In her first time writing for PRK, Megan Riesz, a BU journalism student who interns for The Christian Science Monitor, brings us behind the scenes of Downeast Cider House, founded by three college graduates just one year ago in Waterville, ME.
Ross Brockman and Tyler Mosher used to wake up at 7 AM to study for the GMATs. But one morning, Mosher turned to Brockman and admitted he hadn’t looked at the test materials for two weeks.
“I was like, ‘me neither,’” Brockman said in a phone interview. “This was a turning point for us.”
Instead of pouring their efforts into getting into business school, the two former Bates College graduates – along with another former classmate, Ben Manter – were in the midst of building Downeast Cider House, a hard cider company currently based in Waterville, ME, but set to relocate to Leominster, MA, in two weeks’s time.
In their senior year at Bates, the trio realized “none of [them] wanted to get real jobs,” as Brockman put it. While having dinner with Mosher’s father one night, they talked about job prospects, what they wanted to do, where they wanted to go upon graduation day.
Manter then voiced his frustration about not finding good cider anywhere outside of the apple orchard he grew up on in Vassalboro, Maine.
“We went back to the dorm and started talking about it,” Brockman said. “It had a life of its own.”
Brockman and Manter were no strangers to cider, having attended the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. There, “cider played a much bigger role in bars and restaurants…than we’d ever seen in the United States,” according to Brockman. They saw an opportunity gap in the U.S. market for cider that didn’t taste “like apple juice with alcohol in it.”
The team settled on Leominster as the best city for their new production facility. But moving is no easy feat, since Brockman, Manter and Mosher are already working 15-hour days as in-house electricians, marketers, lawyers and their own sales representatives. And, like any start-up, Downeast Cider isn’t exactly flush with cash. As of now, their ciders are only available on tap in cities like Portland and Brunswick.
“The revenue comes with canning our cider and selling it in stores in cans. We don’t make any money from the draught accounts,” Brockman said. “It’s very difficult to get draught accounts, especially…where there’s a lot of beer companies fighting tooth and nail. For now, we’re kind of setting everything up to be in a good position.”
That includes perfecting their recipes and expanding. Downeast Cider currently sells Original Blend – a farm cider made with fresh local apples, available on tap and in a bottle – and is close to launching a Cranapple option with a dry snap of cranberry. The team also plans on experimenting with different fruits and Belgium yeasts.
Making cider is similar to making wine, Brockman said. When they’re running out of product, he and his partners send 300-gallon tanks to a local apple farm, where workers fill them up with fresh-peppered sweet cider and bring them back to Downeast Cider. There, the trio adds yeast, natural sugars and other ingredients to produce alcohol. After the allotted time, the cider is dumped into another tank where it gets carbonated and, at last, funneled into kegs.
Brockman and his team hope to get more popular when they move to Massachusetts, even if it takes some time.
“We want to be available on draught and in stores – nothing outside of the biggest companies,” he said. “This is a real job.”
Megan can be reached via Twitter @meganriesz