Ash & Elm Cider Co.

Rooted in Tradition. Crafted for Today.

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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 Overstock.com 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! 

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!

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