Every season has different beverages associated with it. During the summer months, with hot temperatures and sunshine, many consumers opt for cool, refreshing drinks. Margarita, mojitos, daiquiris and more often come to mind as typical warm weather drinks. When the temperatures begin to drop like the leaves, people go for bourbon, hot toddies and apple cider. Regardless of your favorite season, a craft cidery in Michigan is normalizing the enjoyment of hard ciders year-round.
Blake’s Hard Cider (BHC), Armada, Mich., has more than 20 cider flavors in its portfolio. BHC’s four core hard ciders ― Flannel Mouth, a classic, semi-sweet hard apple cider; El Chavo, a mango and habanero hard cider; Triple Jam, a strawberry, blackberry and raspberry blend hard cider; and the newest addition to the core family, Peach Party ― can be found in 25 states all 12 months of the year.
“We focus on the idea that cider isn’t just a fall time drink,” says Andrew Blake, president of Blake’s Family of Companies and founder of BHC. “Our goal is to expand the moments you think to drink cider. We are investing in all the seasons and all the moments within those that are important in people’s lives.”
The Blake family has been in the apple growing business since 1946 when Blake Farms was established. In 2013, after returning home to Armada from Michigan State University, grandson Blake wanted to explore hard ciders. That’s when he founded BHC — following the blessing from the rest of the family.
“We felt hard cider was a great evolution of our historical apple growing and juice making heritage,” Blake explains. The family wanted to express and expand their apple product portfolio “in a new and innovative way,” he says.
With 75 years of apple-growing experience and more than 40 different apple varieties growing on the 800-acre farm, the Blake family has had plenty of time to perfect its five-apple blend for all of the ciders.
“Our ciders start with apples we grow, press and ferment all onsite at our family farm, which results in a consistent craft cider,” Blake explains. “By using real fruit, not concentrate, it makes our cider products taste better and more authentic than other ciders. Couple with the five-apple blend we use as our base, plus having the experience of some of the greatest cider makers around, makes us, I believe, one of the best ciders on the market.”
Building the Brand
This spring, BHC rolled out an array of new ciders just in time for summer. One of the newest core ciders, Peach Party, was a part of that release. The other two ciders came with the addition of the BHC Bar Cart Series — ciders crafted to be enjoyed alone or as an ingredient in a mixed drink.
“[The] Bar Cart Series is great because ciders are delicious to drink on their own, but these ciders are also fantastic as mixers,” Blake says. “We believe there is a great collaboration between us and restaurants and bars with this series to create something unique.”
The company also has specialty ciders released seasonally. The Limited Series consists of ciders like Berry Cranders, with cranberry and ginger flavors, and Apple Lantern, a roasted pumpkin cider.
More recently, BHC added Passion Seeker to the lineup of the Kinder Cider Series, from which a portion of sales go toward nonprofit organizations such as the LGBT National Hotline and the Empowerment Plan. The company says more than $65,000 has been donated to their nonprofit partners because of the Kinder Cider Series.
Aside from the five-apple blend, all hard ciders from Blake’s are made fresh with “nearly half the sugar of leading national brands.” BHC has a line of Lite Cider that serves as a real fruit alternative to hard seltzers. The Lite Cider comes in five fruity flavors at 5% ABV with only 1 gram of sugar, 4 grams of carbs, and 100 calories.
“The current cider market is better than ever,” Blake says. “Cider is in a unique position, with a changing dynamic within the larger beverage market, thanks to the growth of RTD and seltzers. The beyond-beer industry has grown significantly. Blake’s makes amazing beverages from real fruit and that benefits us in the rising tides. We’ve seen that in our approach to market and that’s why we’re going to be the No.1 cider company.”
As more consumers search for alcohol options that are better for your health and well-being, BHC has used that to their advantage, Blake notes.
“The gluten-free nature of our products has always been an attractive market trend, and we benefit from that,” he explains. “Whether it’s a calorie or health focus, consumers are trying to choose ‘better-for-you’ products in the alcohol space. There’s been a movement away from beer and those trends have only helped people enter the cider category.”
Earlier this year, BHC acquired Avid Cider, a Bend, Ore.-based company. Both companies continue to produce under their respective brand names, but Blake says BHC is “fully committed” to continuing the expansion of their product segmentation. The company expanded plant capacities in upstate New York, where the facility will produce hard cider and non-alcoholic beverages.
“We are very confident that we are going to continue innovating within the cider industry and expand the Blake’s drinker, which we believe is anyone who enjoys drinking great beverages,” Blake says. “We expect to be in 35 states by the end of 2023 and fully believe we will be competing for the top cider position in the next 24 months.”
The company’s strategy for expansion and distribution has been through “establishing roots in the Midwest and Southeast” regions, Blake notes. BHC intends to “take an aggressive growth plan” with the help of the added facilities to handle volume and capacity, he adds.
Additionally, the company has found success in their distribution partnerships. Investing in partnerships within the sales division has strengthened the cidery’s relationship with distributors and wholesalers, Blake says.
Meanwhile, as the most successful SKU in the company’s portfolio is the Triple Jam cider, Blake says he expects American Apple, an imperial apple, to take Triple Jam’s place after its release in July.
“The future is bright for cider,” he says. “You’ll be seeing Boston Beer and Angry Orchard make big investments and grabbing market shares. I look forward to that, because it’ll grow the segment and Blake’s will distance itself from the pack to become the true cider maker and the cider of choice for the consumer. Our goal is to deliver products everywhere.”