In 2006, Jen and Bud Desmul planted an apple orchard at their home in the Flathead Valley with the hope of one day running their own cider house. After experimenting with different varieties and creating their own hard cider recipes in the following years, they bought 40 acres in 2012 to accommodate expanded orchard operations and have since allowed their trees to mature for the better part of the decade.
Finally, their dreams became a reality in October when they opened Big Mountain Ciderworks in Kalispell’s West Valley. The field of bare dirt they bought eight years earlier has transformed into 6,000 apple trees, 3,000 pear trees and a 10,000-square-foot cider house and taproom. The trees were three years old when they were planted, many of which came from the east and west coasts and are able to survive cold temperatures. After going into the ground, Jen says they took about five years to start producing apples and will produce more every season as they mature.
The red barn-like metal building pops at its location near Glacier High School in the West Valley, with rows of apples and pears to the northwest of the facility and views of Big Mountain from inside the cider house.
It took the Desmul family almost two years to build the surrounding fence that protects the orchard from deer and other wildlife, and two-and-a-half years to build the cider house. As a family business, their three sons, Jack, Ben and Beau have been involved with the project from the start, even as toddlers when they moved to the Flathead Valley in 2004.
“They helped plant the orchard,” Jen said. “They have as much sweat equity in this as we do.”
Bud has a background in the medical field, and Jen was an occupational therapist before becoming a stay-at-home mom in the early 2000s. They started the cider house as a side project while they raised their boys with the plan to operate the business once their sons transitioned into adulthood.
“I feel like everything is coming full circle,” Jen said. “I always said we just had to get across the finish line.”
Their kids always joked that the cider house would never open, but now that the two oldest sons are in college and the youngest is in high school, the timing was finally right to pour all of their energy into the cider house. While Bud runs the back-of-house operations, from working in the orchard to making the cider, Jen manages the front-of-house operations. Their oldest son, Jack, fills the operations manager role and is an experienced cider tester.
It usually takes a few experimental batches to get recipes right, Jen says, but they have now perfected the hard ciders on tap. With different varieties of apples and different types of yeast, the flavors range from sweet ciders like cherry and pineapple to a pippin apple cider, which compares to a dry crabapple. The pineapple cider is the most popular beverage at the cider house.
In addition to the cider, Big Mountain Ciderworks also serves lunch and dinner, and the Desmuls make sure to incorporate their apples into the menu. Apple butternut squash soup and orchard chicken pizza are a few apple-infused dishes that emerge from the kitchen. They also source other local eateries, including Red Poppy Bakery, Lower Valley Processing, Sweat Peaks Ice Cream and Genesis Kitchen.
Between their own orchard-grown apples and some sourced from the West Coast, they have more than 20 varieties, from the cold hearty Kingston Black apple to the well-known Honeycrisp. The orchard also has more than 10 pear varieties to make “perry,” or fermented pear cider, and a couple hundred sea buckthorn trees, which produce small berries and hail from Eastern Europe and Western China.
“We’ll use them in cider eventually,” Bud said. “It’s a tart, citrusy flavor, but it’s hard to describe.”
With 12 tanks capable of fermenting 20,000 gallons of cider, a cider press that can hold 14,000 pounds of apples and a canning machine and labeler, the Desmuls had to set up a lot of infrastructure before opening. Now that they’re up and running, they hope to start canning before the end of the year to sell locally in Kalispell and eventually extend to the entire state.
While the Desmuls continue to create new ciders and start their canning line, Jen says customers are enjoying the cider house’s atmosphere with large windows allowing ample natural light into the space and views of Big Mountain. The outdoor patio is equipped with heaters, and yard games will be set up during the warmer months. Inside, the radiant-heated floor keeps the expansive space cozy, with bar seating, spaced-out tables and local Vinoture furniture. Local craftsman Chris Brooks did much of the interior work, including the stained-wood wall, bathrooms, kitchen and metal work. Wood was sourced from RBM Lumber in Columbia Falls.
Jen says they already had a steady stream of business upon opening in October, especially from nearby residents and the fire department, who were all awaiting its opening.
“A lot of our West Valley neighbors have been driving by for years,” Jen said. “We’ve had great support from the community and people always say, ‘There are no services out here and we’re just so excited that you’re here.'”
Editor’s Note: This story appears in the winter edition of the Beacon’s quarterly magazine Flathead Living, on the newsstands across the valley.