Oliver's Fun Cide(r)
Visit the Oliver Winery tasting room north of Bloomington and you’ll see countless bottles of wine. There’s the Soft Red, the Cabernet Sauvignon, the Shiraz.
Then, in one corner, you’ll see a decidedly different drink. You can tell it’s different by the colorful, cartoony packaging of its five flavors. On one, a woman defends her blueberry patch from beasts using a skillet named Sal.
This is the winery’s new Beanblossom Hard Cider. An instant hit when it debuted in summer 2011, it’s poised to be many Hoosiers’ preferred potable this fall, thanks to Oliver Winery’s serious attention to fruit flavors and the addition of a less common ingredient: fun.
“Breweries always have more fun than wineries,” says Bill Oliver, president and director of winemaking for the winery, the state’s oldest and largest.
Now it’s the winery’s turn.
A LIGHTHEARTED APPROACH
Oliver’s ciders come in five flavors: original apple, strawberry, raspberry, peach and blueberry – echoing the fruity notes that are often found in its wine. But in packaging the cider, the winery went a new route: single servings. There are the hefty 500-milliliter aluminum bottles ($4 each) and the handy 250-milliliter cans, wich are sold in packs of four ($8) and individually ($2).
The cider – which is technically an apple wine because of its alcohol content – has caught on quickly since its release last summer. Its equally colorful, shed-shaped display cases have popped up seemingly everywhere, throughout Indiana and beyond. It is sold in 22 states, from Florida to North Dakota.
In Indiana, it is sold at independent groceries and liquor stores, some restaurants and bars, and chains like Marsh, Target, Sam’s Club and Walmart. There’s also oliverwinery.com, the winery’s tasting room on State Road 37 and, as of this fall, a new tasting room in downtown Bloomington.
In some cases, the cider is snagging customers for the first time. But Oliver Winery actually has sold apple wine since the 1970s, and it began offering hard cider, which is carbonated and contains less alcohol, in the ‘90s. Oliver and his staff wanted to offer that original version of Beanblossom Hard Cider in single servings instead of 750- milliliter wine bottles. They used the opportunity to launch new flavors and reimagine the cider’s branding.
Enter Bloomington artist Kevin Pope. His sprightly illustrations and super-short stories grace the cider bottles and cans, distinguishing the drink from Oliver’s wines and other hard ciders on the market.
On the package for the original flavor, a single-propeller plane tries to net airborne apples. The story reads:
His apples defied gravity. Floated up. Difficult to harvest, but special for their flavor, sweet, yet very light.
The lighthearted approach has worked. The old Beanblossom Hard Cider sold 4,000 cases per year. The first run of the new cider – all 17,000 cases – sold out in about six weeks.
The winery plans to sell 80,000 to 100,000 cases this year, compared to 360,000 cases of wine.
The packaging has been key, but there’s more to the cider’s success, Oliver says: “We want people to buy it because it looks good, and then say, ‘Hey, I like how this tastes.”
FOCUS ON FLAVOR
Like wine, a good cider begins with good fruit. In this case, highquality Midwestern apples, with their deep, rich flavors.
Oliver Winery buys most of its apples from Peterson Farms in Michigan. The winery processes the fresh-pressed apple juice as minimally as possible, with the goal of preserving its natural flavor.
The apples are the star of all five flavors of Beanblossom Hard Cider. That’s by design. Winemaker Dennis Dunham and his staff sought to create flavored apple cider, not a raspberry or strawberry drink. “We wanted apple-ness to be a characteristic in all of them,” he says.
Open the strawberry cider, and you’ll notice a strong strawberry scent. But take a sip, and the strawberry is subtler than you expect, allowing the apple to shine.
The future is bright for Beanblossom Hard Cider. The winery is expanding, in part to accommodate the cider. Eventually Bill Oliver hopes to sell 500,000 cases of cider a year.
Sounds like fun to him.