Cider Corner: Elements to Consider When Creating a Premium Line

Showcasing specific apple varieties was top of mind for Justin Paolicelli, Vice President and VP of Production of Three Brothers Wineries and Estates, when creating Bombshell Cider’s new Premium Series in collaboration with Red Jacket Orchards.

“Most of our Bombshell lineup is made from a base cider that combines several common varieties — with the Premium series we wanted to expose the consumer to some of the more nuanced flavors that individual varieties present,” Paolicelli said. “Very similar to how different grape varieties have certain specific characteristics that are recognizable, we wanted to showcase those same characteristics for the specific apple varieties that Red Jacket has been growing for decades.”  

Paolicelli and Aaron Roisen, head wine and cider maker at Three Brothers, were discussing the interesting aspects of varietal expression in wines throughout the Finger Lakes when they wondered why there wasn’t more of a focus on specific apple varieties. The first release in the series was made with Gold Rush apples. Granny Smith will be released in July, followed by Fuji in the fall.

“Sweet-tart apples like Gold Rush are great in hard cider because they bring a more complex flavor than a simply sweet apple, and the spicy flavor of the Gold Rush gives the cider more depth.”  said Brian Nicholson, Red Jacket President/CEO/Owner. 

New offerings from cideries carrying the labels “premium” and “reserve” that seem to be appealing to educated/curious/evolving palates. However, Paolicelli said that they could be a tough sell with the typical cider customer and difficult for a volume cidery to center its business around.

“The consumer base is small and it might be tough to hang your business hat on dry ciders alone,” he explained. “Bombshell has gained a substantial following through our semi dry and sweet ciders. The marketing has to be there, the tasting experience should be enjoyable and the makers should have a clear end goal in mind for their target audience.”

The Bombshell Premium series was expected to have wide crossover appeal, he said.

“Anyone who appreciates hard cider, wine or beer will find the premium series interesting,” Paolicelli continued. “These ciders were crafted by winemakers — the juice handling, fermentation and blending techniques are rooted in white wine making.  This series is clean cut and to the point — if you love the sweet crisp crunch of a Granny Smith apple — those flavors are carried over in the finished product. We hope to continue showcasing different varieties and possibly vintage variation and site selection could come into play.”

Red Jacket has been cold-pressing juice for over 65 years. They began as a local fruit farm but have grown to a nationally recognized brand of superior quality fruit products. 

“(Collaborating with) Red Jacket was a no-brainer — Brian and his team are friendly and dedicated to their craft,” Paolicelli said. “They have access to some of the best orchards New York State has to offer. Once we bounced the idea off Brian, light bulbs started going off between both companies. We sampled several apple varieties in the fruit form, then worked with Cornell at the Food Technology farm to process small lots of several varieties — we brought the juice back, conducted small scale ferments and could tell that their fruit was what we wanted to work with. As far as other collaborations, we love new ideas and new products that push the envelope and what’s currently being done.”  

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