When Tieton Cider Works began producing its renowned hard cider in 2008, the owners had no idea they were on the precipice of something really big.
Ten years and more than a dozen varieties later, the Yakima-based hard cider operation has gone from producing around 100 cases a month to nearly 10 times that amount.
“At first, we thought we’d be doing great if we could sell 1,000 cases a year,” said Marcus Robert, company president and head cider maker for Tieton Cider Works. “We didn’t realize that the industry was about to take off.”
At that time, national advertising campaigns for brands such as Angry Orchard and Hornsby’s were bringing attention to hard cider as an alternative to beer and wine. Owners Sharon and Craig Campbell knew they could create an even better product, so they began playing with some different recipes.
Now, as the company gets ready to celebrate its 10th anniversary, it is producing about 100,000 cases a year of its signature hard cider.
Tieton Cider is now sold in 14 states and has earned a reputation around the Northwest as being one of the best — if not the best — you can buy.
That exceptionalism comes back to the owners’ roots.
“We started as growers, not cider makers, which is kind of rare in this industry,” said Robert, who joined the team about eight months after the Campbells started the business on their 400-acre plot in Tieton.
“A lot of companies are only focused on the production side, and they don’t understand everything that goes into growing the best fruit. We do, because we start from the soil.”
The Campbells grow apples and pears in their orchards and then press them into juice at the company’s headquarters on West J Street, also home to the tasting room since 2014.
All of the cider production and packaging is completed in the 45,000-square-foot facility, though Tieton only uses 35,000 square feet of the former mechanic shop.
Their products are sold across the West — 100 customers in the Seattle area alone — and are packaged in kegs, bottles and cans.
Robert says there’s a reason why Tieton Cider has begun to take hold in the Northwest.
“There are about 90 cideries in Washington and Oregon, so this has kind of become a hotbed for the industry,” said Robert, a longtime Gleed farmer who also owns Fontaine Estates Winery in Naches.
“It helps that we’re in the region with the highest cider consumption,” he added. “In terms of volume, there is more craft cider being sold in Washington and Oregon than all of the big brands combined. Things are good, and they’re only getting better.”
Tieton has developed a range of natural flavor-infused apple ciders over the years, starting with Wild Washington and Tieton Dry in 2008.
The selections grew over time to include apricot, cranberry and cherry varieties. There’s also a pear cider and a Blossom Nectar, with hints of melon and vanilla. Tieton has even experimented with dry hops, lavender, huckleberries, peaches and other natural ingredients.
This week, the company is offering a limited release of its new Organic Apple Cider, which will be sold only in the Northwest.
“We’re sending out 1,000 cases at first and then we’re hoping to expand it later this fall,” Robert said. “There’s a lot that goes in to making organic products — all the fruit has to be kept separate and the rules are a lot more stringent. But we see this as a huge growth area, and we think it’s going to do well.”
Cider lovers who have yet to try the Organic Apple variety can stop by the tasting room, 619 W. J. St., on Sept. 22 for the 10th anniversary celebration.
Attendees are encouraged to dress up in their best farmer attire. Among the attractions will be live music, apple bobbing and a barbecue.
Continuing To Grow
One of the biggest growth areas for Tieton Cider Works in the past couple of years has been the shift to canning its products, in addition to bottling.
Aluminum is cheaper than glass, but it’s also more convenient for consumers, Robert said. You can even buy wine in cans nowadays.
“Cans started to become pretty popular a few years ago with the younger crowd, and now everyone seems to be doing it,” he said, adding that Tieton was one of the first cider makers in the U.S. to distribute its products in cans. “We liked where things were heading, but cans have provided us with another big growth opportunity.”
Robert explained that cans are lightweight and easier than glass to pack around. Plus, they’re easier to recycle, which is a big selling point in areas like Portland and Seattle.
“The six packs have been big for us,” Robert said. “We know we can only expect to garner a certain amount of market share, but when you are giving people something they can’t find elsewhere, it helps build your brand.”
Robert said the management team doesn’t plan to expand its physical operations much more, since the company already has more space than it needs on J Street.
Serving customers in the Northwest — especially people right here in Yakima — will continue to be a priority.
“It makes sense for us to stay local,” he said. “A growing number of bars and restaurants are beginning to see the value in carrying Tieton products because we’re a brand that is known for quality. We’re now recognized all over the region, and that also brings a lot of attention to the Yakima Valley.”
While the bulk of Tieton Cider Works’ business is focused on its own products, other Northwest companies — such as HopTown Wood-Fired Pizza in Wapato — are also benefitting from its expertise.
Robert couldn’t share the names of other cider partners, but he said Tieton cider derivatives can be found under a variety of other labels.
“We do a lot of work for cideries around the state and the U.S.,” he said. “Some want us to do everything from start to finish — pressing, fermenting, packaging, etc. — while some just want to buy our juice. We offer all of our services a la carte, depending on what our customers need.”
HopTown, for example, takes advantage of each of Tieton’s services to produce its Frisky Seester cider, both in kegs and in cans.
About two years ago, owners Carrie Wright and Lori Roy approached Tieton Cider Works about forming a cider partnership. They were looking for a dark-hued cider that they could sell in the restaurant and in six-packs.
The fig-flavored cider has become very popular, and now HopTown is experimenting with some alternate cider varieties.
“The HopTown folks are very hands-on and like to come here to taste the cider,” Robert said. “I doubt we would have done this if they weren’t a local business. But we already had a relationship with them, and it has benefitted both of us. We hope working with us has added value for them, and hopefully it has added value to the Valley.”