Photos by Asia Morris.
The morning after Great Society Cider & Mead’s soft opening last week on Thursday evening, Bixby Knolls resident and co-owner Otto Radtke told the Long Beach Post he was struck by the huge turnout, which resulted in a line out the door, trailing around the soon-to-be-finished patio space, and a few more things added to his to do list, including hiring more people, purchasing more equipment and ordering more glasses. Certainly not a bad way to open as Southern California’s first all-cider pub in downtown Long Beach.
Radtke, who co-owns the new establishment with his wife Brenda, used to run the Alpine Village in Torrance, known for its Oktoberfest, where he organized festivals and stumbled upon cider as he selected the brews for those events. At the same time he started ordering ciders, he had developed an allergy to hops and was seeking an alternative. Cider quickly became the aficionado’s new obsession.
“It has a huge range of flavors; it’s crisp and refreshing so it doesn’t leave you generally feeling poorly like sometimes a beer can,” Radtke said. “And I’m one of those guys that likes to explore new things, so this was like a whole new world opened up. I felt like I’d seen it all in the beer and I wasn’t ready for another IPA or stout—I was ready for cider.”
Radtke, who makes small batches of cider and mead at home, believes that Los Angeles hasn't been exposed to a lot of good cider, yet. Much like how the craft beer scene began, he says cider is in a nascent stage here, and it's only a matter of time before the fruit-based beverage blows up. The couple are pushing a movement toward the growing popularity of both cider and mead with Brenda’s propaganda-esque murals located within, urging the curious drinker to join in.
Radkte brought in multiple taps from what he says are the two Los Angeles-based cider makers, 101 Cider House and Honest Abe Cidery, noting the tart and dry Grand Opening Gose specially made by 101 for the occasion. He hopes these two cideries are just the beginning of a local cider scene with at least a few more options.
“Those guys need to be represented and hopefully more guys pop up and I’ll give ‘em taps, too,” he said. “I hope eventually there will be enough that I won’t even have enough taps.”
Aside from the local cideries, Radkte says he’s especially excited about Shacksbury Cider’s Arlo and Wandering Aengus’ Oaked Dry, two houses on tap that he says make cider “real true to fashion,” meaning with heirloom apples—a very bitter fruit ripe with tannins in its skin. They’re not too pleasant to bite right into—Radkte says they’re often called “spitters”—but they can make a heck of a beverage once fermented.
Great Society Cider & Mead’s 20 taps also boast a surprising variety of meads, as in, if you think the historical honey-based beverage is supposed to be as thick as it is old, you have yet to tap into its more recent developments. The new business owner has brought to Long Beach something new and exciting that requires more than a few visits to really gain a decent understanding.
“Unfortunately we’ve been inundated by mass market stuff that really just has the one flavor profile, which is sweet, and the range out there is so dramatic,” he said. “People are playing with all kinds of different flavors. And so that’s probably the biggest thing when people come in and they don't know much about it, that’s probably the biggest thing they’ll be shocked by and that’ll probably bring them back. Because like me, they know that there’s this world they can explore.”
If you’re a frequenter of Padre or Vons, or generally the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and Broadway, you may have noticed the change in signage, where “Independent Cider House” used to be visible, “Great Society Cider & Mead” has taken its place. A delay in opening gave the team some extra time to really think about the name of the establishment, as well a glance into the future.
“Independent was something that we kind of settled on, and we thought it was alright, but it wasn’t evocative to me,” Radtke said. “And eventually we want to start producing our own ciders and meads, and there might be a couple trademark issues with other existing breweries throughout the country. So nobody’s got the name and we picked it up.”
Radtke says part of Great Society’s job is to help educate people about the cider world. In an effort to do just that, the house will host events like its most recent shindig last Saturday, which also happened to be National Mead Day. For the occasion, Radtke had one of the only mead-makers he knows in Los Angeles visit the joint to speak on the honey-based beverage and go over a few special pours. You can expect not just a solid lineup of ciders and meads on tap, but upcoming dinners and meet-and-greets with the cider makers where patrons can learn more.
“I think we’ve seen every geek about cider [here] already, there’s about ten of them,” Radtke joked about the successful soft opening.
Before your cider and mead tasting session leaves you spinning, Great Society also has a stellar menu created by chef Rusty Kossler, who inspired Radtke to open more than just the originally planned sausage and cider house. Radkte, whose main focus is the cider, still spoke proudly of Great Society’s team-developed menu, composed of a classic Cider House Burger, with bacon-onion jam served on a pretzel bun, to both vegan and gluten-free options like the Roasted Ponzu Brussel Sprouts and Maple Smoked Cheddar Mac & Cheese, and so much more.
“I hope that in the future I can integrate the front of the house into the menu suggestions and we can constantly keep evolving and changing and turning people onto what we’re doing,” he said.
Great Society Mead & Cider is located at 601 East Broadway.