An Urban Cidery Startup: Vol. 1

This is Chad Kimmel, co-owner of Grand Illusion Hard Cider.  My wife, Andrea, and I are developing a hard cider startup in Carlisle, PA, which will open in January 2018.  I wanted to use this blog series as a vehicle to outline both our story and the journey of starting an urban cidery.  We’ve met many others who have the same goal, and thought this would help others shorten the very expensive, and steep, learning curve.  Many people in the industry have helped us and we are incredibly grateful.  This is our way of paying it forward.  We encourage both questions and comments.

Like many others, we day-dreamed of creating a business around something we loved.  It started with wine; we both adore it.  We drank it, read about it, visited it, and throughout the year, produced and bottled it in five-gallon batches in the basement.  It began in 1996 with my subscription to Wine Enthusiast magazine.  After that, I began to devour the subject of wine.  As a couple living in Michigan, we tripped into the craft beer movement with our introduction to Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo, but we continued experiencing wine wherever we went in the state.  Over ten years later, and now back in PA, I entered the founding class of HACC’s new Enology Program in the fall of 2010.  My experience left me with a stark impression of both the industry and practice of winemaking.  Simply put, I didn’t have the financial resources, nor the experience, to make my brand stand out from the crowd.  I am sure I could make good wine, but I had higher expectations.  Mediocracy is no longer a stable business model today.  Nonetheless, I kept reading and networking and filing away information into a stadium of manila folders.

Then Angry Orchard hit.  I think it was sometime in 2011 or early 2012.  I was personally trying to avoid gluten and was looking for a lighter, less alcohol alternative to beer and wine.  IPAs were crazy and so were the ABVs.  I jumped into hard cider and was consumed by the story, its history–our national history–and found that our land-of-love–The Finger Lakes in New York–was producing great hard cider along with incredible wine (we just love Rieslings).  We found our way to The Finger Lakes Cider House, and, essentially, fell into the deep end of the pool of hard cider.  After many flights, and a bottle of everything in our trunk, we returned home and began ordering every book on cider.  Our trips to nearby states would not be complete unless we hit up a local bottle shop and left with at least one box full of local cider.  I learned about the hard cider workshops put on by the Penn State Extension Service in Adams County in 2015 and haven’t looked back.  The beauty of hard cider is that, as an industry, it is not big yet, and so people are still very friendly, warm and approachable.  With a national association, pod casts, local and regional festivals, new books and a professionally edited magazine called Cidercraft, we could see that hard cider was climbing fast.  But as an industry, it remained open and undefined.  The market was big and getting bigger every year, but competition was limited and the canvas was blank.  Oh, and since cider is made like wine but can be sold and consumed and marketed like beer (thank you Portland Oregon), we saw a path and took it.  But we are not walking; we are now running.

Oops, our glass is empty.  Time to refill.  To Be Continued ………………

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