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If you are ingrained in the cider culture or ever came across one of the most interesting can designs in cider, you probably know Graft Cider.
Created by siblings Kyle & Sara Sherrer, Graft’s concept was designed to pay respect to old-world style of cider making and experimenting with modern brewing techniques. They use European traditions of using wild yeast and bacteria to ferment to dryness and create some complex, delicious offerings.
As Graft has taken the cider world by storm, they continue to expand several additional brands including Flora Wines and Hudson North Cider. This collective is known as Backpack Brands.
In an effort to learn more from these industry pioneers, and learn more about Backpack Brands, we interviewed Graft and got the entire scoop!
Tell us more about yourselves and your history with cider.
I started Millstone Cellars, a small farmhouse cidery based out of MD in 2011 with my father. We focused on wild yeast, barrel fermentation, and sourced all of our ingredients within 150 miles of our cidery. Millstone was a ton of fun. The cidery grew from 30 oak barrels when we launched to 500 by the time I left to start Graft.
What inspired your teams’ cider flavors and inspiration for your Graft Brand?
The innovation of the beer industry continuously inspires us. Since we use a more wild yeast driven approach to fermentation and use little to no residual sugar in all of our products, the flavor is more akin to sour beers or kombucha than a traditional sweet cider. The Sour Cider we make then becomes a great base to play around with other flavors. We have made everything style-wise from gose, dreamsicles, cocktail-inspired, wine cider hybrids, meads, sake, mochi, and slushie style ciders. To date, we have over 100 styles of cider listed on Untappd, and we are only in year 3.
How do you market your ciders? Do you feel you are at the forefront of making cider approachable and interesting like beer in recent years?
We call our Graft ciders Sour Cider. If you order a Graft Cider and expect to get a crisp, sweet apple laden beverage, you be surprised just how different this style is. We lean heavily on the beer industry for their mantra of innovation and trend toward outstanding artwork. I like to think Sour Cider is an excellent bridge for craft beer drinkers who used to turn their nose up to get into it and realize just how diverse cider can be.
Why did you choose to make gose style ciders?
Since we make Sour Cider, it was a natural fit to add salinity to help build mouthfeel and make the other flavors we add pop. The other reason is when a beer drinker sees the phrase “gose cider” on a beer menu; they might be intrigued enough to venture out of their comfort zone to try this new style of beverage.
Tell us a bit about your process of making ciders and selecting new flavors?
The world of beverages and cooking inspires us. We try to find exciting and thought-provoking concepts for the drinker, then make trial batches and see if we can get the flavors to work. Paying attention to the seasonality of the product we produce is of utmost importance. We have a mezcal margarita cider called Salt & Sand for the summer and a honey horchata cider called Last Camp for the fall. Each style focuses on the flavors you crave in those seasons.
What is your team doing to continue your modern cider push in the current market?
We love collaborating with breweries that create beer we love to drink, such as Stillwater, Finback, LIC, Hermit Thrush, Aslin, Collective Arts, and Oxbow, to name a few. Collaborating with breweries has helped us cross over into the beer drinkers world, which has allowed us to do some out there cider styles. For our next collaboration, we are making a riesling amaro cider with Finback Brewery out of Queens, NY. We are fermenting Riesling grapes on cider juice for two months, similar to how orange wine is fermented. The cider sits and ages for an additional six months. The next step is the fun part where we blend in amaro inspired flavors, honey, gentian root, dried orange and lemon slices, and sweet woodruff. The finished product is stylistically similar to an orange wine negroni, and it’s absolutely wild.
Since your team started making Graft, what brought you to start Backpack Brands and expand your offerings?
Graft is a cider brand fueled by innovation in cider as a category, so it made sense that we would start looking to other categories to innovate. We launched Flora Wines in May of 2019 as a hip young brand focused on low cal wine spritzer made with 100% real fruit. The thought process was to make a fun all-natural wine-based alternative to the booming hard seltzer category.
The third brand in our portfolio is a more standard cider called Hudson North Cider, which focuses on using all local Hudson Valley apples. HNCO is a mission-driven company that works to protect and preserve the Hudson Valley trails and beyond. The cider is on the dry side of sweet, and for the sweetener, we use high tannin European bittersweet apples as the sugar source to give it more of a full-bodied farmstand style cider for high pint-ability. For the mission side of things, 10 cents of every gallon sold in addition to the funds raised at our Taps for Trails pint night is donated to the NY-NJ Trail Conference, who work to maintain, preserve and educate people about the beautiful lands around us.
Any other exciting plans in your team’s future?
With the current crisis, we are working to see how we can innovate internally and externally. For the first time, we are selling our cider online, which ships to 38 states. We had no idea what expect, but online sales are booming! People who have never tried Graft cider, or who didn’t have access to purchasing our cider before are now able to. Shipping also provides our consumers with the ability to find out more limited cider quickly. We are quickly growing out of our production facility; we have plans to relocate to a new building that has room for both; production and taproom.