What if unique local ciders were more accessible to those who live far beyond their regions? What if true craft cider had a marketplace…kind of like other crafts?
Enter Cider in Love, an online artisan boutique for cidermakers that just so happens to double as a savvy digital startup. The passion-project-turned-real-deal is the brainchild of Annie Bystryn, an online marketing vet with a taste for the apple-y good stuff. The web shop, which launched June 2018, realizes her vision to bring Americans greater access to heritage ciders, Bystryn told Sprudge.
“I think we’re at the beginning,” says Bystryn of the modern-day American cider movement. “The US has a long and incredible history of cider, it was the original drink of the colonists and it’s what Johnny Appleseed was really planting,” she says. “Cider was not as popular in recent decades, and yet we’ve seen this incredible, really astronomical growth in the category.”
Bystryn wanted the focus of Cider in Love to pay homage to both cider’s great history in the US, but also its future as a beverage coming into new focus for many drinkers. “It’s a wild and wonderful world in a very big tent,” says Bystryn of the current cider movement. “But we really wanted to focus on the highest quality cider that really went back to traditions—focusing on cider-specific apples and heirloom apples and long fermentation, created by passionate, talented, small-batch makers. That to me evokes more of the cider culture you see in France, and Spain, and Italy, and the UK, where I think they have more of an awareness of where it comes from.”
The Cider in Love website currently sells ciders from nine craft cideries in the, um, appellations of Washington State, New York, and California. One can browse by region or taste profile, and get to better know each cider on offer by the history of its makers, suggested food pairings, and of course, the type of apples used to make it.
The business opportunity came to Bystryn as a solution to her own frustration, she says. “A few years ago I was up in the Hudson Valley and I was trying some amazing bottles of cider—obviously the Hudson Valley is a hotbed of amazing cider. And then I went to all the local bottle shops and I couldn’t get what was down the road. I had this moment that was like, ‘This is ridiculous. This is insane.'”
And creating an online marketplace for these small makers was a boon for them, too.
“We don’t come from distribution at all, we don’t have experience in this,” says Ellen Cavalli, who with her partner Scott Heath runs Tilted Shed Ciderworks in Sonoma County, California.
“We come from the art and publishing world. So when we dove into doing this it became a passion/obsession of ours, we really weren’t well-equipped to do distribution and sales, we started with a really smally run of 300 gallons produced, we did really small distribution to a few local accounts, and sold out,” says Cavalli.
The couple was able to find some resonance for their product in the local natural wine community, but a national presence was a challenge says Cavalli. When Bystryn approached them, she was thrilled.
“She understood what makes heritage cider so special, the people behind it, and I felt that she could do a really good job building and championing who we are and what we do and what makes us special. I feel like this model over all the other models that we’ve had is going to work best.”
Bystryn plans to keep the Cider in Love marketplace intimately small, working directly with like-minded producers and cideries. “We are very much focused on what we are calling fine or heritage cider,” Bystryn says, “even in the embryonic quality of the cider world that we’re in.”
One such producer she’s tagged is Steve Selin from South Hill Cider, just outside of Ithaca, New York in the Finger Lakes town of Trumansburg.
“Steve is a musician by passion and he takes that sort of artistic approach to his work, which is actually a theme you’ll find a lot with these makers,” says Bystryn. “He specializes in foraging wild apples in lost orchards.” Selin produces “really aromatic, bone-dry, beautiful ciders,” says Bystryn. South Hill’s South Hill Pommeau, for example, blends barrel-aged apple spirits with unfermented, unfiltered cider made up of heirloom apples like Northern Spy, Grimes Golden, and what the Cider in Love website calls “unidentified homestead farm apples.”
Just a few years ago, unidentified homestead farm apples might not have been a selling point—but neither would have been low-intervention wines.
“People are so focused on having what they eat and drink, how it’s made, where it’s from. People care about that in a way that’s very different than ten years ago and frankly five years ago. I think what you’re seeing is a genuine macro shift to searching for meaning in tangible things that we consume every day,” says Bystryn.
“For me, cider is a natural continuation of that, because of its roots in our own backyard and the history of the drink in the United States, and the art of the actual makers.”