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Bend's Avid Cider Levels Up

A new future with Michigan's Blake's Hard Cider

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When Samantha Roberts and her then-husband Dan McCoy attended Bend Brewfest in 2011, something eyebrow-raising struck them: the longest line for samples didn't belong to a single brewery, but rather to the lone cidery in attendance. Roberts was no stranger to hard cider. She'd gotten hooked on the stuff in her mother's native England, where cider sales slightly outpace American cider sales, despite the U.S. boasting a population about six times larger. And that's in contemporary numbers, let alone the infinitesimal share, by dollars or volume, from a decade ago. So little could Roberts and McCoy imagine back then that not only would they turn their home cidermaking hobby into a career, but that they'd merge with Blake's Hard Cider from Michigan, which is in the top six cider producers in the U.S.

The news broke quietly last week, but the ball started rolling even before the pandemic that truly necessitated the deal, since Avid's sales were roughly one-third cans, two-thirds draft which, industry-wide, flipped virtually overnight. With an assist from the Merriweather Group, a brokerage firm in Portland, Avid and Blake's found in each other the regional powerhouses they each needed to grow their respective brands. Avid Hard Cider Co., née Atlas, named after their son when it launched in 2013, will become Avid Cider Co., LLC in a joint venture with America's sixth largest cider company. Two Towns Cider in Corvallis ranks third, nationally. Avid is Oregon's second largest cidery.

COURTESY BLAKE'S HARD CIDER
  • courtesy Blake's Hard Cider

Avid's co-owners were teachers when they turned their avocation into a vocation. Becoming cider entrepreneurs threw them headlong into the alcoholic beverage industry.

Currently Avid is available in six Northwest states including Nevada and Montana, as well as Japan.

Blake's is presently distributed in 22 states with only Nevada and parts of California overlapping Avid's footprint. This merger of two family-founded-and-operated cider companies allows both to augment production and administrative growth and become an even larger player on a national scale. According to a press release, the new LLC "will assume the existing production facility's and tap room's leases, and acquire all equipment, inventory, recipes, distribution agreements and overall brand properties."

The Pacific Northwest has long been a haven for apple lovers and orchardists. Washington is the largest apple-growing state by a longshot, while Michigan ranks third, including the Blake family farm where apples constitute a portion of their 1,000 acres. Oregon ranks sixth. Avid sources apple juice from Hood River, though the fruit is largely grown in the Yakima Valley.

The Oregon cider segment largely grew up alongside the current wave of the craft beer industry. "This is Beer Town, USA" said Roberts, reflecting on launching the cidery. "We thought, why isn't cider part of the scene? (Avid) exploded immediately." Next thing she knew, Avid had picked up distribution and tapped into the then-blossoming gluten-free lifestyle.

COURTESY BLAKE'S HARD CIDER
  • courtesy Blake's Hard Cider

That said, hard cider constitutes roughly 1% of America's overall beer market. Hard seltzer rocketed to 10%.

Given the increasing cost of aluminum and other materials, teaming up with Blake's increases the cideries' purchasing power.

"What it does on a holistic level is let us grow as a company," said Drason Anderson, Avid's wearer of many hats. "It allows us to grow in such a way that is healthy for the company and the market. We can strengthen up infrastructure to focus on sales, people, and key positions in administrations. It makes us more efficient."

Roberts said Avid is primarily growing in the Northwest; there are no plans to introduce Avid in the Midwest nor Blake's in the Pacific Northwest. Producing each other's brands at the other's facilities is not presently planned. Roberts remains co-owner and CEO, while McCoy remains in an advisory role. Staff-wise, not only is no one being let go but they will be hiring new staff. And introducing new flavors like the veritable fruit basket called Jungle Juice that debuted at the Central Oregon Winter Beer Festival last weekend.

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