How This Hard Cider Business Is Learning From “The Struggle”

Apple Orchard - Brix Cider

In Edible-Alpha® podcast #36, Tera interviewsMarie and Matt Raboin of Brix Cider, a hard cider company in southern Wisconsin. The name Brix comes from how you measure sugar content in fruit. After home-brewing cider for years and even shipping an apple press to Malawi where Matt was on assignment with USAID, they bought a 6-acre farm in Barnevelde, WI in 2014 so they could start working on building their cider company. They have about 1,000 trees, many of which they hand-grafted from local cultivated and wild apple varieties and they get other apples from small, local orchards.

Marie’s uncle is a sommelier and provides them with honest feedback that helps maintain their product quality and provides for their defensible uniqueness. They sell mostly in 4-pack bottles (similar to beer bottles), which while they have less desirable margins, make their product more approachable than traditional 750mL cider bottles to the average the Wisconsin consumer.

After home brewing for many years, they realized after talking with Tera that they needed to start selling their cider if they were going to launch their business and worked with the University of Wisconsin Law and Entrepreneurship Clinic to get set up to legally make and sell their cider, eventually connecting to a local winery that had extra capacity. They began producing in small batches at the winery and self-distributing throughout southern Wisconsin, though technically the owner of the winery “owns” their production due to current regulations.

Marie and Matt’s ultimate goal is to open a cider tasting room, likely with food and entertainment present. The retail sales of on-tap cider will help ensure their business is financially sustainable by providing immediate cash flow and help build their brand even further. However, there have been many elements that have prevented them from getting their own facility. For example, while they could lease a space, many arrangements with building out a space to their specifications are difficult to finance, especially given the now food-grade expectations of current alcohol production facilities. This led them to pursue a partnership with an investor, but due to a divergence of vision and goals, that did not work out, likely the best for both parties.

They have considered a dozen possible sites, and one of their potential landlords ended up breaking their lease when they stopped construction mid-project without communicating that to Marie and Matt. They are in the process of buying an existing bar to convert it to a tasting room and cider production facility, taking advantage of their existing infrastructure, cash flow and location. But, they will have to pursue more financing (likely $250,000 or so) to renovate the space to their specifications.

Marie and Matt have learned a lot through this struggle to find the right space, not just about what they need exactly in a space but in business problem solving and financial literacy. Tera and the Brix team talked about how tenacity is one of the things that defines entrepreneurs. Matt and Marie have been raising two young children while building their business and pursuing funding – including both loans and grants – to help them expand their production. Their combination of pragmatism and passion has allowed them to work through and overcome “The Struggle” as they look to growing their business in the future.