Ash & Elm Cider Co.

Rooted in Tradition. Crafted for Today.

The Time Has Come: We're Releasing our Cider in Cans!

Folks who have been following our blog for a while know that we've been planning to can our cider since the beginning, and that a lot goes into turning that decision into a reality. Well, it's finally happening - we have our cider in cans and we're about to start selling them!

I wanted to take a moment to pull back the curtain on what key things we've done to set ourselves up for canning success (hopefully!).

1. Design, design, design!

As you know, we've talked before about how much good design means to us and our brand. We attribute a lot of our early success to having a logo that is well-designed and a tasting room that's beautiful and conveys that we care about our customers and our products. The same is true with cans - in fact, even more-so, because their reach will be much greater than just the small segment of people who come to the near-Eastside of Indianapolis to our tasting room. 

That being said, we stuck with our trusty designer, Amy McAdams, for our can design. And what a great decision that was -- look at them!

Photo credit: Kelley Jordan Schuyler of Skyler Creative

Photo credit: Kelley Jordan Schuyler of Skyler Creative

We're totally in love with how they turned out.

2. Gotta nail that price-point.

We've spent a long time working on what our price point should be for these canned ciders. It can't be too low, or else we wouldn't make enough of a profit for cans to be a sustainable part of our business. But if they're too expensive, we might exclude some potential fans. We decided that we want our price point to be in the 'Q3' price range when compared with other available packaged ciders. What does that mean? 

If you look at the normal distribution image below, we want our ciders to be priced between the '0' and the '+1'. In other words, we're going to be more expensive than a fair amount of packaged ciders out there - we have to be: we're small, we don't use concentrate or added flavors, and we let the cider ferment slowly enough to develop some complexity of character. Our cider is higher quality, and therefore more expensive, than some other brands (Q1 and Q2 pricing). It's also less expensive than a different batch of brands because we don't use heirloom juice for all of our ciders, nor do we age them for months, for example (Q4 pricing).

normal distribution.jpg

Nailing the price point is hard and requires more than just math. It helps build your brand and tell your story, too. 

3. Generate some buzz.

If you're launching a new product that you want to be a big part of your company, you need people, a LOT of people, to know about it. We've already got a pretty strong social media following, but to really generate buzz, we decided to send out a press release and have two separate launch parties.

Press releases aren't necessarily the most exciting thing to write, and compiling a good list of industry and local news people takes time and effort. But take that time and effort, get someone with experience to look it over, and send the news out. Hoping that local news will pick up on your product launch from seeing your social media feeds isn't realistic - those guys are busy and you need to give them the words to say, the images to use, and  advanced notice. Here's a great article about how to write a good press release.

Our two launch parties include one invite-only soft launch, geared specifically at retailers, and one for the general public. The retailer product launch is a way for us to get our cider into the hands of the people who we want to sell it. We're inviting them to our tasting room with the assumption that most of them have never been before. We're providing them with free samples, a tour of our space, and time with leadership to ask any questions they might have about our ciders and our company. We'll also having marketing materials on display so they know that we're committed to helping them sell our cider in their stores. If you can get retailers on your side and give them a story to tell their customers, they will be a lot more likely to recommend your product compared to a similar brand.

Finally, the release party for everyone else is just a big, fun day geared at getting folks excited about what we're doing. We're offering discounts on 4-packs and even deeper discounts on cases, along with tours of our production facility and a Q&A with the cidermakers. If I'd been on the ball a bit sooner, I would've also had a new line of merchandise to unveil, but alas, that will have to wait until the summer. Our goal is to get as many people there as possible, especially new customers.

All of this being said, click here to visit the event page for details for our canning release party, and as always, thanks for reading!

Making Our 2018 Scrumpy

Today's blog is from co-founder and head cidermaker, Aaron! Enjoy!

I've been meaning to write with some more depth on our cidermaking for a long time now, and the day has finally come! This year's small batch Scrumpy gives me a great reason to do so, as there is a lot of time and love behind this special cider.

Similar to last year's version, this year's is a blend of very small batches from the previous year's harvest. We worked again with our friends just up north of Indianapolis at Doud Orchards to get limited pressings of single variety juice, from mostly heirloom apples such as Golden Russet, Rubinette, Northern Spy and Gold Rush. Apples like Golden Russet and Northern Spy have been grown in the US for hundreds of years, and were often used for cider. Gold Rush is more a recent variety, developed at our own Purdue University in 1973. It is also a fantastic eating apple, and one of my personal favorites. Please look for it at your orchard or farmer's market and give it a try.

Once we had this great juice to start with, we let these ferment naturally, without added yeast. This choice, combined with low temperatures in the cellar over the winter, led to a long, slow fermentation. This often results in greater complexity (from the wild, more diverse yeast population), as well as cider with more aromatic and apple varietal character (from the slow, gradual fermentation). It requires constant vigilance, though, as the wild yeast may go awry. This patient, natural yeast fermentation is generally how a classic, English 'scrumpy' would be made in the apple-growing countrysides.

We sampled along the way and kept notes about how each variety looked, smelled and tasted. The diversity was really exciting! Some were tart and citrus-y. Some were rich, wine-like and maybe even a bit smoky. Some smelled of pineapple, or baked apples.


This picture above shows a sampling session from early spring 2017, just after primary fermentation ended. You can see how some have cleared up as the yeast dropped out of suspension, while others are still quite cloudy with yeast or apple particulates.

One last thing we've done to make Scrumpy special is in the blending. Inspired by the 'solera' method used primarily in Spanish Sherry wine, we've taken some of last year's Scrumpy and included it in this year's blend. The solera system is traditionally a method of blending across the years (or vintages) to have a more uniformly aged final product. A pyramid-like stack of barrels is filled at the top with new wine, then a portion taken each year and moved into the next row down. By the bottom row, you have a wine (or cider!) that is a mixture of each of the years above it, as well as a bit of all the years past, as none of the barrels are ever completely emptied. While we don't have a traditional stack of barrels to do this (at least, not yet!), we plan to keep back some of 2018 Scrumpy to blend again in 2019.

A Solera of Sherry wine casks. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

A Solera of Sherry wine casks. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

The final 2018 Scrumpy blend is made up roughly of 1/3 last year's Scrumpy and 2/3 heirloom small batch fermentations of Gold Rush, Golden Russet, Rubinette and Suncrisp. It is layered in aroma and flavors, with good acidity and an off-dry hint of sweetness. I primarily note very ripe apple, pineapple, and a hint of hay. We hope you enjoy it!

Starting a Barrel-Aging Program

One of the main things we did when we were planning our business was to try as many different ciders as we could get our hands on. From traditional British Scrumpy ciders to more standard sweet ciders to the very esoteric 'brisket' cider someone made (truly), we were willing to try them all.

While we were both familiar with (and big fans of) barrel-aged beers, barrel-aged ciders were a bit harder to warm up to. Because cider is such a delicate drink, and the liquors that are often used to barrel-age products are intense in flavor, we found that a lot of the barrel-aged ciders we tried were either too light on the cider flavor, or we could hardly tell there was a barrel-aged component to them. Aaron summed it up best when he said he either felt like he was drinking a watered down glass of bourbon or a glass of cider that was way more expensive than it should've been.

Always a scientist, and always striving to achieve his all-time-most-desired compliment of 'well-balanced', Aaron set out to make a barrel-aged cider that had a distinct apple flavor while standing up to the more intense flavors that barrel-aging can impart. 

Here are some of the key considerations when barrel-aging a cider.

9oz Glass Rum Barrel.jpg

1) Pick your style carefully. Bourbon is a go-to barrel-aging option, but its strong flavors of oak and vanilla can overpower a delicate cider. Ciders that would stand up better to bourbon barrel-aging would be those that are higher in alcohol content, tannin, or bitter-sharp profiles. In our case, we've bourbon barrel-aged a pumpkin cider that includes baking spices and real pumpkin, so there's additional heft to stand up to the bourbon. On the other hand, rum barrels impart a lighter, fruitier, and brown sugar character to cider, so it can work better with a lighter option. Kingston Storm, a rum barrel-aged cider we released last month, had a standard version and a version infused with pineapple and toasted coconut. The rum notes paired really well with these fruity flavors.

2) Blending can make or break the final product. For Kingston Storm, we got four rum barrels and found there was a huge difference between each of them. The ciders that came out ranged from lightly to very potently rum-infused even though they started out the same. Aaron and Joseph experimented with the blend from these four barrels to come up with a cider that was better than any of the sums of its parts, and made the finished product a much more rounded, nuanced, and complex cider than it would have been straight from the barrel.

Kingston Storm.jpg

3) Add some finishing touches. Despite your best efforts, your barrel-aged cider may be missing that apple-y character you were hoping for, or the oak from the barrel may be imperceptible. It's time to add some finishing touches! Maybe you need to add a bit of fresh apple juice to the blend to up the apple aroma and sweetness. Maybe you get some oak chips and let them steep for another week or two. Perhaps you need to make slight adjustments to the acidity levels. Be willing to tinker a bit to get the product that you envisioned when you began.

4) Consider what your packaging communicates. Last but not least, packaging and pricing is key for barrel-aged ciders. It costs a lot of money to buy quality barrels, get them shipped to your warehouse, and then store them for months while the cider ages. Figure out what your investment has been, and then work backwards to find out the price you need to make per bottle to make it profitable. At that point, consider packaging and marketing your finished product in a way that conveys its value. If you need to make $15 per bottle, convey that with high-end packaging. We decided to sell 750 mL bottles individually, with three embossed labels, for $18 apiece. 

There's a lot more to be said about barrel-aging. Stay tuned, because Aaron is going to go deeper into the technical and logistical components of barrel-aging in our next blog. Cheers!


What We Learned in Our First Year of Business

Some time has passed since the last blog post. Like, five months. We blame it on kicking things into high gear as we launched distribution in Indianapolis and also looked ahead into spring and summer, our busiest season. With all that going on, quite a landmark has passed without much mention: we celebrated one year of business on June 25th, 2017!

Over the last couple of weeks, we've been reflecting on the year that passed (in a whirlwind!). Here are some of the most important things we learned in our first year of business, from the practical to the personal:

Make your tasting room amazing. The tasting room should be the hub of your business. It's where people get to try all of your products on your terms. It increases the likelihood that they'll find something they love, they'll get talk to knowledgeable staff about your products, and they'll experience the ambiance you've spent so much time creating. If a customer tries a cider at a bar and doesn't like it, she'll probably be willing to try a different one later on down the line. But if a customer comes to your tasting room and has a bad experience, you've probably lost her for life. 

Creating a beautiful brand and space is worth the time and money. We've already talked about how we outsourced our logo design and tasting room design to professionals. It was money spent up front, but it was totally worth it. We sell more merchandise because our brand is beautiful. People recognize our logo, even if they haven't had our ciders before. And the number of people who visit and mention that they came in because a friend took a picture of our tasting room and posted it on social media has been SHOCKING. You can't pay for that kind of advertising. Almost every picture looks like this: 

Get the right people on your team. We have really lucked out with having an amazing staff. First and foremost we've tried to make Ash & Elm Cider Co. a great place to work by valuing the individual strengths of each employee, asking for their feedback (and listening to it!), and having fun together.

There were a few months toward the beginning of our business that we realized our pay scale may have been set up differently than it could have been, because we based our employee pay on talking to brewery friends who did predominantly carry-out sales. Our tasting room was closer to a restaurant than a taproom, so our employees were getting a lot of tips, rather than solely their hourly pay. We considered several options to bring them closer to industry standards but after a while we realized, you know what? This is a GREAT problem to have, and providing better pay to employees encourages them to stay with us and work hard. The amount of pride, dedication, and buy-in we have from our team is truly gratifying.

Shockingly, we've added six new team members since this picture was taken!

Shockingly, we've added six new team members since this picture was taken!

Recognize when it's time to shift your focus. As a first-time business owner and also the only owner around day-to-day (this is Andrea writing - Aaron still has his day job), my 'job' has changed a LOT over the past year. After we opened, my focus was on figuring out recipes, how to run a kitchen, creating systems to make sure things ran smoothly, and making sure we were staffed every night. I worked in the tasting room about 20-30 hours a week. I was In Charge of Everything. Then I realized that our team knows what they're doing, and me being involved in the day-to-day operations made their jobs less interesting and kept me from doing other important things. So, I've shifted again. Now, I'm trying to grow external sales and distribution. I'm focusing on creating strategic partnerships. I'm looking up from the day-to-day and looking out into the future. I don't actually know what's going on in our tasting room every day. I regularly get asked about events we're hosting that I didn't even know were in the works, and that's the way it should be after a year.

Learn when it's time to stop. I actually only had four items for this list. So, I'll stop here.

Thanks for following along with us on our first year of business, and now that I've shifted my focus away from the daily operations, look forward to more frequent blogs and updates on our website again! Cheers!

What Goes In To Packaging Cider?

A question we hear a lot - both from customers in our tasting room and bars and restaurants now that we're distributing - is when we'll start packaging our cider. At the moment, we only sell our cider on draft to bars and restaurants, which limits the number of accounts we can have. We only sell growlers out of the tasting room, which have a pretty limited shelf life compared to buying a bottle or a can. So we get why a packaged cider is a good move.

As usual with running a business (and with most things in life), a lot more goes into this decision than meets the eye. Here's a breakdown of some of the decisions we have to make if we want to package our cider.

Here are just some of the canned ciders on the market these days. Notice any trends?

Here are just some of the canned ciders on the market these days. Notice any trends?

The Moving Parts:

  1. What format? Cans or bottles? What size? Six packs, four packs, or singles?  Right now, at least in Indianapolis, the 'tallboy' 16 oz. cans are the most common package format for craft breweries, but we normally serve our cider in 12 oz. pours. A unique bottle shape may look sexy on the shelf, but distributors and liquor stores like to have the same footprint so that they can stack cases of different products efficiently. Lots of decisions to make and we've barely even scratched the surface.
  2. What equipment? Obviously, in order to can or bottle your cider, you need a canning or bottling line. You can buy a canning line for as little as $80,000 (great deal!), or go the mobile canning route if you're in an area that has one (Indianaplis has a few mobile canning options). If we pursued packaging, we have to consider that, unlike beer, cider needs to be Pasteurized after packaging so you don't get cans or bottles exploding on shelves. We would need to buy, borrow, or build a Pasteurizer, which would take time and money. And with every large equipment upgrade, you also need more hoses, clamps, fittings, valves, and on and on. 
  3. What price point? Generally speaking, you want your cider to be priced within a dollar or two of the other products they sit next to on a liquor store shelf. So...where will liquor stores want to position our cider? If they want to place us next to Angry Orchard, we might have trouble, because we can't beat their price. If they want to put us next to a 750 mL bottle of French cider, ours might look like an inferior product if it isn't also in a 750 mL bottle. A higher price conveys a better product, but too high and people will be irritated if the cider isn't worth the extra few dollars, or they'll never pick it up. 
  4. What design? You want your package to look good, represent your brand well, stand out in a lineup of dozens of other similar products, be inoffensive yet unique, and convey a lot of important information. Much like creating our logo, this is something we will definitely have to outsource. We can recognize what we like, but we don't know how to make it. So some lucky company will have the joy of translating our constantly-evolving yet highly specific design ideas into something that ticks all of the boxes.
  5. What regulations? One of my pet projects is talking about crazy governmental regulations that our business falls under. However we package our cider, there are literally four sets of differing regulations we'd have to adhere to. If it's under 7% and staying in the state, we have to follow FDA food labeling regulations. If it's over 7% and crossing state lines, we have to follow FDA and one subset of TTB regulations. So we have to know what regulations our cider will fall under, and then figure out what they even mean. Here is one of the regulations, put into common English instead of legal-speak:
Cider or Perry that is made effervescent by carbon dioxide at a level of 0.392 grams per 100mL or more must be labeled as “sparkling” or “carbonated,” depending on the method used to produce effervescence:
1. Sparkling cider/perry: CO 2 results solely from secondary fermentation within a closed container, tank, or bottle. 
2. Carbonated cider/perry: Obtains its effervescence through the use of CO 2 obtained otherwise, for example, by injection.

So, if you're ever in the tasting room or run in to one of us at an event and say, "Hey, when are you guys going to start canning!", first, the answer is hopefully soon, and second, please forgive us if our eyes glaze over for a few minutes before we respond.

Distribution, Part II

In Part I of our Distribution blog series, we outlined the difference between self-distribution and working with a distributor. In Indiana (and in most states), cideries fall under wine legislation, so we haven't been allowed to sell our cider outside of our tasting room without a distributor.

Okay, so here we are. We have a distributor (Craftroads Beverage)! Things are about to start happening! We both have the same goal: sell a lot of cider to bars and restaurants in town so that people know about us and become fans. Here's how the work breaks down:

The Distributor's Role

Craftroads Logo

The key things we want from a distributor are a commitment to quality, education, and us. Some bigger distributors would have a bigger footprint from the outset, but they'd also have more brands to sell. We were worried that we'd never get much of their focus. We went with Craftroads because they plan to have a relatively small book of business and want to work closely with their brands. We're kind of hands-on people, so this is music to our ears. 

The key job is for them to have a camaraderie with bars and restaurants and build trust with bar managers. Yes, selling our products is important, but knowing which accounts have the kind of customer bases that would buy craft cider and selling to them is more important. Selling our cider to a bar that can't sell it to their customers isn't a good thing. Placing our ciders at 20 good accounts is more important than placing it at 100 bad accounts.

Finally, there are a lot of logistics that the distributor has to manage - they coordinate and deliver multiple brands to multiple places, need to clean restaurant draft lines (surprisingly, this falls on the distributor, not the restaurant), and maintain accurate records. A good sales rep should know every bar manager in town, what time she likes to meet with reps, when she does inventory, places orders, likes deliveries to arrive, what products she normally orders and at what velocity she goes through product. Phew!

Our Role

Our job is to find the delicate balance of making enough cider to sell to our distributor while also having a good stock for our tasting room. We have to anticipate the growth curve so we aren't sitting on a bunch of inventory or running out of product. We also have to make each of our ciders consistent with the last batch, so that customers always get the same thing if they order a Sunset Tart Cherry, regardless of the bar.

We do sales support as well - the more we get out and check on accounts that keep our ciders on tap and visit new accounts we'd like to work with, the better. We can work directly with restaurants to do fun events like tap takeovers or pint nights. We can work with liquor stores to do samplings. All of these things are ways we can make sure a customer tries (and therefore, buys) our products. 

Your Role! 

Last but not least! You have a job as well! If you've been to the tasting room and can't wait to get some Ash & Elm Cider closer to home, start asking at the bars and restaurants you frequent. Ideal accounts are those that are locally/regionally owned, as usually bar managers get to decide what they put on tap. For example, it'd be a hard sell to get our products at Applebees; it'd be much easier to get us as the craft beer bar in Broad Ripple. When you see us on tap somewhere, order a cider! Tell your bartender that you love our ciders and you're so glad they carry us. The more consistently a product sells, the more likely an account is to order it again. 

We're really excited to be able to start this phase of our business. We've been working on getting distribution up and running since before we even opened, and now that we're here, we can't wait to see how our business grows around Indianapolis. 

Distribution, Part I

Folks that come into the cidery usually have a set of questions they progress through when they’re here:

  1. How long have you guys been open? (6 months)
  2. What did this building used to be? (A pharmacy. A meeting place for the Oddfellows. A strip club).
  3. Where else can we get your cider? (Nowhere. Yet…)

That third question always leads to more questions. The answer is – of course – more complicated than it seems. Here’s our attempt to explain the situation, in a two-part blog! Today is Part 1, which outlines the difference between self-distribution and working with a distributor.

First of all, the USA’s alcohol system is a ‘three tier system’, thanks, of course, to laws set up after the disaster that was Prohibition (where most weird alcohol laws come from). For more information about this system and its history, check out this great article over on Serious Eats.

  • Tier one is the manufacturer of the product – these are your breweries, wineries, distilleries, and cideries. Us!
  • Tier two is a distributor. These are companies that buy product from manufacturers at wholesale prices, and then sell them to retailers. In Indiana, we have Monarch Beverage, Cavalier, Zink, etc. who play this secondary role.
  • The third tier is then the retailer. This is where you as customers can come to get a drink. Think bars, restaurants, liquor stores, grocery stores, etc.

Every state has different liquor laws. In Indiana, micro-breweries can cut out the distribution tier up to a point (based on volume). If you’re familiar with Indiana alcohol laws, last year, Sun King Brewing Co. fought to raise the limit so that microbreweries can self-distribute a greater volume of beer before having to work with a distributor. So, microbreweries can self-distribute, and while most of them start with self-distribution, many of them decide to sign on with a distributor well before they hit the self-distribution ceiling in Indiana. There are some great reasons for that:

Why You Would Self-Distribute

Self-distribution sounds like a great deal, especially at the start. You can hop in the car, put a keg or two of your product in the back seat, drive to a bar, say, “Hey, want this?”, and if the answer is yes, you can pick up a check and leave the beer. Bam, you’re on tap at a local restaurant and are already growing the market for your product. You get to collect the retail price for your beer and take it home to the bank. As a startup, that extra profit can help you expand a lot faster than selling at the wholesale rate. Also, in brand new businesses, one or two people could probably handle all the distribution needs.

Bottom Line: Quick way to reach more customers, higher profit margin for the business.

Why You Would Work with a Distributor

Eventually, if things go well, you’ll need quite a team to keep up with the demand for your products. A fleet of vehicles, someone on staff who visits accounts with the sole purpose of cleaning draft lines, sales people to bring in new business and keep current customers happy, and multiple delivery drivers, not to mention someone to handle all of the logistics that come along with so many moving parts. A distributor would handle all of that for you in exchange for a portion of your profits. They will also likely expand your footprint because they have a wider reach and access to more varied accounts because of the multiple different brands they represent.  

Bottom Line: At a certain point, most breweries will end up working with a distributor because the extra reach will make up for the chunk of profits and the staffing needed to support self-distribution.

So, Back to Us…

              We tricked you – none of these laws actually apply to us because we aren’t a micro-brewery! Our legal classification is a Farm Winery, and in Indiana, Farm Wineries aren’t allowed to self-distribute at all. This explains why you can’t find our ciders on tap at bars and restaurants yet.

              Since we opened, we’ve known that we’d need a distributor to grow. We’ve met with many, sussed them out (this is an important partnership, after all), and negotiated contracts. As of TODAY, we have finally signed the all-important paperwork, which means that the time for us to start popping up around the city is near. Like…a few days away!

Next week, we’ll post a blog about what YOU as a cider fan can do to help us grow our business.

Thanks for coming along on this wild ride with us!

Cider: the Official Beverage of Thanksgiving

We've talked before on the blog about the rich history behind cider in the pre-Prohibition era United States. The Cliff's notes version is that the first settlers to the US from Europe brought along cider apple trees with them and quickly planted them across the country. Because water wasn't always safe to drink, the settlers made cider and drank that, both because it's delicious and fermentation kills any bugs.

It's with this history of cider being the US's first beverage that the United States Association of Cider Makers has launched the Pick Cider campaign, which is a movement focused on making cider the official beverage of Thanksgiving - kind of like Champagne is the official beverage of New Year's Eve and beer is the go-to for the 4th of July. 

One reason for the choice is the historical significance. Another is that cider pairs really well with food, particularly the kinds of foods that American's eat on Thanksgiving. 

We're celebrating Thanksgiving and embracing the Pick Cider campaign by releasing a bottled cider that we think would pair well with Thanksgiving dinner. If you come by our tasting room, we have a new seasonal on draft called Fieldstone, which is a semi-sweet, light-bodied farmhouse-style cider with hints of lemon, hay, and fresh apple. We've made a 'Reserve' version of Fieldstone that is slightly drier, oak-aged, and a bit funkier that would be a perfect for your Thanksgiving dinner.

The pre-labeled Fieldstone Reserve.

The pre-labeled Fieldstone Reserve.

When you buy a bottle of Fieldstone Reserve, you'll also get a few traditional Thanksgiving recipes that use our ciders as ingredients, like our Sunset Tart Cherry Spiked Cranberry Sauce or Dry Cider Turkey Gravy. 

We're excited to highlight how well cider goes with food, and how it can be used in a variety of recipes to add depth of flavor and subtle sweetness. 

Happy Thanksgiving, and thanks for being a part of the Pick Cider Movement!

Designing A Beautiful Space for Cider-Drinking

Without fail, guests that come into our tasting room mention how beautiful the space is. A lot of that is - of course - based on the awesome brick walls and archways that were already here when we got here. But we did make some (many, actually) design decisions, which we wanted to share with you all.

We have always had a pretty distinct vision for our brand (learn more about those in previous blogs about how we came up with our logo and the sign we had made for the building). We wanted clean, modern lines and decor. We wanted to enter the market with a fully-formed aesthetic instead of kind of fumbling into it after several false starts. That meant spending money at the outset on a graphic designer, marketing materials, and interior designers, but it was well worth it.  

The best decision was working with Heidi Lofton, a good friend and design student, who helped conceptualize and bring into fruition the ideas that we had. We had several meetings to talk through our vision for the space and based off of these conversations, she came up with everything you see in our tasting room today.

We started by picking a floorplan that would allow us to add seating in the future and show off some of Matthew Osborn's great furniture (more on that in a later blog).

Heidi helped us figure out ways to maximize the seating capacity while still making a comfortable space for gatherings.

Heidi helped us figure out ways to maximize the seating capacity while still making a comfortable space for gatherings.

Then we got to work putting together some ideas for finishings. Given how rustic and dark the interior of the building was, Heidi encouraged us to go with light, clean finishes, both for contrast and to help the natural features of the space stand out. That meant light, natural wood tables (made of ash, of course), extra-large white vertical subway tiles on the bar, so as not to conflict with the pattern of the brick, and a super-light concrete counter top. Heidi found some great seating options on and included them in her next sketches of the space.

Already surpassing my wildest dreams for the tasting room space.

Already surpassing my wildest dreams for the tasting room space.

We were all still on board with the vision, so Heidi created a complete rendering of the space, including artwork on the wall (hopefully coming soon!) and a window-bar that we will add sometime in the future. Here's the crazy thing - she had never actually been in the tasting room yet because it was still under major construction and we didn't have a key! If you've been in the tasting room, you'll be able to see how spot-on her renderings are.

Heidi's rendering, having never been into the building.

Heidi's rendering, having never been into the building.

The final product. Incredible!

The final product. Incredible!

Heidi also helped us come up with the idea for the light fixture over the standing bar, saving us literally thousands of dollars by using natural elements and building it ourselves instead of buying a more standard fixture. 

Sparse and natural homemade light fixture. Air plants and large Edison bulbs are an easy way to make something really nice!

Sparse and natural homemade light fixture. Air plants and large Edison bulbs are an easy way to make something really nice!

Lastly, our friends Jason and Lara who built us the awesome sign for outside of our space had a great surprise for us right before we opened. They had made the sign once, realized the weight of the aluminum was a little too light, and re-made it with a thicker piece of aluminum. They gave us the original piece to do with what we desired. It was a no-brainer that we had to put it up in the tasting room. Add a little bit of flexible rope lighting and voila - an incredible statement piece of art in the back of our space. 

Perfect place for pictures.

Perfect place for pictures.

So, there you have it - how we came up with such a beautifully designed space! 

The Flow of Culture

We have a guest blogger today - our fantastic Assistant Cidermaker, Joseph Kilbourn. Take it away, Joseph!

As a citizen of our fine modern city and the world, I regularly think about what defines culture. Culture is often a mix of blending current trends with unique ideas. Beyond society at large, a good share of personal culture is explained through stories and myths. I accepted the job of Assistant Cidermaker at Ash & Elm because of how the company has blended both sides of culture within its business plan and its story. It's summed up in the slogan, "Rooted in Tradition, Crafted for Today" and it shows in our first two limited edition releases, the Oaked Imperial Headlong and Del Camino tepache.

Microbrewers Festival lineup.

Microbrewers Festival lineup.

The Oaked Imperial Headlong debuts during the VIP hour at the 21st Annual Indiana Microbrewers Festival as an homage to the craft beer scene. I would've never pursued cider making without the influence and culture of craft beer -- where you can always try something new, and you can even try your own hand at homebrewing with loads of support from a community of artisans. And now craft cider has a chance to take off in Indy because of road paved by microbrewers. With nods to some of our brewing heros, like the intensely Citra-hopped 3 Floyds Zombie Dust and fond memories of enjoying a Tequila Barrel-Aged Fistful of Hops from Sun King, we oak-aged and tripled the Citra hops in our dry-hopped house cider, Headlong.

To stand up to the quantity of hops and smooth vanilla notes of french oak, we bumped up the ABV by blending it with an Ice Cider made with fresh cider from Tuttle Orchards in Greenfield, IN. The Ice Cider style was invented in Quebec and uses cryoconcentration to remove some of the water from the apple juice before fermentation. After our careful blending, we arrived at a subtle yet powerful ABV of 9.2% for the Oaked Imperial Headlong, which we offer as a sincere 'thank you' to everyone who has created a culture of craft in Indiana.

At the other end of the cultural spectrum, we created Del Camino based on a drink of culture that my wife, Jennifer Delgadillo and I had while traveling in Oaxaca, Mexico last year. Jennifer and I had just visited a traditional family textile business in the smaller village of Teotitlan del Valle where they loom fabrics from scratch on their goat farm. As we traveled back to Santa Lucia Del Camino, we saw a vendor selling a drink from a barrel by the side of the road and pulled over to try some. It was a homemade traditional tepache with pineapple rinds floating in it and bees swarming around it. My wife's cousin who lived there said that you know it's good when the bees want it. The vendor garnished the rim of our cups with a chili powder, salt and lime mixture and skimmed a few bees out for us. While we rode in the back seat of the car, we enjoyed the tangy fermented pineapple tepache. It was bursting with the flavors of piloncillo (Mexican brown sugar with notes of molasses), tamarind (a tart and sweet plant used in many Mexican candies that are coated with chilli powder and salt), and some hints of other spices.

Authentic Mexican tepache from Oaxaca.

Authentic Mexican tepache from Oaxaca.

Aaron and I recreated this experience as closely as any Hoosier could with a wild-fermented pineapple cider sweetened with piloncillo and Mexican spices. It came out just as tangy and sweet as the original (bees not included) with an ABV of 3.2% that makes it refreshing to drink on a hot summer's day. Ours also comes with the option to garnish it with a dash of adobo/cayenne chili powder, dried tamarind, lime and salt for an extra kick. I can't wait to see how Jennifer thinks Del Camino compares to the tepache we had from the street when it debuts as a refreshing treat for the patrons of the Microbrewers Festival.

Things get a little crazy around here sometimes...

Things get a little crazy around here sometimes...

So as Ash and Elm endeavors to become ingrained in the cultural landscape of Indianapolis, we will continue to convert our own cultural experiences into drinkable form so you can taste the ancient, growing, and fresh culture that flows through us.

Stay tuned for information about a special release of both the Del Camino and Oaked Imperial Headlong in our tasting room in the coming weeks.

From 'Opening' to 'Open'

Guys, we did it! We opened a cidery and it only took us 2.5 years!

Now that we’re open, our focus has changed from fundraising, seeking legal counsel, location hunting, permitting, and general contracting to managing daily operations. These are the things we’re focusing our energy on these days:

1.       Staffing. Up until May of this year, we were a pretty lean operation of me (Andrea) keeping everything moving and Aaron helping out with production and overall business decisions on nights and weekends. In May we hired our first employee, Joseph, as an Assistant Cider Maker. He put in long hours leading up to our opening to make sure we had cider ready, kegs were cleaned of all the little tiny rust spots that settled in from unloading them in the rain and not wiping them off (my bad), and improving the efficiency of the production process. Then we hired Melissa to run our tasting room and kitchen, who helped create our menu, made sure we had everything we needed to run a retail storefront, and taught me about standard serving practices. Finally, we hired Wes to make sure every customer is treated well in the tasting room and to turn visitors into regulars.

My job has changed from creating job descriptions and making hiring decisions to worrying about whether our employees like their jobs, are getting enough hours, and are as excited about the future of Ash & Elm as we are. For the record, I’m pretty sure we lucked out with each of them, but I still spend a lot of time thinking about how to make sure they are all getting out of Ash & Elm what they hoped to when they signed on to this crazy ride.

The whole team! From left to right: Joseph, Wes, Aaron, Andrea, and Melissa

The whole team! From left to right: Joseph, Wes, Aaron, Andrea, and Melissa

2.       Distribution. A lot of folks have asked when they can get our cider from bars and restaurants. Of course, there’s a short and a long answer. The short: ‘Soon, hopefully!’ The long: The state alcohol permit we need to make and sell cider (a Farm Winery permit, for those interested) doesn’t allow self-distribution. Which means I could have bars and restaurants with checks in hand waiting to put our cider on tap, but legally I can’t sell it to them. Instead, I have to sell the cider to a distributor, who would then sell it to the bar.

Fun fact! Our tasting room is on the ground floor of a three story building, and our Farm Winery permit only covers the first floor. If one of the businesses operating on the top two floors wanted cider, we would have to sell it to a distributor, who would then have to drive 10 miles away to their warehouse, who would then have to load it back up and bring it back to our building to sell to the top floor. Silly laws.

We have had meetings with multiple distributors, and our goal is to have that relationship lined up and going by the end of summer. Hang tight, we’ll get there, and we’ll make sure you all know about it!

3.       Getting the word out. Our tasting room has been open for three weeks now. A lot of my focus is shifting to marketing, sales, and promotions. In the short term, that will happen via events in the tasting room and participation in festivals throughout the city. Longer term, that means pounding the pavement to get bars and restaurants to buy into our product (see #2 on why that hasn’t happened yet). New menu options, seasonal ciders, consistency, and sponsorships/partnerships are always on my mind as avenues to explore as we grow our business.

Our first big event is Ciderside Chats! Head over to the event page by clicking on the photo.

Our first big event is Ciderside Chats! Head over to the event page by clicking on the photo.

4.       Data Crunching. If you know Aaron and me, you know that we both LOOOOOVVVEEE data and Excel. Fun fact #2! Aaron is an electrical engineer, and I have a Master’s in Public Health with a concentration in epidemiology, so using data to predict the future gets us more excited than it really should. Anyway, now that we actually have tasting room sales and numbers, we can start crunching data. How much on average does a person spend in the tasting room? How many ounces of cider does the average customer drink, and how much does that increase if the customer also orders food? Which ciders are selling the best, and given sales in our first month, can we predict what our annual sales might be? When does it make sense to add another employee?

Truly, it is so nice to be open after such a long time. Transitioning from ‘starting’ to ‘managing’ has been invigorating. Thanks for joining us for the start-up phase of the business, and I hope you continue to enjoy the ride!

What's Happening in the World of Craft Cider

Aaron and I have spent almost three years now living, breathing, thinking, and drinking cider. We’ve been to CiderCON twice and both have Google alerts set up for Hard Cider, along with a growing library of books to use as resources for every part of our business.

There's a growing library of information online, too, by way of blogs, newspapers, and online journals. If you’re new to the world of craft cider and want to learn more about what’s happening out there, here are some great articles that have come out over the last few months:

1.       Everything You Need to Know About Cider (And Why You Should Stop Calling it “Hard”) – This is a great overview about the latest trends in the cider world. Use it to learn why people in the industry don’t like the term ‘hard’ cider, how ciders differ from region to region, and why cider should fall more in line with the wine than the beer category. 

2.       Is Chicago Ripe for A Cider Boom? – This article outlines the growth of cider in Chicago since 2012 and likens it to the craft beer boom that we’ve all gotten familiar with. It addresses some of the barriers to entry for cider-makers, such as the all-too-common ‘cider stigma’ and how craft cideries are adapting their methods in order to enter a market dominated by craft beer. Plus, with Chicago just being a hop, skip, and a jump away, this might be helpful if you’re a cider fan that’s headed up north any time soon.

3.       Raising the Bar on the Cider Trend - A little different than the rest, this article focuses on two cideries in the Chicago region: Virtue Cider and Uncle John’s Cider Mill. Both Greg Hall and Mike Beck make really great ciders that you can find at some specialty liquor stores in Indianapolis. We’re particularly fond of Mike Beck and Uncle John’s Cider Mill because he’s one of our orchard partners that provides us with juice. Once we open, you all may be fans of Uncle John's as well if you like what you get!

4.       Critical Drinking – Are Craft Brewers Cutting Craft Cider to its Core? – This is a really thoughtful and challenging article from the folks at Good Beer Hunting (a great podcast to listen to if you’re into craft beer). The premise is that the trend of craft breweries jumping onto the cider bandwagon is doing harm to the craft cider world, since the craft cider movement is still in its infancy. Since both the market and some producers are ignorant about the history and tradition of cider, ‘bad’ ciders are turning people off of the industry before ‘good’ cider can turn them on. Choice quote: “In many cases, brewers are making all of these compromises at once in the pursuit of profit, or in their ignorance of another person’s craft, and hitting the gas peddle on production hoping they can cash in on another exponential growth trend adjacent to craft beer. In other words, craft brewers are co-opting craft cider the way craft brewers claim macro brewers are co-opting craft beer.” Oof!

Hopefully these articles have been enlightening to both current and future cider nerds. If you want to learn more about cider and the growth of the industry, give us a shout and we’ll connect you with some of our favorite resources. Happy drinking!

Five Things We've Been Working On

Hey cider fans! Things have gotten really busy for us over the last month, and they will only continue to be so. Now, we have great intentions of a few blogs related to the cider-making process, but before we delve in, we’re going to ease back into blogging with a snappy Top Five list so that we can all get on the same page with each other. Deal?

Here are five things we’ve been working on over the last two months:

5. Permits – Truly, ‘permits’ will probably be in every top five list we ever write about our progress. Since the last blog a month and a half ago, we’ve applied for and been granted a sign permit, an encroachment license, a construction permit, and some sort of elusive ‘electrical upgrade certificate’. As of today, we actually HAVE all of these permits!

4. Production Space – Our production space is 90% finished! Right now, most of what we’re waiting on is simple and not totally necessary for the production of cider. For example, we still need to put in a couple of sinks, wire the walk-in coolers, etc. But, our tanks are set, the coolers are built, the floor has been epoxied (twice!), so we’re almost ready to show the space off to visitors.

Look at those pretty fermentation tanks and unfinished floor drain!

Look at those pretty fermentation tanks and unfinished floor drain!

3. Tasting Room Décor – Finally, the fun part of a build-out! We’ve been scouring websites and taking weekend trips to Ikea to get light fixtures, plan out the bar, get the right draft system, and build tables. Our bar and tables are being built by Matthew Osborn (check out his website – he’s awesome!), and seeing them built has been a blast.

Parsons table for the tasting room.

Parsons table for the tasting room.

2. Paint Parties – We have some good friends and family in town who have graciously showed up several times to help us paint our space. It’s amazing what a fresh coat of paint will do for a dingy old warehouse, not to mention that it’s really nice to share our business with the people who care about us.

Wes is good with a roller and a ladder.

Wes is good with a roller and a ladder.

1. Test Batches – While we’ve been not-so-patiently waiting for our electrical upgrades that will allow us to use all of our fancy equipment, we’ve been doing some recipe tweaking. Aaron will have a full blog about yeast trails in the next few weeks to outline the process.

Aaron's ideal evening - doing science-y things mixed with alcohol-y things.

Aaron's ideal evening - doing science-y things mixed with alcohol-y things.

0. Merchandise – Woohoo, we have some merchandise! Tasting room glassware, shirts, coasters, and stickers are here and ready for the sharing. Thanks to Amy McAdams for her awesome designs.

Heyyyy...A&E Shirt Selfie!

Heyyyy...A&E Shirt Selfie!

Alright! We're caught up with each other! Stay tuned for some blogs about the actual cider-making process and news about our grand opening!

Confessions of a Cider Agnostic - Guest Blog by Nicole Cesare

As a 20-year-old studying abroad in Seville, Spain, I found myself enchanted by the flamenco music, the cobble-stoned streets, and the hand-poured café con leche available even in gas stations. However, when it came time to order a drink at a bar, I was overwhelmed, having never done so at home because of my underage status. After a few thoroughly misguided attempts at urbane sophistication (cloying, 80s-era cocktails like Grasshoppers and Piña Coladas), I finally settled on a go-to order: cider.

Spanish cider was crisp, dry, and refreshing, the perfect post-siesta libation. And while sangria gets all the press, cider is something of a Spanish institution, with the sidrerias (cider houses) offering cider straight from the barrel much like you might get wine at a more rustic venue.

Spanish cidra is often poured from a distance to aerate the cider on its way into the glass.

Spanish cidra is often poured from a distance to aerate the cider on its way into the glass.

When I took a spring break trip to Oxford, I discovered Strongbow, an English cider that hit similarly clean notes. Somehow, the beverage that worked so well in the Spanish heat also worked in the British damp.

However, after returning to the U.S. (and turning 21), I wasn’t able to find cider that worked so well. Most of the mass-marketed brands I tried were sweet and faintly chemical tasting, closer to soft drinks than wine. I stopped ordering cider, preferring instead to check out craft beers and work on developing a palate for wine. This continued for years; having lost my taste for the drink, I described myself as a cider agnostic.

Recently, though, I’ve been excited to hear about the craft cideries springing up around the country. Having had the opportunity to taste some of their offerings, both from cider-exclusive operations like Commonwealth Ciders to well-known brewing companies that also produce ciders, like Cigar City Brewing Company, I’m learning that there’s a whole world of quality cider out there. There are champagne-like, slightly sweet offerings to full-bodied, apple-forward brands. I’m eager to try them all.

Should the opportunity present itself, I’d love to return to Spain or England and really immerse myself in the cider culture that stretches back centuries. In the meantime, however, I’m glad to know that craft American cider is on the rise. Slowly but surely, I’m becoming a believer.

Everything is Happening!

It’s about time for an update on our progress, wouldn’t you say? I’ve been meaning to write a blog about what we’re working on for a while now, but so much happens in a day that that update is old news after just a few hours. But you know what, the people deserve to know! So, here’s an update on a few key areas:

1.       Construction – We are majorly, deeply in the thick of construction on our production facility right now. Concrete floors are being excavated, re-poured, grinded (ground?), and epoxied. Internal walls are getting put up and wired so we can have an office, kitchen, and bathrooms. Electrical work is being patched in so that we can run great big machines and tiny little laptops. And, we’re digging a moat around our building, too, just for kicks (just kidding, that's electrical work too).

You're looking at what will be two bathrooms, a lab, a commercial kitchen, and a walk-in cooler.

You're looking at what will be two bathrooms, a lab, a commercial kitchen, and a walk-in cooler.

Still to come on the construction side of things is the tasting room next door, which will get moving as soon as the production space is finished.

2.       Production – All of our permits have been granted, and we’re starting our first test batches of cider in the space. We started with a small batch (330 gallons) of our flagship Semi-Sweet cider to make sure everything runs smoothly before we size up.  As of this morning, things are fermenting away and creating a nice apple-y smell underneath the drywall dust and dirt smell.

Aaron pitching the yeast in our test batch. 

Aaron pitching the yeast in our test batch. 

We also have some nice heirloom apple juice bubbling away that we’ll age and release sometime in the fall, and some juice from our friends at Tuttle Orchards in Greenfield as part of our local orchard partner lineup. Altogether we have about 415 gallons of cider in process right now.

3.       Marketing – In addition to the brass-tacks of getting our production going and construction managed, we’re trying to spread the word that we’re coming for Indy in a matter of months. We’ve had a bit of media buzz already, which we really appreciate! The Indianapolis Star featured us as a business to watch in 2016, and Indianapolis Monthly had a nice little article about us too! We love that the word is getting out there and would love YOU, our FANS to continue that good work. Retweet us on Twitter, come to events we’re pouring at (Indy Pies and Pints and Corks and Forks are your next opportunities!), like us on Facebook, and gather up your cider-drinking pals and let them know that we’re on our way!

4.       Grand Opening – So…we’ve keyed in on a date for our GRAND OPENING! Of course, we can’t share it with you yet because it’s just a little bit too touch-and-go with construction at the moment, but know that we’re planning a killer party, at least four cider flavors, giveaways, and tasty food. Go ahead and black out your calendar for May, because it’s probably going to be sometime in that month, and if we’re all lucky, you’ll be able to drink some of our cider on tap at your favorite downtown bars and restaurants well before that.

Stay tuned! Like I mentioned, as soon as I post this, something will change, but we're circling the end of our 'startup' phase and moving toward our 'operational' phase really soon. Cheers!

Five Things We Learned at CiderCON

Last week, we headed out to Portland, Oregon for the week of breakout sessions (example: ‘Hydrogen Sulfide Production by Yeast’), trade shows, and sensory analysis training that is CiderCON. This was our second year at CiderCON – last year, since we were in such early stages of our business planning, every moment was eye-opening. It was like we had stepped into an alternate universe where suddenly, people nodded knowingly when we mentioned ‘keeving’ instead of staring at us blankly.

This year, as we’re mere months away from launching our full operations, CiderCON couldn’t have come at a better time. Here are the five things we learned at CiderCON:

Gotta represent Indiana! We were the only ones from the state.

Gotta represent Indiana! We were the only ones from the state.

5. The cider crowd is really diverse (in some ways) - Cider-makers are a mixed bag. Some come from the craft beer world and fit that demographic (beards, cutoff black denim shorts, hoodies, rock music). Others come from the wine industry and are fresh off of a stint in Napa Valley. There are orchard families that sell cider next to fresh apple pies and cider donuts. There are farmers who have cultivated amazing heirloom apple trees for decades. There are purists who don’t add a single ingredient (including yeast!) to their ciders, and large-scale production cideries that operate like craft breweries, with rotating seasonals featuring hops, chilies, or herbs. In other words, cider pulls from a diverse sect. I’d love to see some other kinds of diversity increase, but for now, it feels good to be a part of a group of people that are united by their love of the beverage.

4. Cidermakers still like beer – There was a lot of cider to consume during CiderCON. There were events each night with rare ciders on tap. We drank each other’s cider all week. But we were also in Portland, often called the beer capital of the world. You can bet I was thrilled to find awesome beers on tap that I don’t get at home – and I wasn’t the only one! Look, just because we make cider doesn’t mean we don’t like beer or wine. CONVERSELY, just because you might like beer or wine doesn’t mean you shouldn’t indulge in a nice craft cider from time to time either.

3. The Cider Act is a game changer. Somehow, in a gridlocked political climate, the fine folks that lead the cider industry were able to get the Cider Act passed last year. The laws are complicated, but basically, there were levels for alcohol percentage and carbonation level that, if crossed, your tax rates jumped. People in the industry felt like these levels were too low and kept cider-makers from being able to experiment with and diversify their products. This Cider Act upped both of those levels, allowing cider makers to create strong, more bubbly ciders without having to pay through the nose. These laws go in effect on January 1, 2017. HOORAY!

2. There are so many things we should’ve done a long time ago! There’s nothing like a week to think and talk about your business to help you realized that OOPS! We should’ve probably done that months ago. For example, the lead time on kegs is longer than we thought; we have a pump picked out but we don’t have any of the fittings so it’s basically useless; we may want to think about our tap handle situation if we want to get our cider on tap in the next month…etc. There’s nothing like a good jolt of fear and panic to get you into the mood to spend a ton of money in a very short amount of time.

1. Cider makers are super-generous. There really isn’t such a thing as a ‘trade secret’ in the cider industry. I went to one panel where the presenter opened up his recipe-maker tool so that we could all see how it worked (and thus see how they make their most popular product). He also showed us his personal password in that session, but I think that was actually an accident. Bottom line, though, is that everyone in the craft cider industry wants craft cider to be good. None of us benefit from a bad cider making the rounds, and all of us benefit from more people getting into craft cider. In-depth tours of production facilities, open-ended discussions about the best yeasts to use and fermentation temperatures to shoot for – across the board it’s a generous group of people who make up the cider industry in the States and we’re really thankful to be a part of it.

0. Bonus! Pigs like bitter apples. 

This little guy loved the apples that we couldn't eat at EZ Orchards.

This little guy loved the apples that we couldn't eat at EZ Orchards.

Starting a Business = Being a Circus Performer

You know the guy at the circus who somehow manages to spin multiple different plates on his fingers, nose, kneecap, and elbow all at the same time? That might be the best metaphor for small business startups that I can imagine. I’ve realized that, though my previous jobs have been in some ways multi-faceted, the scope of those job descriptions are nowhere near as varied as what we’re dealing with now as we get our business off the ground. Luckily, I spent two years in clown college, so everything is going okay. Here are our current spinning plates (cue Radiohead soundtrack):

The Law – Not a plate you want to drop. Federally speaking, we finally received our Federal Alcohol Permit from the TTB at the beginning of December. That was an awesome day, and I think we celebrated by sending a series of emoji-laden texts back and forth for several hours. Our state Alcohol and Tobacco Commission permit is under review at the moment, and once we receive that, we can actually produce and sell cider legally! As soon as that paper comes back, we start our first large(r)-scale test batch on-site.

The Finances – Closing on loans, securing the last bit of private investor money, making sure our budget is on track, trying to anticipate money-pits in advance…fincances are another set of plates that can’t be dropped. The reality is that there are probably about 20 finance plates going at once, and we already know some will drop, but which ones, and when, and can we maybe catch them before they hit the ground? This keeps me up at night.

The Product – The product keeps Aaron up at night. We have our suppliers, we know what equipment we’re going to use, we have great recipes that we’ve made dozens of times on a small scale, but will it all come together when we’re using new equipment in a new environment? We’ve had great reception when we’ve shared our ciders at events over the last year, but everyone loves free alcohol! Will people actually leave their house, drive to our tasting room or to a bar with dozens of beverage options, choose ours, and pay for it?

The Facility – Some pieces of equipment have a six-month lead time. Others you can go buy at Lowes. The rest fall somewhere in the middle. We don’t need all of our equipment to get started, but will need it eventually, so when should we order it, and in what order? Plus, the building is under construction. What if the tanks we ordered in July ship before the new concrete floor has been poured? Where will we put them? Does it really matter if our cinder-block walls are cleaned and painted? Does it $4,000 matter? Should the ADA bathroom go here or there? What grade of insulation do we need, and what grit of epoxy should we put on the floor? Stainless steel floor drains, right? How do we get a sign on the door? Should we get barstools with backs or without? And where will we put the purse hooks (purse hooks matter a lot to women at bars)?! Honestly I could go on forever with the kinds of minute decisions that need to be made Every. Single. Day. I have a whole new respect for anyone who opens a brick and mortar anything.

The Nameless Plate – “I KNOW I’M FORGETTING SOMETHING HUGE BUT WHAT IS IT?!” – me, almost every minute of every day.

So there’s a bit of insight into our lives at the moment. It sounds fear-laden, but it isn’t. It’s invigorating, with a tiny bit of fear and a pretty large dash of manic energy mixed in. And neither of us could be happier.

PS, I didn’t actually go to clown college.

How do you Finance a Craft Cidery?

Finances are a tricky thing. Talking about money is generally considered poor manners, and asking other people to give you money is straight uncomfortable, but if you want to start a business, you’re going to need some cash. There are a few ways to finance your business, including funding it yourself, bringing in investors, or taking out loans, and there are plusses and minuses to each option. Here’s a brief rundown of our thoughts and experiences with each of them.

Self-Funded - If you fund a business yourself, you have to either be wealthy, or you have to start on a small scale. This is especially true in the brewing/fermenting industry. While it’s possible to start on a shoe-string budget, you’d still need upwards of a couple hundred thousand dollars to be on the safe side. The amount of capital equipment you need to get started is expensive, and for the permitting process to even begin, you have to have a signed lease, meaning fronting at least 6 months of rent before you can make your first sale (unless you have a real estate agent who makes some good negotiations on your behalf). If you can manage to fund your business yourself, your growth can only occur by reinvesting your profits into the business. But one of the down sides of starting small is that you can only sell what you can make, and with small equipment, you probably won’t be able to make enough to grow quickly.

Pros: You own 100% of the business, and it’s a much less risky venture than the other options – in some ways! It might not feel less risky to put your life savings into a business, but at least if things go south, no creditors will come looking for you.

Cons: You’ll only be able to start as big as you can afford, and in this industry, that won’t be very big. Growth will be slow and there’s no room for error.

Investor-Funded – If you can’t finance the whole thing yourself, another option is to bring in investors who get a percentage of ownership of your business for the funds they give you. If you’re well-connected to people with both wealth and an entrepreneurial spirit, raising your funds this way can be relatively quick. If you aren’t, it may take a while to reach your target. Luckily, with the rise of successful craft breweries in Indianapolis, investors around here are familiar with the model and in some cases, are itching to get involved.

Pros: You’ll have more funds to get started, and it takes money to make money. You may also benefit from the networks of business contacts, accounting, legal services, etc. your investors bring to the table. In some cases, they can even act as a board of advisors.

Cons: You own less of your company, and someday when you hit it big, you only get a percentage of your earnings. If you don’t maintain majority ownership you could also run into conflict, or in the worst case, be cut out of the management of your company by the other owners.

Debt-Funded – Getting a loan to start your business is a feasible way to raise money, but in today’s climate, small-business loans are fewer and farther between than they have been in the past. Plus, with debt comes interest and repayment terms. One the plus side, the equipment needed for your business has a great re-sale value, which makes a loan a lot less risky from a bank’s perspective. If things go bad and you have to go out of business, you can sell all of your equipment for close to what you paid for it and may be able to walk away cleanly.

Pros: You don’t give away any equity in your business when you take out a loan, so you still own 100%. Banks can also be good partners for the future of your business, so establishing this relationship will help when you want to fund future expansion or get a line of credit opened.

Cons: Making debt repayments early-on, especially as you’re just getting started, can be a tough pill to swallow if you aren’t meeting your sales projections, and defaulting on a loan is scary business.

So what are we doing? Well…all three of course! We put a chunk of our own savings into the business to get things off the ground at the very beginning. We were able to cover the costs of hiring a graphic designer, a legal team, some expanded equipment for testing our recipes, and a fair amount of research and development (traveling to visit cideries and attend conferences). We have some investors on board who believe in our business and also see an opportunity to get a good return on their investment. Finally, we are working with lenders who think we’ll be a good addition to their portfolio.

We’re about 85% of the way funded now, which is happening at just the right time to take this show on the road.

The business side of small business ownership may not be as fascinating to everyone else as it is to us, but we’ve found it to be a constant and rewarding learning experience. If you enjoy learning about business startups, here are a few of the resources we've found valuable:

  •  StartUp Podcast -  This podcast follows the ups and downs of starting a business.
  • SCORE - A branch of the Small Business Association pairs retired former business executives with new business owners. Our SCORE mentor has been a huge help to us.
  • Indy Chamber - The Indianapolis chapter of the Chamber of Commerce provides business support as well as networking opportunities with other business owners in the city. 

Here’s to getting fully-funded in the near future and to entrepreneurship!

Getting to Know Our Future Home

In case you missed the excited announcement a few weeks back, we finally signed a lease for our production space and tasting room on the near-Eastside of Indy. Nothing could make us happier than being in this area of town, and here is why:

1.       We live here. Aaron has lived on the near Eastside since 2008, and I moved into the neighborhood in 2011. We know and love our neighborhood and have fierce near-Eastside pride. We go to the Legacy Center for our gym. We shop at Pogue’s Run Grocer. Aaron preceded both Flat 12 and Smoking Goose, and we were thrilled when they came to our neighborhood. We considered a place on Michigan Street at one point during our location hunt, and also looked at the Circle City Industrial Complex on E. 10th street. All in all, our ideal location was anywhere on the near-Eastside, even though we were willing to take anything that would work.  When we finally found the site that’s less than a mile from our house and checks every other box on our list, we were thrilled.

2.       It's perfect for what we need. We are actually leasing two separate addresses, both owned by the same landlord, Joel. One of the buildings, 2112 E. Washington St., is the former location of Bob’s ‘Your Favorite’ Thrift Store. It had an overhead door, a floor drain, tall ceilings, concrete floors, and a huge, open floorplan when we found it, which is everything we need to both start and grow our production facility. It was also stuffed to the gills with hoarder's-level junk, but that's beside the point. We plan to follow a business model that focuses on production, which means we won't just produce cider for our tasting room, we'll focus on getting our cider to bars, restaurants, and, eventually, liquor stores. The production facility is about 7,500 sq. ft. and based off our initial equipment orders, we have ROOM TO GROW if you love our cider. The second space is a beautiful historic building that will be perfect for our tasting room. 

3.       It has history. East Washington Street is part of historic US 40, which used to cross the entire United States and still reaches from Colorado to New Jersey. In fact, it used to be called the National Road, and was the first federally funded highway project created by a Congressional Act in 1806. In addition to being on an historic road, the building where our tasting room will be is also full of history.

Our trusty cidery can withstand a tornado!

Our trusty cidery can withstand a tornado!

It survived a tornado and a freak thunderstorm and has housed dozens of businesses, many of them taverns. And now it’s ready to be a … tavern again, kinda. A cider tavern! Given the American Cider Tradition, having a cider tasting room only seems fitting. Check out this awesome post on Historic Indianapolis to find out more about the history of our tasting room.

4.       It can be a catalyst for development. Aaron and I believe in investing in our communities.  East Washington Street is targeted to be one of the Great Places 2020. We love the idea of bringing a business to a neighborhood that is primed for redevelopment. Given that our business in Willard Park is right next door to our home in Holy Cross means that we’ll get to improve our own neighborhood through our business and show off our corner of Indianapolis to Ash & Elm’s visitors. We can’t wait to share our space and our cider (of course) with you in the next few months. 

Copyright Ash & Elm Cider Co.