On Hybridity, Tradition, and Trial-and-Error
Written by Angelina Gurrola
“Many people ask me, ‘why both?’ to which I respond, ‘why not?”
Jessica Bowman of Black Mountain Cider & Mead spent her academic life steeped in the rich traditions of English literature, admiring the postcolonial relationship between British and early American works. Of her studies, she remarks, “I’ve tended to gravitate toward complex, hybrid ideologies, embracing the fluidity that a hybrid position allows.” This willingness to explore the connections between old and new have foundationally informed the business she now conducts, rejecting the notion that you can only have one or the other.
Bowman’s journey with cider began when visiting England with her husband David, enjoying together the breadth of traditional ciders with the backdrop of country fairs as well as commercial markets. She observes, “Our experience with English cider convinced us that cider could and should be dry.” Years later, upon moving to Western North Carolina, this realization would be pivotal, as the abundance of local apples in nearby Hendersonville gave Bowman and her husband the initial push to open their own cidery. In early 2013, they located a space, submitted their paperwork, and began legally fermenting in August of that year as co-owners.
Bowman speaks candidly when she admits that “many of the challenges I have faced have arisen out of my lack of background in business.” Her schooling had emphasized literature and culture, and while her passion for the historical significance of cider was motivation enough to go into business, she found herself hurdling obstacles in order to meet the precision of creating and replicating ciders and establishing the necessary business relationships. However, she emphasizes the importance of meeting new challenges head-on, saying, “We taught ourselves along the way through research and trial and error.”
The result of conquering this learning curve is the organization as it exists today: Black Mountain Cider & Mead is now a taproom and brewery which, over the last eight years, has embraced the fusion of both traditional and modern in its practices. Bowman speaks of the effect this has on their patronage: “At our core, we craft and serve ciders and meads that harmonize modern flavors with traditional methods so that consumers feel like they have discovered something rare and special that is both old and new at once.”
“I have put so much time and energy into the business over the last eight years, but my outward appearance can still determine what is assumed about my role.”
On a more personal level, Bowman considers herself a physical embodiment of the concept of hybridity, attributing her tendency to embrace both the old and new in her business to her “hybrid ethnicity.” She shares, “Growing up with one Black and one white parent, I wanted to be a part of both cultures and not have to pick one over the other.” She feels as though the challenges that stem from being pulled in two different racial directions have taken an emotional toll, especially living in a world that seeks to place her in one box over another, resisting the nuance of the biracial experience.
This inherent complication with regards to race has also affected how she has been perceived in the business world. “When customers speak to my husband, a white man, they often assume he is the owner and that I just work there.” In an industry dominated by white men, Bowman has felt firsthand the alienation of presenting as a woman of color in this particular industry. She observes with frustration, “I have put so much time and energy into the business over the last eight years, but my outward appearance can still determine what is assumed about my role.”
Still, Bowman has a clear vision for where Black Mountain Cider & Mead is headed in the future, despite the setbacks it has endured as a result of COVID-19. Bowman plans to place their products in cans, distribute them more broadly via online sales, and later open an additional taproom further east in North Carolina. In addition, she and her husband are expecting their first baby in September. “So it feels like anything is possible,” she beams. “We have adjusted to this ‘new normal,’ but look forward to a time when we can return to the ‘old normal,’ so to speak.”