Starting a Hard Cider Company - Part II
Who knew it would take this long for us to get back to our blog? We made a commitment to the blog in the beginning, and we apologize that it has fallen a little off the radar since we launched. We truly didn’t expect to see the tremendous demand for our ciders and in turn our blog has suffered. We can’t thank everyone enough for their support over the past month. It’s been absolutely awesome! Keep following us on social media to see where Swilled Dog Hard Cider will end up next.
Now on to the less glamourous part of our story – Part II of “Starting a Cider Company”. This is part that people often times people skip over or try to rush through when thinking about starting a business. For us, some comic relief throughout this post is necessary just to soften the pain of rehashing the journey. Nevertheless, it is part of our journey, and in a weird way, part of the “fun” that is Swilled Dog.
When planning to launch a brand in a category that has seen meteoric growth over the past 3 years, one can often times get caught up in the idea of owning a hard cider company. It sounds great, but how do you actually go about making it happen in a way that will eventually lead to a viable business? Well the answer definitely isn’t simple. Unless you decide to sling cider and/or the occasional moonshine from your own cellar for a living under the table (good luck with that), many hoops must be jumped through before even considering the enterprise. Navigating the licensing process alone some days seems like it requires a masters of law degree or a PhD in some obscure field that no one has ever studied. In our case, we started by reading everything we could get our hands on. From internet blogs like ours, books, forums, and hundreds of phone calls and emails, we consumed enough information to feel somewhat comfortable giving it a shot. After almost 8 months and many late nights reading Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) and WVABCA legalese, we were able to survive the process and become a fully licensed bonded winery. Winery?? Yeah, that was our original thought as well, but without boring you too much, cider is classified as a wine and thus a bonded winery license is the needed piece of paper to make you a legitimate hard cider maker. Riveting? We know.
While navigating the licensing process, we came up against our next hurdle…suppliers. Where would we source bottles and kegs and how would we take delivery (easy for most companies in a developed area, but let’s just say Franklin isn’t the biggest hub for freight delivery)? What is the most cost effective solution to source equipment needed to scale our production? Where would we source apples in West Virginia? Sure the state is 9th in apple production in the United States, but finding the right varieties and the right quantities presented a massive challenge. All of these questions along with many others had to be well thought out in advance before our first ounce of cider for resale was planned.
As it relates to our ingredients and cider making process and as mentioned many times before, we strive to be transparent. The majority of our apples come from West Virginia. It is our mission to make this a larger quantity as our business continues to grow. However, some of the apple varieties needed to make great cider are not currently produced here and thus must be purchased outside of the state. In an effort to change the narrative and make an impact in our state, we are planting our own cider variety and heirloom apple orchards and are working with professors at West Virginia University and the West Virginia Department of Agriculture to find more ways West Virginia can make its mark on the hard cider industry. One way is by participating in the cultivation of these heirloom and hard cider varieties. As more farmers become educated on the need for cider specific apples, our hope is that West Virginia becomes a destination for the industry.
After many months that seemed like years, we were ready to start producing our first commercial batches of hard cider. As I mentioned in the last blog posts, this is something that our family has wanted to do for quite some time. When the first apples were crushed and put into our tanks for fermentation, we couldn’t have been more excited. All of the legal and regulatory hurdles, planning and executing our build out, developing our batches of cider, brainstorming names, building projections, etc. were more than worth it.
As I mentioned in the beginning, it takes a lot to start a business, let alone an alcoholic manufacturing business in a state with only one other hard cider company exists. However, as we see our ciders pour from taps across the state, see our bottles go off the shelves, and watch our following grow, it makes all of the hard work so enjoyable. We have so many great things in store for 2017, and we can’t wait to share them with you. Whether it’s our soon to be named “secret release” of our Spring/Summer seasonal cider, our awesome events being planned, our commitment to making an impact, or the release of our much anticipated Pumpkin Patch cider later this year, there is so much to be excited about. If you are in Morgantown March 31st, come out to Atomic Grill, meet us, and enjoy our ciders. Also continue to follow us on social media and sign up for this blog to stay up to date. We will be releasing more consistent blog posts going forward. Be on the lookout next week for our “Hard Cider Cocktails” post that will be a regularly featured post to help everyone explore fun and exciting combinations of cocktails using Swilled Dog Hard Cider. Until then, #GetSwilled.