Apples and yeast - and a little help from NH SBDC - grows a new Seacoast cider business

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February 29, 2016
barrels of cider

You won’t find any sulfites, sorbates, preservatives, food colorings, fake flavors, or fruit concentrates in North Country Hard Cider, a year-old New Hampshire company based in Rollinsford. What you will find are apples and yeast. That’s it. 

Co-owner Silas Gordon says that’s because his chemist mother raised him right.

“She was very strict in what we had available to eat in our house,” he says. “When I was a kid, we lived on a small organic farm in Maine.  In other words, we weren’t getting a lot of crap in our food.”

“The traditional ciders have a lot of those bad ingredients and I don’t want those in my body,” Silas says.

Silas and his brother and co-owner, Ivan, along with their business partner Ron Dixon, have been building—literally and figuratively—the North Country Cider business since 2013.  As previous owners of a construction company, the three built the actual physical plant—a tasting room, the tables and the bar, and places to ferment and store the apples and the cider, and they’ve worked to build a loyal following for the product. The cider is currently sold in the broader Seacoast area of New Hampshire, and a little bit up into Maine.  

“We are gluttons for punishment and control freaks,” Silas explains. “But we realize there is only so much time in the day.”

Achieving a chemical- and preservative-free cider is a little more labor intensive and a much different process than, say, brewing beer.  The yeast works to ferment the apples, then in a process Silas calls “cold crashing”, it continues to stabilize the product as it sits refrigerated. Yep, you’ll find North Country Cider in the refrigerated section of the stores, and on tap at a growing number of bars in the area.

“If you’re consuming something that can sit at room temperature on a shelf for two years, it’s probably not something your stomach needs,” Silas says. 

The apples that go into North Country’s ciders can be had only nine months of the year and are as local as they can get—New Hampshire, Maine and some from New York.

All that makes for a challenging business model, with seasonal fluctuations and a product that must be handled correctly at the points of purchase.  

Early on in the life of their business the three partners realized they needed outside counsel.  Having heard about the NH SBDC from other businesses, they sought out business advisor Warren Daniel and have met with him several times over their first year in business. Silas reports that connection has helped their business in “a multitude of ways.”

“It’s small distribution, so far, and we need to stay on top of the scale of what we do,” Silas says. “There’s definitely room for expansion, but we’re not rushing into it. We want to make sure the product is as good as it can be before we grow further. We want to have as much control as we can have out in the markets, making sure the product is being taken care of and is represented properly.”

Silas says meeting with Warren has given them a great perspective. Together Warren and the business partners have built out financial projections for the short- and the long-term, and Warren helps them stay on top of those projections.  

“He helped us early on with creating projections,” Silas said.  “He gave us a perspective that we can’t get from just talking to each other.  He gives us the different angle.”

Silas explains that the three business partners have a ton of roles to fulfill and so they are each very busy.  “We might not be holding each other accountable,” Silas said. “Warren pushes us, he supports us and he challenges us to look at something differently.”

Their early meetings with NH SBDC led to the partners finding the financing they needed, and finding the right people to approach about it.  Warren helped them secure a $150,000 loan to buy equipment.

“Busy as we are, every time we meet with Warren we say we should be doing this more often,” Silas said. “We’re just really excited about what we’re doing and it’s been an amazing year so far. We’re going to expose a bunch more people to a hard cider that will surprise them.”