By Chris Meehan | Jul 11, 2016
[Editor's note: C Squared Ciders moved from Denver to Penrose, Colorado, in 2020.]
"We want to be adventurous with our flavors and bring the craft beer mentality to making cider," says Brown.
He's making good on that promise. The cidery's core line of products, its Siren Series of ciders include a ginger cider, a lavender cider, and a dry-hopped cider with IBUs that it calls an India Pale Cider. "As far as I know we're the only cidery doing that," he says. The cidery will next start releasing barrel-aged ciders.
Prior to launching C Squared Ciders, Brown was head brewer for Wynkoop Brewing and previously brewed beer with Left Hand Brewing and Oskar Blues Brewery. "I was kind of ready for a career change," he says, explaining that this met that desire and his desire to become an entrepreneur.
But his skill set remains apt for the task. "A lot of what we do in the cidery is very similar to what I'm used to doing in the brewery," Brown explains. "We're dealing with a different base for our beverages but most of our equipment comes from the beer-brewing world."
"As a brewer, one of the cool things we did in America was take everyone else's traditions and kind of blend them into our own American take on things. That's what I want to do with C Squared Ciders," Brown explains. He and co-founder Chad Hatlestad, who focuses on marketing, opened the cidery in July 2015.
With distribution across the Front Range and a partnership to expand distribution across Colorado underway, Brown says it's likely the fastest growing cidery in Colorado. "We're getting a lot of placements in craft beer bars," Brown notes. "Our production is 70 percent draft cider and 30 percent bottled. That's not what we expected, but we sized our cidery pretty aggressively for a startup. Our fermenters are 1,100 gallons and we just added another fermenter a month ago."
One difference, however, is that common ciders take four to six weeks to age whereas ales are ready in 12 to 14 days. "For a proper barrel-aged cider . . . it takes about three or three months to make," Brown add. That mellows the acidity of a cider by converting malic acid into lactic acid, making for a smoother cider.
The apple juice used in C Squared Ciders come from bigger growers and is blended to specified acidity levels at larger presses or custom blended at smaller presses depending on the cider. "The juice we get right now is a blend of 12 different, mostly culinary apples grown in the Northwest. Granny Smith has good acidity, to Fiji, Macintosh, Honeycrisp -- apples like that," Brown explains.
Brown would like to source apples from Colorado. "My goal is to get our own press and be pressing our own fruit and be able to do single-varietal, Colorado-grown ciders," Brown says. He couldn't source apples from Colorado last year because weather killed off the apple buds. "The apple crop sucked."
Beyond the weather, that also means convincing orchards focused on high-dollar, supermarket-ready fruit to grow less photogenic cider apple varieties. "It's a hard sell for a lot of farmers," Brown says. "It's a huge commitment of resources to put something in the ground in the hopes that in three or five years it will pay off."
Challenges: Educating people about cider and increasing access to liquor stores, restaurants and bars. "It's kind of the fallout of consolidation in the beer industry. We've aligned ourselves so closely with craft beer we kind of suffer some of the same problems that small guys do," Brown says.
Opportunities: Fast growth. "We have a little more wide-open playing field than breweries do. That helps us," Brown says. "People want to drink local and try new things made in their city or state and that works in our favor."
Coming later in 2016: C Squared's Sailor Series of farmhouse ciders. "We want to release a Sailor Series every four months, and I want to do continental ciders like a Basque continental, then a French-style cider and maybe an English-style cider," he says. The first release in the series is a Palisade peach cider that aged in whiskey barrels.
Needs: "To really grow fast to see the kind of fast growth we saw at Oskar Blues, you really need a lot of capital ,and access to capital is always a challenge," Brown says. Jumping out of Small Business Administration funding to a level where other financing opportunities are interested is a big step, he says.