Cider Corner: The Questions You Should be Asking About Your Cooperage

Obviously, it’s been a weird year, and planning for any on-premise sales can be tricky. Many bars and restaurants usually don’t hold many cider lines so fighting for that tap handle is a difficult task as well.

Knowing the best business solution for your cidery can vary from city to city and state to state, but some cideries shared some insights with Brewer on how they have made choices to help others come up with ideal situations for them.

​Jarrod Carter wishes there was some good advice or a cure-all for cooperage but it’s an issue for everyone in the craft beverage industry​.

“There isn’t a great answer no matter what you do​,” the Director of Operations for High Limb Cider said​. ​”​They go missing and disappear constantly so be prepared to lose a good chunk of your fleet on a yearly basis.​”

Here are some questions to ask as you decide how you work with cooperage can work for your cidery.

Purchasing concerns?

​Jackie Annise, the co-owner of Urban Tree Cidery said they learned ​their lesson the hard way​.

​​”​We always knew we did not want to lease kegs so initially, in an attempt to keep manufacturing costs to a minimum, we decided to use one-way kegs​,” she said. ​”​However, distributors do not like these​,​ nor do retail accounts as they need to be handled and stored a little differently.​”

After ​one​ year of getting distribution off the ground, ​Urban Tree made the gradual switch to purchasing all of ​its own fleet of kegs.

​Saro Cider decided to purchase kegs because ​owner Tracy Sanford said ​long​-​term costs were less than leasing​ and initially, most of ​the Lincoln, Nebraska cidery’s product would be distributed locally for easy returns of kegs.

​Sanford said for someone looking to purchase kegs to ask questions ​such as​:

  • ​What percentage of sales will be in kegs vs. package?
  • ​Do you have room to store empty kegs?

​Swilled Dog Hard Cider started out owning ​its cooperage in the beginning but ​co-founder Brooke Glover ​quickly realized it was a pain for ​its out​-​of​-​state distributors.

​”​It was an immediate red flag when speaking with new distributors about new markets​,” she said. So ​the cidery decided to go to the pay-per-fill system and it has worked out ​’​beautifully​’ according to Glover​.

​”Going pay-per-fill makes it a lot easier to project keg needs,” she said.​

If you lease or rent​ kegs​, you are paying a lot for them ​and Carter said to be prepared to lose a large amount of your margin.

​”​There are numerous tracking programs, but they don’t really prevent you from losing cooperage, they more just help you figure out how much goes missing​,” he said​. ​”​The only real rebuke you have is to ensure you’re charging deposits to help recoup lost kegs.​”​

​Kegs per account?​

It’s hard to figure out kegs per handle in today’s bar landscape.

‘Rotation Nation’ took over a while back and often leads to one keg per handle which is the worst-case scenario,” Carter said. “The best way is to try and hold on to that spot in a draft line up for an extended amount of time.”

High Limb attempts this by first making sure it establishes a personal connection with every account and by having new, innovative, and exciting offerings so they can continue to rotate if that is what makes their business successful but keep it within the High Limb profile.

If you are looking at a more stable line, Sanford and Annise suggest working closely with your distributor to determine an appropriate amount of kegs to dedicate to each account.

​”We estimated four kegs per handle but as cider has a smaller market share, we probably need two per handle,” Sanford said.

​Added Annise: ​”​We work very closely with our distributor who figures 5-6 kegs per handle and handles the logistics for us.​”​

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