Cider Corner: How Bombshell Carved a Niche in the Finger Lakes

Not every cider brand starts out as a devoted cider company. Sometimes an experiment by a company in other areas of the adult beverage industry can yield a product that resonates with cider lovers.

If you’re curious about trying out cider and are a brewery or winery with your own taproom or tasting room, it may be worth your while to give it a go. Justin Paolicelli, co-founder and VP of Production for Three Brothers Wineries and Estates — which owns War Horse Brewing and Bombshell Cider — did just that a decade ago when trying to make sure their Finger Lakes destination had products to appeal to all palates.

“I was just a winemaker at the time,” said Paolicelli, who said the way Bombshell Cider got started was pretty simple. “I called Red Jacket Orchards — which is still our current supplier — and I got a couple of totes. I got 250 gallons of apple juice, and 250 gallons of raspberry juice and co-fermented them. I got some kegging equipment and put them on the tap at the brewery.”

What happened next at War Horse Brewing Company was something that surprised the winemaker.

“It sold like crazy,” he said. “People loved it.”

Since then, War Horse Brewing Company has continued to carry Bombshell in its taproom, although the product is now also sold in cans and has had between 25-30 different SKUs since its creation.

While laws per state may vary, Three Brothers had some things working in its favor. One, it already had a taproom to debut its product and a winery license under which it could produce the cider. When it was smaller, Bombshell was produced at the winery on the estate. As its notoriety grew, it became big enough that it factored into War Horse’s decision to stop making its beer at a contract brewery and build a facility that could function as both a cidery and brewery.

“We were stacking tractor trailers of cider juice between 3,000-6,000 gallons into our wine cellar and it got to the point that the production was too big to keep it in the wine cellar,” Paolicelli said.

The original apple cider and raspberry cider are both still made today in the production facility on site and served in the beer taproom. Three Brothers has no plans to build a separate tasting room for Bombshell and doesn’t need to, Paolicelli said.

“We’ve gained a following and we’ve been consistent with the product we’ve delivered, which is a semisweet to sweet cider with flavors added,” he noted. “It’s a sweet spot for people.”

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