Cider Corner: 4 Ways to Zero in On 2024

With the New Year on the horizon, many cideries already have set plans to forward their companies and shared with Brewer some ideas they have set up to put into place. 

Be it in capitalizing on innovations, focusing on quality or discovering new ways to connect with consumers, here are strategies that these cideries have planned.

Keep It At Home

Flat Rock Cider Company has remained heavily focused on retail off-premise sales and distribution. But, after five years without a tasting room the North Carolina-based cidery is opening a tasting room to complement those sales away from home.

“Customer demand to interact with us at our production facility and taste limited offerings, observe our process have been overwhelming lately,” said Jeremiah Tracy, Production Manager. The company is also going to begin online sales and shipping outside of its home state. 

“We received a ton of requests this year to purchase our products and have them shipped outside our distribution footprint. We are looking forward to the higher profit margins that come with direct sales and being able to interact more intimately with our consumers.” 

Lost Boy is working on redesigning its tasting room to offer a more immersive and interactive experience for visitors, said founder Tristan Wright.

Keys to this expansion means adding on to personnel and expanding varieties in house.

“These decisions stem from our commitment to staying at the forefront of the cider industry,” Wright said. “(We are) continuously evolving to meet and exceed the expectations of our customers.

“Our focus is on enhancing our liquid offerings, expanding our team, and reimagining our physical spaces. We’re particularly excited about the re-release of Pixie Dust which will be our first semi-sweet cider using Phantasm yeast and butterfly pea flower.” 

Stone Circle Cider is also working to invest in a significant tasting room expansion on its farm. Dan Lawrence said the tasting room in northwest Oregon’s best outlet to connect with and educate customers. 

“Our goal is to be able to offer a compelling and comfortable place for our customers to interact with the brand,” Lawrence said.

Old is New Again

Over the past few years, Graft Cider has run the gamut when it comes to flavors. Things like guava kiwi slushie cider, apricot mochi cider, hopped lactose dreamsicles, and coffee chocolate mead ciders gave, what Media Director Sae Kenney called “a bit of Four Loko energy.” 

“Maybe it’s just us gracefully aging into our 30s, but we’ve decided to move away from the nostalgia and deserty-flavored ciders,” Kenney said.

The company is moving into a new era and with a new 16,000-square-foot facility the ability to process more raw ingredients has given the brand a new look at traditional styles. 

“We are excited to transition our limited — and high-end — line towards more natural and spontaneous methods of making cider,” Kenney said. A new box truck will allow Graft to pick fruit from local farms in bulk and the added space means a more robust barrel program.⁠ 

A brand from Graft like Native has always been a passion project and they expect big things for the cider. Fermented using heirloom apples and the yeast and bacteria on the skins, Native is aged in oak for nine months, blended with the cidery’s foeder using traditional blending methods and bottle conditioned for three more months before its release.

“The sheer amount of resources it takes us to source, press, ferment, age, and condition this spontaneous natural cider is more than you would think,” Kenney said. “Native is our homage to natural cider making. Native is light-bodied and rustic, with all the quirks of natural wine.”

Less is More?

Winchester Ciderworks decided to carry less products through its distributors and concentrate on three core brands with a seasonal rotator added to variety packs. This, explained co-owner Stephen Schuurman, was based on making core products the focus in growing as a brand and get them into as many stores as possible without overly confusing suppliers and customers alike.

“With the emphasis being placed on our most successful core brands, we decided to take a look at which states we wanted to concentrate on in our footprint and devote more time, energy and finances towards them,” he said. “Our home market of Virginia was obviously No. 1 and with a new contract signed in North Carolina with Johnson Brothers-Mutual, we will make this our second targeted market. 

“We will still be working in our other markets with the same attention but these two states will take priority.”

The plan for 2023 was to move to a bigger facility in 2023 but Schuurman told Brewer that finding somewhere suitable was very problematic. 

READ MORE: Cider Corner: What to Watch for When Switching Locations

With the addition of an experienced national accounts manager, Winchester Ciderworks aims to target far more retail chains. This has already proved to be fruitful as they already have had success by gaining placements in Sam’s Club, Safeway, Giant and AAFES stores.

“These decisions were made mainly by the fact we have strong faith in our products and brand and we literally wanted to put our money — and the banks’ — where our mouth is,” he said.

KISS Still Works

Remember the old saying? Keep It Simple, Stupid. Sometimes it can come down to the easiest ideas.

How to do all this? Adam Ruhland of Wild State says that means continuing to focus on quality products and growing the brand’s core. 

“Craft has been taking hits in 2023 and it may continue in 2024 so we believe it’s important to help our distributors focus by keeping things simple,” he said.

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