Ash & Elm Cider Co.

Rooted in Tradition. Crafted for Today.

We Have a Space!

If you’re connected with us on Facebook or Twitter, you may have heard snippets of these updates already, but we wanted to give you a more thorough status update on Ash & Elm. So much of our progress occurs behind the scenes and isn’t necessarily that interesting (submitting multiple tax documents, anyone?), but today, we have some big progress updates to share.

We have a location! I (Andrea) quit my job a year ago because I thought we’d find a location within three months and then get going, but finding our location turned out to be one of the most frustrating parts of our fledgling business to date. We looked many places, talked to many realtors, community development organizations, architects, and business owners, but finally found a spot that is better than we imagined. It’s on the Near-Eastside of Indianapolis, which is where we live and has always been our ideal scenario (Aaron’s commute will someday be a 15 minute walk, as opposed to his 1 hour commute that he’s been doing for TEN YEARS now). We have more space than we need for now, and a beautiful historic building to have a stellar tasting room in.  Lastly, we get to be a part of revitalizing an up-and-coming neighborhood, which is something we care a lot about.

Future tasting room greatness to happen here.

Future tasting room greatness to happen here.

We got the attention of the Indianapolis Business Journal in their Property Lines Roundup, which was exciting, and we had a successful rezoning hearing, getting approval to sell alcohol, food, and have a parking lot. Those in the know about city planning know this was a big hurdle, and kudos go to our landlord and his real estate agent for leading the rezoning charge successfully.

A Word on Alcohol Laws As I’m sure most of you know, starting a business includes a lot of paperwork. especially a business that sells alcohol. We’ve mentioned before that we needed to submit our Federal Tobacco and Trade Bureau (TTB) application, which takes about 3.5 months to process. We got that taken care of exactly two and a half months ago, so we’re hopeful we’ll be approved by the TTB sometime in November.

After that, it’s time to file our State application to the Alcohol and Trade Commission (ATC), which will take about three weeks to be approved. That means, in our ideal scenario, we could be licensed to sell our product by the first of the year. Wow! If you know either of us, you’ll know that – of course – we already have the ATC permit application completed and are just waiting to send it in the second we hear that our TTB permit is approved. We should be able to hit the ground running as soon as we get ourselves legal.

So…when are you opening?  GREAT QUESTION! I wish we knew the answer. If everything goes smoothly, March. If it doesn’t, which is more likely, sometime before June. The best way to stay up to date on our progress is to like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter, or drive by our location at 2112 E. Washington St and poke your head in the door. :)

We appreciate all of the interest and excitement we’ve been getting from you all, and are excited to share a cider together soon.

Working for the Weekend: Our Visit to Blake's Hard Cider

Since we started this business, Aaron and I have been itching to spend some time in a large-scale cidery to get our hands dirty and have a bit more exposure to the day-to-day operations. We’ve visited countless cideries around the States, but finally got our chance to work a couple weeks ago when we visited Blake’s Hard Cider in Armada, Michigan.

Blake’s Hard Cider is a really great place – a family-owned orchard for decades, one of the sons, Andrew, decided to add hard cider their already bustling business. Not surprisingly, the cider part of the company has grown by leaps and bounds in the first couple of years, and now they’re neck and neck for the largest cidery in Michigan. We reached out to them to see if they might be interested in some weekend day-laborers, and they responded with great interest and warmth. Our trip was planned!

The night before we left, we decided that, instead of getting a hotel nearby, we’d camp out at a local park. It was beautiful, relatively serene, and the price was right ($25/night). We’d definitely do that again – for a weekend spent working, it was nice to also feel like we were on vacation for a few hours each evening.

Campfire

On Saturday morning, we met up with Rob, their production manager, to learn about the processes involved in running a large-scale cidery. We saw their tanks, canning line, coolers, concrete pads, loading docks, and their expansion plans. After the tour and lots of questions, Rob put us to work labeling and filling bottles.

Intense focus while labeling bottles of cider.

Intense focus while labeling bottles of cider.

Aaron taking care of business.

Aaron taking care of business.

We did a pretty good job, and cut down the amount of work Rob had to do on a Saturday. They treated us to lunch in their tasting room and let us try a sampling of their house and seasonal ciders (tasting notes: YUM). Spending time in the tasting room was great – it gave us a lot of ideas about the design and function of our soon-to-be tasting room.

Some good ciders in the tasting room at Blake's Hard Cider.

Some good ciders in the tasting room at Blake's Hard Cider.

We spent Sunday morning talking with Robert, the cidermaker, who cut his teeth in Napa Valley and New Zealand working in wineries. He and Aaron hit it off, and spoke about all things fermentation/yeast/clarity while I chatted with Andrew about the business side of things: staffing, HR compliance, pricing, and distribution.

We headed back to Indy on Sunday afternoon, tired, buzzing with new ideas, and grateful for the generosity of our new friends at Blake’s. If you are in Michigan, seek out some of their cider – it’s great!

Brew-Ha-Ha Festival

Last month, we had the opportunity to share our cider at the 20th annual Brew-Ha-Ha Festival. Tied with the Indiana Microbrewer’s Festival for the longest-running beer festival in the state, Brew-Ha-Ha is a fundraiser put on every year to support the programming at the Phoenix Theater. We were really thankful that they let us be a part of their event before we were even open!

One of the benefits of having a name that starts with an 'A'.

One of the benefits of having a name that starts with an 'A'.

We had done several events prior to Brew-Ha-Ha, including another fundraiser, an opening gala, and a few weddings, but this was by far the largest (and most knowledgeable!) audience our cider had ever had. It was important to us that we came off well especially since so many other great breweries would be mere steps away.

After spending some time thinking about what ciders would be the best to bring to a beer festival, we settled on bringing six!

BHH Lineup 1
BHH Lineup2

On the day of the festival, we loaded up our compact car to the gills with cider, signage, our jockey box, a CO2 tank, and a couple coolers and drove the mile to the festival.

Overall, we had a great time and were able to talk with so many people who were excited to hear about a new cidery coming to Indianapolis. Some of the highlights included convincing die-hard beer fans to try a craft cider for the first time and hearing them say, “Hey, this is actually pretty good.” On the other range of the spectrum, it was also great to find out just how many people have been looking for a way to get more cider and who loved ours. We had a woman from France who said she’d been looking for a good cider to drink in the States for years and had finally found it in our Dry cider, and we had other people who came back multiple times in an effort to get a taste of the pumpkin cider, which we didn’t tap until halfway through the day. Another great part of the day was sharing cider with several bar and restaurant managers who expressed interest in carrying our ciders at their location in the future.

Aaron BHH

Thanks to the handful of a friends and family who helped us serve that day, and thanks to the Phoenix Theater for a great event. We hope to be a part of it next year and for many years moving forward.

The American Cider Tradition

The growth of the hard cider market in the US has gotten a lot of buzz lately. So much so that a lot of folks are requesting and drinking cider that hadn’t even heard of it a few years back. Surprisingly though, cider is often considered America’s first beverage and the favorite beverage of our founding fathers! What we’re experience now is a resurgence in popularity, not the creation of a new product.

The earliest colonists brought European apple trees with them, which they quickly planted and began crossing with some of America’s native crabapple trees. Because of the lack of infrastructure and resources, safe drinking water was a luxury that most couldn’t afford. One way to keep beverages safe was to ferment them because alcohol kills most waterborne bacteria. Given that there were plenty of apples but no access to grapes, barley, or hops, making cider was the most accessible way to stay safely hydrated (if not a little bit tipsy). In fact, rumor has it that John Adams had a tankard of cider each morning for breakfast!

A tidbit for our local friends in Indiana – William Henry Harrison, our 9th president (and maybe not a great president, to be honest) ran his campaign with a claim that he was a man of “log cabins and hard cider”, meaning he was one of the people, not a fancy aristocrat. Think of how presidents these days may talk about how they drink Bud Light or have Coke with dinner to endear themselves to Middle America, and that’s what Harrison was trying to do. How times have changed!

One of President Harrison's campaign cartoons

One of President Harrison's campaign cartoons

 

By 1850 over 1,000 cultivated varieties could be found in the US. (Let’s see if we can list them…Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, Gala, Fuji…ummm, maybe not). And unlike today, very few of these apples were edible without being processed first. They were tart, bitter, and sharp, not sweet and juicy like today’s eating apples.

When Prohibition hit in 1920 and didn’t seem to be going anywhere, people cut down huge swaths of orchards because they were pretty much useless to farmers compared to the other crops they could grow since they weren’t edible for the most part. By the time Prohibition was lifted more than ten years later, it was much easier to plant wheat and barley for beer, which can yield a crop the next year, instead of replanting apple trees, which take about five years to reach maturity.

Of course, apple trees did get planted again, but the majority were ‘eating apples’, not cider apples. To this day, as cider grows in popularity, there aren’t enough traditional cider apples to keep up with demand. Many orchardists are beginning to plant heirloom varieties again, and many cider makers are using eating apples for their hard cider, which still produces quite a tasty – if not completely traditional – version of America’s first beverage.

For more information about the history of cider in the United States and the world, check out the excellent book, World's Best Ciders by Pete Brown and Bill Bradshaw.

What's the Hold Up?

 Things have been a little quiet around here lately. Every time we talk to friends and family who are interested in our business, they ask us what we’re doing all the time. It’s a good question. Here’s what we’re working on, and what we need to get done before we can open.

Priority Number 1 – Location

We’ve been looking for a location pretty much non-stop since November. It’s hard to find a space that’s perfect. We've fallen in love with locations only to find out they won't work over and over again. Often, we feel like we’re on a never-ending episode of HGTV's “House Hunters”.

<Insert narrator’s voice>

“Aaron and Andrea have been looking for a location for their new cidery. Location #1 is on an accessible road with downtown views, plenty of space, and falls well below their budget, but can they handle a building that’s needs so much work? Location #2 offers room to expand in a convenient location in an up-and-coming neighborhood. But the lack of a private entrance and signage opportunities could cost them. Location #3 has everything they’re looking for – rustic character, functional space, and a busy street, but it’s a short-sale. Are they willing to risk their business future by letting the other locations go in their pursuit of this risky venture? Stay tuned to find out!”

<Fade to black>

It would be funnier if it weren’t so accurate.

So anyway, the location is a big issue. We think we’re close to having our location figured out and a lease signed, but until the paperwork has been finalized, we can’t move forward in any of the other areas.

Priority Number 2 – Permitting

Once we have a lease signed, we’ll be allowed to apply for our Federal Tobacco and Trade Bureau (TTB) permit. The application is comprehensive, and once it’s been submitted, it takes roughly 110 days (that’s 3.5 months!) to get our permit granted. Only after we have the TTB permit can we file for our state alcohol permit, and then after we’ve received that, we can apply for our city permit. All in all, the permitting process will take about 6 months if things go smoothly, and remember, we can’t start that process until the lease is signed.

Priority Number 3 – Build Out

Another item dependent on the lease. Once we have a lease and have our permit applications going through the Federal rigmarole, it’ll be time to start building out the space. Some of it will be un-sexy build-out, like getting the HVAC systems up and running, the plumbing and electrical requirements covered, etc. After that, the fun stuff will start and the cidery will really start to take shape. It’s hard to estimate how long this will take because we don’t have access to the building yet to see just what all needs to get done, but it will take at least several months to go from beginning construction to being able to open our doors to customers.

In the Meantime…

So a lot of the above issues are outside of our control. But, we’re still making gobs of cider and would love to share it with anyone who is interested! If you have an event coming up or if you’d like to throw a cider party at your house or business, send us an email and we can talk! So far we’ve provided cider to a nonprofit fundraiser, a wedding, and a medical office grand opening gala.

We also continue to make connections and contacts with people in the industry in Indianapolis so that we’ll be able to hit the ground running when we open.

So if you’re anxiously awaiting updates on our progress, please know that we’re awaiting those updates right along there with you, and probably more anxiously. :) 

Thanks for hanging in there with us and we’ll see you soon!

The Many Styles of Cider

Think of some of your favorite beverages: Wine. Beer. Juice. Soda.

One thing that all of these beverages have in common is that they are general categories. You can drill down into each of them and come up with wildly different styles: Merlot versus Chardonnay; a hoppy IPA versus a rich Stout. Coke versus Ginger Ale. Strawberry Kiwi or fresh-squeezed orange juice. I could go on and on, but I trust you get the point.

Cider is no different. It represents a general category – a beverage made with fermented apple juice, in the most traditional sense. Right now, as we experience the rebirth of the cider tradition in the States, we’ve just scratched the surface of the cider styles that exist. Generally speaking, the majority of cider consumption in the States comes from one style of cider – the very sweet, carbonated, controlled-yeast type. The exciting thing about the growing craft cider movement is that there are just as many styles of cider as there are of wine and beer, and we have much to discover! Here’s a little tutorial on some of the more common cider styles found around the world:

Scrumpy (English Style) – English-style ciders are usually fermented to quite dry and have a bit of funk to them (sometimes called ‘farmy’ because it can smell like hay or horses.) They tend to be carbonated, and if you’ve done much traveling in England, this is the cider you would have tried.

French Style – French ciders also have some farmy notes, but they’re more champagne-like than Scrumpy ciders, meaning they have a lot of tiny bubbles. The French don’t force-carbonate their ciders, and instead bottle condition them to achieve the champagne-like quality and a natural sweetness. These ciders are traditionally served with savory buckwheat crepes, often for breakfast!

Spanish Style – These ciders are super-tart and acidic. If you’ve never tried one, you may think it’s a bit off, but give it a chance! They’re like sour beers – a little funky, a little tart, and an acquired taste.

New England Style – New England style ciders are usually fermented to dryness and have a higher alcohol content than most other ciders because of the amount of sugar in the apples used.

Wild (Spontaneous) – Ciders that are ‘wild’ or ‘spontaneous’ mean that no yeast is added to the juice. Instead, the juice is pressed and left to ferment based on whatever wild yeast strains happen to be in the juice. These ciders take longer to ferment and can be a bit unpredictable – either the yeast offers a complex flavor that really works, or it doesn’t, in which case…cider vinegar!

Ice Cider – Similar to ice wines, ice ciders are made from freezing the juice and removing the water, leaving a highly concentrated, very sweet dessert cider. They’re labor intensive, and very much worth the effort!

These ciders are all made with few additional ingredients outside of apples, yeast, and sometimes a bit extra sugar. The variety comes from the way the blend of apples used from the start and the way the cider is fermented, stored, and aged. Variety also comes from the vintage of the apples as well, just like wine - some years are great growing years, others aren't, and the soil and ecological conditions where apples and grapes are grown affect the flavor of the cider or wine from year to year.

Ash &amp; Elm cider lineup for a recent event.&nbsp;

Ash & Elm cider lineup for a recent event. 

Then, there’s a whole new world of cider styles coming from the craft beer movement. These styles are nearly limitless, but a few categories are starting to settle into their own:

Hopped Ciders – Like hoppy beers? Try a dry-hopped cider if you get a chance! The aroma is hoppy and there’s a bit of that bitter aftertaste, but the sweetness of the cider mixed with the hops gives a totally different flavor than a standard IPA.

Barrel Aged Ciders – Cider aged in bourbon barrels have that same vanilla and alcohol-y finish that a bourbon barrel aged beer has. A variety of different barrels can be used with ciders: white wine, bourbon, rum, and more!

Fruity and Herbal Ciders – Ever had a jalapeno or bell pepper cider? They exist and they’re good! Ginger Cider, Blackberry Cider, Lemongrass and Basil Cider, Pumpkin Cider, the list can go on and on.

We’re excited to bring some of these styles of cider to Indy when we open. We have our standard semi-sweet and dry ciders that will be available all the time, but we’ll also have a rotating selection of seasonal and limited release ciders. Sure to be in the mix are hopped ciders, herbal ciders, barrel-aged ciders, and plenty more. We’d love to know what cider styles sound good to you, so feel free to drop us a line or leave a comment!

Where Will We Get Our Apples?

A lot of people ask us where we’ll get our apples from. When we started working on this project a year ago, our plan was to work with local orchards to source apples for our cider. We met with an old friend whose family owns an apple orchard, and she dropped some wisdom on us that was a bit surprising: Indiana sells all the apples they grow, and in fact, we have to import apples from Washington state and China just to supply everyone with enough apples to eat! In other words, while we have several orchards sprinkled throughout the state, we don’t come close to having enough extras laying around to fuel a large cider company.

Another issue: the great majority of apples grown in Indiana are considered dessert apples - the kind you can pick up and eat or use to make an apple pie. Historically, those aren’t the kinds of apples that are used in traditional cider-making. Now, lots of cideries in the States use dessert apples to make their cider. We plan to, too, for a lot of our products. But having traditional cider apples available can bring a complexity to cider that is hard to get with dessert apples alone. Can’t we have both?

Luckily, our friendly neighbor to the north, Michigan, is an apple powerhouse. They are usually tied for second place in the nation with New York (behind Washington) in apple production in the States, and they also have the infrastructure to package, store, and ship their apples. They have a seemingly endless supply of dessert apples, but they also have a lot of folks growing traditional cider apples as well plenty of apples that are good for cider-making as well as eating, like Northern Spy, Jonagold and Gold Rush.

So, what’s our plan? For the majority of our ciders, we’ll ship juice down from Michigan. We can get different blends to fit with the style of cider we’re making and get a good mix of sweet, tart, and bitter to make a flavorful cider with a lot of complexity.

We’ll also work with those Indiana orchards as much as possible. The busy season for apple orchards usually runs from Labor Day weekend through Thanksgiving, but come December 1st, people aren’t thinking about apples anymore. Unfortunately, plenty of apples are still on trees in December, so orchards end up pressing the juice to stock their shelves throughout the winter or having an excess of apples that they can’t sell. This is where we hope to come in and help them extend their growing season by buying up those late winter apples so that we can showcase the orchards around the state and make a truly local cider. We can’t wait to share it with you!

Deciding to Start a Cidery

A lot of people ask us why we decided to start a business focused on cider. It’s off the beaten path just enough to assume there’s a reason other than, ‘We like it.’ To be honest, it’s true. Here’s how we came to the idea of starting Indianapolis’ first dedicated hard-cider company.

Like a lot of other cider-makers around the States, Aaron found his way to cider via the craft beer world. He went to grad school in the mid-2000s near San Francisco. While the craft beer boom hadn’t really hit in Indianapolis at that time, it was big business on the West Coast, and Aaron jumped in full-force, seeking out different beers and starting to homebrew. He moved back to Indianapolis in 2006 with a couple years of brewing under his belt and a desire to open a brewery. But, like a lot of other people, he had student loans and bills to worry about, so it wasn’t an option. A few years later, when craft beer started to pick up steam in Indy, he again had fantasies of opening a brewery, but wasn’t able to convince himself to take the risk.

Around that time,  Aaron and I got together. Aaron realized that, while he loved craft beer, his interest in exploring other beverages had grown. I was game for an adventure, and we brainstormed what skills we each had, what would be a good business idea, and what we were interested in. A few years before, we'd traveled to Ireland and had a cider unlike anything we'd ever had in the States, opening our eyes to the possibilities of different styles. We’d already been making wine, and added cider to the mix too. As we brainstormed about their business ideas in the spring of 2014, cider quickly rose to the top. The growth in the industry over the last couple years around the US was incredible, the skills from brewing beer and making wine transferred well to making cider, and, important to both of us, apple trees grow well in Indiana, meaning not only could we make a truly local product, we could support farmers in our community through the business. And of course, the fact that cider is delicious and we still had so much more to learn about it got us excited about the challenge ahead.

What followed were months of research: drinking as many ciders from around the world we could get their hands on and making batch after batch to perfect our recipes. We took trip to cider hotspots like Portland, Seattle, and Michigan. We visited local orchards to talk with farmers about their perspectives. We conducted market research. Each step along the way, all signs pointed to this being the right business idea at the right time.

It’s been a whirlwind trip already, and we haven’t even opened yet. We hope you’ll join us on the next phase of our journey!

Why Ash & Elm?

As we meet people and tell them about our business, we always get asked why we chose Ash & Elm Cider as our name. It’s a great question, with a bit of a long answer.

Originally, we formed the LLC for the company with a different name. We registered a website, got our email addresses set up, and had our graphic designer start working on our logo and branding guide. Everything was running smoothly.

One morning, I got a text from a friend. It was a picture of a sign of a new brewery opening near her neighborhood that had the exact. same. name. We thought our name was pretty unique, so we were extremely surprised and disappointed. After going back and forth with our lawyers, we came to the sad conclusion that we’d have to change our name and come up with a new one.

For a few weeks, we were hung up on the idea that our new name had to be similar enough to the old one that we’d at least be able to keep our logo and branding, because it was awesome and we’d grown very fond of it. We shot ideas back and forth around the same theme, sent contenders to the lawyers who were helping us verify the ability of the names, and got shot down over and over again. Womp womp – it was going to be time to say goodbye to our beautiful logo and branding.

We rallied, though, and started thinking about names that weren't related to our first one. We listed things that are important to us and our family, and immediately knew that something relating to trees, nature, and the outdoors would be our answer. Aaron’s dad is a botanist in Indiana and could identify nearly any plant or tree that he stumbles across within the whole state. My parents live near to a state park where they spend hours every week, hiking and bird watching. Because of this, both of us are pretty passionate about the outdoors. Ash and elm trees are both species native to Indiana, but because of recent pests, they’re endangered. We love the idea of having a business that isn’t necessarily centered around conservation efforts, but uses its platform to support the businesses and nonprofits that are engaged in that work.

It works in another way, too: cider is a natural product that wouldn’t be possible to make if the earth isn’t cared for– apples grow on trees, in orchards, and they grow well in Indiana and Michigan. We’d love to see them continue to grow, and for more apple trees to be planted.

The link between these ideas and our name makes a lot of sense to us, and we’re excited to see how our love for the outdoors can translate into our business. Cheers!

Copyright Ash & Elm Cider Co.