Fishback & Stephenson Cider House
A Handpicked Success Story
What does it take to bring a world-class cidery to the city you grew up in? If you ask Clint Stephenson, a lot of ambition, creativity, and washing machines. Stephenson — one of four friends along with Hopi James, Annalisa Thompson, and Cole Fishback, who co-founded Fishback & Stephenson Cider House — helped take what started as a hobby between friends in the basement of one of their homes to one of the premier cideries in Iowa.
“We started walking around the county picking apples and coming up with creative ways to make cider,” Stephenson said, adding residents around town were eager to have the group come and pick apples that had fallen from their trees and were now attracting insects. “We started putting ads in newspapers, Craigslist, and Facebook to go pick people’s apples.”
After traveling to Europe and sampling various ciders there, Stephenson and his friends came back with a steadfast passion for making a top-notch cider of their own. Naturally, the process took some experimenting.
“We have used woodchippers, washing machines, garbage disposals, shop presses… We’ve used all different kinds of things to extract juice and figure out how to get more juice than just cranking,” Stephenson said, calling this period a long research and development phase. “We bought an old press for $40 in Des Moines, and we could make like five gallons in a night, but it took us six or seven hours to do it. So, we just kept trying to figure out how to do more and more and more in the basement.” The operation has grown quite a bit since its genesis in 2014. Fishback & Stephenson processes anywhere from 16,000-20,000 pounds of apples in a week with distribution in Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri. The cidery also boasts a large belt press along with several heating and cooling tanks. And now, Fishback & Stephenson will begin canning its own cider in-house.
Situated on 33 acres of gorgeous Iowa scenery, the taproom — a timber-framed structure completed in 2018 — offers a wide selection of ciders from their original Coyote Verde green apple cider to their Maple Starship spiced maple apple cider. Cider not your flavor? The taproom also keeps a steady rotation of Iowa craft beers.
And oh yeah, they make one heck of a burger — rated one of the top 10 in the state, as a matter of fact. The taproom features an award-winning restaurant with a full menu, but the burger is the star of the show. Fishback & Stephenson buys its beef exclusively from a farm in Fairfield owned by the Adrian family, lifelong friends of Stephenson’s, ensuring your burger is a one-of-a-kind taste of Fairfield. “All of our beef is locally grown and sourced,” Stephenson said, adding the beef is given an extra twist before it’s processed. “We actually take the apple mash from our cider press and feed it to the cattle. We also don’t cut the steaks out — we use whole cows. So, it’s not regular ground beef.”
And the result? Fishback & Stephenson was named the 2020 Iowa Cider Producer of the Year by the New York International Cider Competition. The cider house even hosted a pop-up Mooby’s restaurant based on the fictional restaurant chain in director Kevin Smith’s films, producing a limited-edition cider called Jay & Silent Bob Cherry Kush to coincide with the event. “It’s things like that with Fairfield. There’s that creativity,” Stephenson said. “There’s usually some sort of connection from the art department from (Maharishi International University) or the film school, or someone meets somebody or gets here from around the globe or the coasts.”
The taproom has also positioned itself as a hub for travelers and outdoor enthusiasts. Whether you’re pulling up in your RV or ready to hit the Loop Trail with dozens of other cyclists, Fishback & Stephenson is an ideal meeting spot and the perfect starting point to beginning your Fairfield excursion. “Come to Fairfield,” Stephenson said, “and you’ll discover a diverse community with a wide variety of dining and outdoor recreation options for such a small town.”
“It’s a nice place to live. It’s quiet, it’s very diverse. There’s an international university and all types of different cuisine here, which is really nice,” Stephenson said. “It’s kind of out of the way, but there’s a lot of arts, events and concerts. We have a Loop Trail that goes around the town, which is wonderful. We have a historic district, an art district downtown. There’s a lot of art galleries. We have great coffee shops, which is very important to us. It’s just a really diverse community.”