Celiac disease is a condition where one’s immune system reacts poorly to consuming gluten, a protein found in most wheats, barley, bread and beer –– a disease Matt Wood is familiar with. But instead of quitting all things gluten, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln alumnus took to other methods of consuming typical gluten-based items, and started making his own cider.
After Wood, a current ophthalmologist, was diagnosed with celiac disease, he and his wife Tracy ran into former friend and UNL colleague, Paige Duncan. After catching up, they discovered that Duncan’s husband, Johnathon Henning, made his own cider, too –– which sparked the idea of a new collaborative business.
Saro Cider, located at 1746 N St., opened on Oct. 19 as one of the first cider-focused breweries in Nebraska. The cidery is located downtown near Panic bar, Code Beer Company and the Salvation Army.
After finding their common interest, Henning and Wood took a weekend-long course at Cornell University on the art of making cider.
“When [Henning and Wood] came back, they thought, ‘Well, we could actually make a go of this,’” Duncan said. “Tracy and I helped them with the business side of it, and that’s where it all got started.”
Plans of opening on Oct. 19 were brewing for some time, Duncan said. And as they were learning the ropes and preparing for the grand opening, the two couples allowed curious pedestrians to try out their business ahead of time.
According to Eric Leyden, Saro Cider’s first employee and president of operations, the owners want their customers to have a comfortable time, even those who aren’t fans of cider. Overall, he said, the customers are interested in their different cider-making techniques.
Leyden worked as an executive chef for 25 years and earned his bachelor's degree in culinary arts at UNL. Once he became acquainted with the two couples, he joined the team as one of three people who create new drink recipes for Saro Cider.
“We concentrate on drier flavors, and we don’t have a real sweet profile,” he said. “We do spicing and some things like that, and there are three of us who create the brews and each has their own unique approach.”
Examples of the ciders they produce include Valencia, a European-influenced spiced citrus cider, Unbridled, an apple-flavored cider and Zamora, a jalapeño-infused cider.
After two years of preparation, from finding a property to finding their own unique recipes for drinks, the owners created a minimalist, rustic and classy environment for customers to enjoy.
“One thing that really surprised us was how amazing the Lincoln community is,” Duncan said. “We’ve had amazing support and help from many of the breweries here in town, and not only have they offered their help, but they have been super supportive as good customers, and have actually sent people our way.”