About the time his sister and brother-in-law were helping start Zipline Brewing, Matt Wood found out he had Celiac disease, a serious form of gluten intolerance.

That meant beer, at least the traditionally brewed kind, was off limits.

So Wood, a local ophthalmologist, said he went looking for a "beer-like experience" and started making his own cider.

Not too long after that, Wood and his wife, Tracy Sanford, ran into a former classmate of Sanford's from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's College of Business, Paige Duncan.

It turned out Duncan's husband, Jonathan Henning, also made his own cider.

Wood said he and Henning, a Lincoln urologist, wound up doing a "guy's weekend" — actually a weeklong trip — to a cider-making class in New York offered through Cornell University's Cooperative Extension.

He said the class was mostly filled with professional cider makers, including the head cider maker from Angry Orchard, one of the country's best-known brands.

"It was Jonathan and I and all these people who belonged there," Wood joked.

But they proved they belonged, too, when a cider they produced beat one made by a Miller Brewing employee in a taste test.

The two came back with plans to start their own cidery, got their wives on board and started looking for a property that would meet their needs. That was in the summer of 2016.

About a year later, they found their spot, a former auto repair shop at 18th and N streets, and set to work remodeling it.

They were interested primarily in a production cidery, but they also wanted to have a tasting room with some food, Wood said. So they approached an acquaintance, Eric Leyden, about getting involved.

Leyden, who has been executive chef at the Nebraska Club in Lincoln and Sandhills Golf Club in Mullen, jumped at the chance.

In addition to bringing his food expertise, Leyden also wanted to learn to make cider, so he went to a Cornell Cooperative Extension class in Washington state.

After more than two years of planning and more than a year of work remodeling the building and setting up cider production equipment, the group finally opened Saro Cider last month.

Wood said it is one of three cider-making operations in the state and the only one that produces only cider.

While it has a modern, tastefully designed tasting room with seating for about 70 people, Wood said the goal is for Saro to be primarily a production cidery.

The company already has signed with a local distributor and has kegs ready to go to restaurants and bars throughout Lincoln.

Wood said there are also plans to start bottling ciders this winter, which will be for sale in grocery stores and other locations.

There also are plans to sign with other distributors and move beyond Lincoln.

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"We hope to be a regional producer of cider, not just local," he said.

They also wanted to be a little unique, said Duncan.

"We wanted to develop something new to Lincoln and different," she said.

One thing people will notice about many of Saro's cider offerings is that they are different from the sweet, fruity national brands they might be used to.

Leyden pointed out that they have a wide range of ciders, from sweet to dry. There are currently seven alcoholic offerings and one non-alcoholic one. Three of the ciders are made with Nebraska-grown apples, including one that has fir tree tips from Western Nebraska in it.

Despite the focus on cider, Saro also offers several several different types of liquor and a couple of local craft beers.

Leyden said the owners "want everyone to feel comfortable," including people who may not like cider.

On the appetizer side, you'll find offerings you might find in an upscale restaurant, such as charcuterie and a cheese plate. You'll also find something you're not likely to find anywhere else in Lincoln: caviar.

Leyden said he thought it would be fun to offer caviar. If people aren't interested, then it may disappear from the menu, he said.

All the food options either are gluten-free or can be prepared that way.

If you're looking for a theme that runs through Saro, it's travel.

Duncan said Saro's brand image is a "shared adventure" and "charting a new course."

The name Saro comes from the nickname of a British company, Saunders-Roe Limited, that was known for making amphibious airplanes known as "flying boats." The company also made actual boats as well as buses.

The owners originally planned to name the business Sidecar Cider but ran into a trademark issue. There is even a motorcycle with a sidecar parked in the tasting room.

Continuing with the travel theme, all of the ciders have names that have something to do with travel or destinations, such as Halsey Forest, Ardennes, Unbridled and Valencia, and they come in bottles with labels that look like travel stickers.

Though now open, the cidery is far from complete. Duncan said there are plans for a sidewalk seating area, and Wood said the building was engineered so that it could support a rooftop space, something that may be added in the future.

Saro is currently open Thursday-Sunday, but the owners said they may expand hours in the future, depending on how things go.

Saro had a soft opening a couple of weeks ago, and it was, "so much busier than we anticipated," Wood said. The business is planning an official grand opening later this month.

To learn more about Saro, go to: www.sarocider.com.

Reach the writer at 402-473-2647 or molberding@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LincolnBizBuzz.


Business editor/reporter

Matt Olberding is a Lincoln native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate who has been covering business for the Journal Star since 2005.

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