From Southie to Cider House

This couple scrapped their day jobs to launch a unique cider-making company.

As the overly used cliché goes, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” But when it comes to making hard cider, the latest company to join the ranks is straying from the typical fermenting process to deliver drinkers a better taste of what New England has to offer.

“What we want to do is bring hard cider back to its roots, and do it how Colonial New Englanders drank their cider,” said Denise Snape, cofounder of Far from the Tree Cider. “Along this whole process, we’ve realized we want to educate people, and let them know cider can have real, natural ingredients.”

In January, the four-member team behind Far from the Tree Cider received their state license to make hard cider, and they set to work immediately so that they could have their product on the shelves and on tap by this May.

Snape said 59 oak barrels, which they will use to age and ferment their beverages in, were delivered to their headquarters last month at a large warehouse in Salem. The company incorporated in September 2013. “It’s all moving pretty quick,” she said.

Using barrels to make cider is a unique process compared to what other companies rely on, she said. “Most people would ferment in a stainless steel tank, so you wouldn’t be able to get a balanced product like you do from the barrels. It changes the taste. The wood particles incorporate into the cider because of the air interaction, like a wine technique,” she said.

The company will be barrel aging their product for the first three months, using all New England apples throughout the process. Cider drinkers can expect an array of flavors down the line.

But Snape wasn’t always an expert on the cider-making process.

The former South Boston resident, whose career was previously in project management for large-scale pharmaceutical companies, came to a decision in 2010 with her husband, Alex, one of the company’s founders, to move overseas and take a job in London. “It was one of those things where we were deep in our careers and we thought, ‘is this all we are going to be doing for the rest of our lives?,’” she said. “I got the travel bug, and I asked if my husband would move to another country.”

Because of the visa laws in England it was easy for Snape to transition into a new job there. But her husband, Alex, didn’t have as much luck. Instead of mulling around searching for employment, he decided to use the opportunity to tap into something he had always been fascinated with, and he signed up for a three-year winemaking course. “We were making wine as a hobby in our apartment in Southie before we moved, so we found the wine program in England and he applied and got accepted,” said Snape. “That was the ticket that got him to England. We just thought ‘let’s go over there, have fun, and see Europe.’”

While they were traveling around, they quickly fell “in love” with the various, traditional ciders that England had to offer, and by the time they got back to the states this past July the gears were already in motion for Snape and her husband to start their cider company. “It’s such a different product over there, and [Alex] wanted to take his background in winemaking and turn it into cider-making,” said Snape.

Snape and her husband ditched their full-time jobs, wrangled two friends to help them launch Far from the Tree Cider, and started their venture into a whole new market. “Now the cider job is full time. I thought that I could do both at the same time, but decided against it,” she said. “So the four of us are doing this 100 percent for free until we start making some money. All of our skills helped us figure out what we needed to do to make this work.”

Hard cider has been around for ages, but recently it’s seen a resurgence in the US, and it’s the perfect time to break into the market, according to Jeff Wharton, who runs the website, and has knowledge about the industry. “Nationwide we are seeing growth in the sector. It’s just exploding—not just in Massachusetts. There are over 1,000 cider houses in planning nationwide,” said Wharton, who has been inviting more and more cider companies to sample their product at his annual Drink Craft Beer festivals in Boston. “The volume of cider sold is expanding right now, and as a percentage to beer that’s sold it’s so small so there’s definitely room to grow.”

Although from a legal standpoint, for taxation purposes, cider is considered to be a wine because it’s fermented from fruit, consumers view it as a beer product, said Wharton.

According to reports, the cider market makes up less than 1 percent of the $100 billion beer market in the US. Experts predict that will steadily increase, as more companies become aware of the trend, as well as the customer interest in putting back a sweeter-tasting beverage. Committees and conferences have also been cropping up across the country, connecting cider makers with others in the niche industry. On Tuesday, Snape and her team were headed out to Chicago to mingle with other companies at CiderCon for the first time.

But as the big brewers start mounting the cider bandwagon, Snape doesn’t seem concerned. That’s because she said what sets her company apart from what the rest of the nation is trying to achieve is the local connection their product has to the area, and the process they have in place to get it out to consumers. “We are 100 percent barrel aging and fermenting, and adding all local ingredients for tea ciders, hop ciders, and maybe adding maple syrup and other ingredients,” said Snape. “The wine and beer market is so oversaturated, so we thought, ‘how can we be different?’”

In May, they will introduce their first offering and follow it up with a variety of other flavors once they are settled in. Snape said the company also has plans to one day introduce a taproom on site, so that customers can come by and fill growlers and sample their product.

“Time will tell once we get the production going,” she said.