Cider Corner Q&A: Gregory Johnson, ANXO Cider

This is a part of a monthly series of Q&As with members of the cider community from across the U.S.​ ​Brewer Magazine will share business and personal insights from decision makers in the cider industry to help you get to know each other better and learn more to better develop your own brand.

Gregory Johnson, Head Cidermaker​,​ ANXO Cider​ — Washington DC​

​BREWER: ​How do you feel your job has had to adapt in the craft beverage market compared to a few years ago?
JOHNSON: ​I have worked directly at and with a few different cideries over the past six years. I was originally inspired by traditional form, that is how I entered the cider industry. After working for a company that bit off more than they could chew, I found myself working for a cidery that made flavored products. Eventually, that didn’t sit well with me and I went off on my own working independently for a couple years with a few different cideries before heading down to ANXO. The original founders of ANXO and myself are well aligned with making ciders from only apples, celebrating apples like winemakers celebrate grape varietals. We see the apple as an agricultural product rather than a commodity. We work hard to try and show this to people, however, the market is very commodity and new-flavor driven so we have comprised marketing and packaging to put what we make in front of people. It isn’t so much that we think cans are an inferior packaging vessel, but they perform and present better than 750mL bottles and other larger formats at volume. We focus just as hard on our marketing with brand development as we do cider. Luckily we have a talented team to tackle this.

​BREWER: ​Who is your mentor in the industry and why? What have you learned from them?
JOHNSON: ​I can’t even begin to list all the mentors I have and had. It all started working with Ryan Burk at Virtue Cider when he hired me into the operation at Virtue. Since then I have acquired many mentors, advisers, etc. Eleanor Leger is another prominent figure and her contemporaries have been very insightful for me. There is also Tim Larsen at Snowdrift Cider, who has helped me with redfleshed juice amongst other cidermaking aspects. Then there is Dan Haykin, Andy Brennen, Paul Vander Heide, Jim Koan, Andy Seitsma, Jason Lummen, Ian Radogast-Givens, Andy Zalewski, Seth Boeve, Charlie Burt, and many others over the years I have consorted and concocted with that in bits and pieces put together what I am doing now. For all of them named and not named, I am grateful.

​BREWER: Can you share a success story that you are proud of in your job or maybe a story of how you learned from a situation that has altered your thoughts on how you do your job now?
JOHNSON: For a success story, I think I will go back to the first batch of cider made at the Kennedy St. ANXO location. Prior to my arrival, I was presented with 1,000 gallons of GoldRush juice that had to go into a fermenter. I had to direct novice individuals from 500 miles away how not to mess it up. So, after getting lab results, measurements, and so on, I came up with a simple plan to place the juice in a stainless steel tank and pitch a common yeast strain called QA-23 into the juice. This is how Cidre Blanc was born. We have been making this cider from Day 1 and it is our biggest seller. I do have other success stories such as we have served cider in the UK for two years running now and we have been expanding into new markets. We have also grown from 1,000 to 100,000 gallons a year in just over two years of production, partly due to Cidre Blanc (I will need to verify numbers more precisely).

​BREWER: ​Can you touch on something your cidery has added lately that’s unique or making your business more successful (it could be equipment, technology or people)?
JOHNSON: ​I think the one thing that makes our cidery special is that we are strictly apples only and a growing scale. There are many cideries (many that are better than mine) making apples-only cider, but I am scratching my head to think who might be doing it at the volume level we are. Beyond that, it is the people. The management team at ANXO, I think, is a great balance of talents and ambition. We all have a similar focus in mind but also bring many very different talents to the table. Rachel does a lot of event planning and personnel management; Cooper does all of our graphic design and helps run our main restaurant; Alex is making bodega-style food at our cidery while running the menu at the main restaurant; Sam is making sure we all stay in line with a similar vision and doing sales; and Jason helps with all our administrative needs. In truth though, we all do a lot more than those short descriptions. We run two restaurants and two cideries at the moment so there is a lot of work involved.

​BREWER: ​If you had one business strategy that you could implement to better the craft cider industry, what would it be?
JOHNSON: ​I’m not the person for business strategy, but I would advocate people to stop playing into the games of flavors, hard seltzers, etc. To me, these games are distractive from real creativity and harm the agricultural nature of cider.

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