City approves hard cider production facility

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By Martin Kidston

The Missoula City Council on Monday night approved a tasting room and production facility for an upstart hard cider company planning to base its operations on North California Street just west of the city’s downtown core.

The council approved the conditional use permit for Western Cider Co. on a 11-0 vote.

“Hearing from the applicants about what they went through to find a location, to become entrepreneurs within city limits showed a lot of heart and determination,” said Ward 6 council member Michelle Cares. “I look forward to them succeeding in their business with the same heart and determination.”

Company founders Jon Clarenbach, Michael Billingsley and Matt LaRubbio plan to convert the old Bakke Building into a 2,000 square-foot tasting room. The business will include 5,000 square feet for production.

Billingsley started planting his apple orchard near Stevensville nearly six years ago. The trees are expected to produce roughly 10,000 pounds of cider fruit this year.

“I totally support your contribution to the ag economy,” said Ward 4 council member John DiBari. “I look forward to seeing your business up and running.”

Once fermented, the team has said, the juice creates a product similar to wine in the number of value-added products it can produce. The old tire shop is large enough to accommodate future growth, though any additions will require another review by the city.

The founders offered no comment at Monday night’s hearing, though the proposal saw one public comment.

Candy Matthew Jenkins said her children used alcohol as their introduction drug. She opposed the businesses, though she said her protest wasn’t aimed at the three entrepreneurs.

“I want on the record a standing opposition to the streets of Montana being filled with alcohol,” Jenkins said. “That’s what we have it seems on every block of Missoula, a winery, distillery, a brewery. I guess we’ve earned the honor of being one of the most drunkest cities in Montana.”

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com