locally centered and community-oriented.

 

~Jennifer Matthewson

Photo credit: Jennifer Matthewson / Daily Blender; Meriwether Cider

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