Northeast spotlight :: Savoring cider

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March 1, 2010
By: Lana Walker
Lana Walker
The entrepreneurial mantra of Joe Heron, president and founder of Crispin Cider Company, can be summed up with this: forward motion and innovative change, with a little humor and fun thrown in there too.

Crispin Cider Company is a producer of super-premium natural hard apple ciders, headquartered on the corner of 4th Street and Central Avenue. Launched in November 2008 by Heron, along with his wife and business partner Lesley, the cider company has done nothing but push the envelope in the market of hard cider in an attempt to refresh the beverage’s image in the eyes of American consumers.

“In my generation, cider was like the Smirnoff Ice today,” explained Heron, who hails from South Africa. “If you didn’t like alcohol much, you drank it to still be a little naughty.”

In the brainstorming phase of his new business, Heron noticed that there was a very small cider market in the United States and what was available showed little innovation — it was manufactured and marketed as a sweet beer alternative with no real identity of its own.

Searching for a way to make American consumers take another look at cider, Heron borrowed inspiration from Europe where it had become customary to drink cider over ice. The ice, he said, was the key to getting that second look and to developing a niche for cider as a sophisticated beverage nestled somewhere between beer and wine. “It sounds refreshing,” he said. “You wouldn’t drink beer or wine over ice, but with cider, it sounds right.”

The company first released a “blue line” of hard ciders — Original, Light and Brut — each offering a taste profile that puts a spin on classic European ciders. They are crisp and dry, not overly sweet or sticky on a consumer’s palate.  

From this base, Crispin has been off and running with new additions to the lineup at every chance. Their second line, “Artisanal Reserves,” takes a step away from traditional and reflects what Heron calls an American swagger and personality. The Saint, which hit the shelves on Feb. 12, and Honey Crisp are cloudy ciders developed with the experimental “no holds barred” attitude of craft beer brewers.

In addition to their own production, which takes place at a cidery in northern California, Crispin recently acquired a partner company out of Colfax, Calif. called Fox Barrel. Known best for their flavored ciders, including an award-winning pear, Fox Barrel products have expanded Crispin’s reach even more. “We now cover a European-style cider, a flavored cider and a cross-beer cider for lack of a better word,” Heron said.

Crispin and Fox Barrel ciders are all natural with no preservatives or coloring. The company uses honey or maple syrup to smooth their ciders as opposed to added sugars. Additionally, Heron noted that their apple wine, which is the base of hard cider, is made from apple juice, not juice concentrate. “You wouldn’t drink wine made from grape juice concentrate,” he said.

Crispin is distributed in numerous states, including Wisconsin, Illinois, Oregon and Texas, but its beginnings were here. “Minneapolis is the greatest city of all for entrepreneurs,” Heron said. “And for rock ‘n’ roll.

“To me, Northeast is the heart of Minneapolis,” Heron said. “It’s retained all its identity from eras past but has continued to refresh itself with both retail and residential growth. Our business is about entertainment, having fun and a lifestyle, and we think Northeast is great for that.”

In 2010, Heron hopes to continue expanding within the brand. “Our first objective is to convince people that we’re the better-looking, more intelligent, handsome, half-brother of St. Patrick by March 17,” Heron said with a laugh. Following the holiday, he said, it’s down to business and global domination.  “Now is really a period of keeping the innovation going, but also getting Crispin better known where we are.”

Crispin Super-Premium Natural Hard Apple Cider is available at all liquor stores in the Twin Cities, as well as a number of bars and restaurants including Keegan’s, The Local, Whitey’s, Red Stag and FireLake Restaurant.