Mesa veteran Jason Duren knew at an early age he was destined to help people. When two traumatic brain injuries prematurely ended his active Marines career, the father of two felt lost – but he refused to give up.
Duren has now recommitted to his purpose by cultivating one of Arizona’s largest cideries with his brother, Josh. Cider Corps embodies Duren’s love for cidermaking and his desire to uplift veterans. Over the years, it has built a reputation as a space for community members to gather, connect and support local veterans through awareness – and it is only continuing to grow.
Cider Corps, which sits at 31 S. Robson Drive, recently announced the statewide expansion of its award-winning hard cider Mango Foxtrot. The beverage, a blend of mango and rose hip with an apple cider base, is now available at most of Arizona’s Sprouts Fresh Markets, according to Duren.
“This entire team believes in this story and community,” Duren says. “The cider is just a catalyst for healing that can happen in the community over a drink.”
As the company’s first statewide distribution, Mango Foxtrot is sold in four-packs throughout Phoenix, Flagstaff, Tucson, Oro Valley and Prescott Valley.
The style, which has a 7% ABV, won a gold medal at the 2019 U.S. Open Cider Championships. It is also one of the most favored flavors at the cidery. In addition to Sprouts, Cider Corps’ canned ciders are available at Phoenix-area Whole Foods, AJ’s Fine Foods, Total Wine and a handful of independent package and bottle shops.
Founded in 2017, the Cider Corps taproom is in a 1900s-era building that was once the Mesa police station. Cider Corps features 12 to 15 alternating cider styles and three cider slushie flavors available in the taproom by the glass. It is open for dine in and take away and features online ordering.
It’s partnered with Myke’s Pizza for an independent fast-casual restaurant concept, Duren shares. It also offers Pair Coffee & Tea, adding a full coffee bar, espresso drinks, coffee pour overs and artisan teas.
Duren, a judge advocate for the Military Order of the Purple Heart, seeks to utilize his operation to give back to the veteran community.
With a mission statement of “Drink Great Ciders. Honor Great Sacrifice,” Cider Corps serves as a platform for veterans to be honored through awareness, Duren continues.
Cider Corps frequently features an “Honor Series” of ciders, highlighting different army units by featuring their logos on the can.
“Josh does the graphics around it, and we base the cider off it [the unit,]” Duren says. “So, when you’re drinking it, the hope is that you look up some of the information about the cause on the key in.”
The organization consistently partners with veteran-oriented nonprofits in Arizona and California, according Duren. The company has raised funds to help veterans pair up and put service animals through training, as well as aid a California-based nonprofit organization to build adaptive athlete surfboards.
The goal is to partner with veteran-geared nonprofits that are “a making a change in their community,” Duren says.
“I knew I wanted to do something for-profit and then support some of these guys that are doing real things in veterans lives and just be a small part of that.”
Raised in Kansas, Duren joined the marine corps in 2009 after moving to Arizona. A natural-born athlete and college-recruited pole vaulter, Duren says he wanted to join the force to give back to his community.
While deployed in Afghanistan in 2013, Duren suffered two traumatic brain injuries from multiple IED blasts, leading to a long road to recovery.
“During that time, I wanted to spend a lot of time by myself,” he says. “I was in the garage a lot and Josh started coming over quite a bit. We decided to find a hobby we could do together that requires (mental) processing.
“They (doctors) would say that we have to process information, recognize something that you want to change and then change it. That is part of the brain mapping.”
During the retirement process, Jason and Josh experimented with cider making as a hobby and as therapeutic outlet for Jason.
Out of this hobby has come a unique technique for cider making.
“What is probably the most unique aspect of how we make our ciders at Cider Corps comes at the final stages of fermentation called malolactic fermentation,” Duren says. “This technique converts the malic acid in apples to lactic acid – essentially creating a ‘softer’ mouthfeel and reducing the sour, or ‘sharper,’ flavor profiles most people associate with hard apple ciders. The end product is a perfectly balanced cider unlike anything you have tasted.”
The flavor comes directly from apples and other fruits, so it doesn’t need additional extracts or sugars.
Cider Corps released its first two ciders in September 2017 and continued to make more styles while building out their taproom. They opened the taproom doors to the public on Veterans Day, November 11, 2017, and sold 2,600 pints on that first day.
Since then, they have seen the taproom become the gathering spot they hoped for: a space where community members can honor the sacrifice of its veterans while raising awareness for the obstacles they face upon returning home.
Due to an increase in demand, Cider Corps recently expanded its production to Gilbert, according to Duren.
Duren says he hopes to move all cider production to a 14,000-square-foot facility in Gilbert next year, he adds. The Mesa location will remain open as a taproom.
31 S. Robson Drive, Mesa
3 to 10 p.m. Wednesday to Fridays
Noon to 10 p.m. Saturdays
Noon to 6 p.m. Sundays