Mountain West Hard Cider

Mountain West Hard Cider launches its flaship product to an overwhelmingly positive response that fuels further production.

It used to be that hard cider outsold beer leading up to prohibition. But the beverage never bounced back to its former glory after repeal because farmers stopped growing cider apples once they no longer had a use for them.

Today, Jeff and Jennifer Carleton are looking to bring back the popularity of hard cider. The husband-and-wife team founded Salt Lake City-based Mountain West Hard Cider in November 2015 after realizing it is an untapped niche. The Carletons also wooed longtime wine and cider maker Joel Goodwillie into joining the team, relying on his years of experience to create exceptional hard cider.

“I fell in love with Salt Lake City, and Jeff, Jennifer and I immediately clicked,” Goodwillie says. “I saw their vision and they were committed to building the finest facility and putting together the best possible marketing and sales team. I was impressed with what they had going, so I packed a suitcase, a wine pump and a few other wine lab tools and headed to Salt Lake City.”

Goodwillie began his career in winemaking after college in the early 1990s, starting out at E. & J. Gallo Winery in Modesto, Calif. He left the corporate world after a couple years and by the mid-90s had opened Wind River Cellar in Washington, which he still owns and operates today.

Goodwillie came to Mountain West Hard Cider in January 2015 and spent the next 10 months turning an empty warehouse into a state-of-the-art facility. “Jeff and Jennifer saw a market niche and opportunity, and assembled the company that way,” Goodwillie says. “There is nothing like this in Utah. There are exceptions, but a lot of cider companies are fourth-generation apple growers who just need something to do with their apples. They don’t get a winemaker, meet restaurant owners or distribute product well – they are good at growing apples.”

Locally Produced
Mountain West is more than a name – it’s a definition. The company uses local ingredients from the Mountain West region to craft every day, seasonal and artisan apple ciders. “All of our apples come from the Mountain West region and we are really proud of that,” Goodwillie adds. “We have seen this in Washington and Oregon for the past 20 to 30 years where they are proud of locally produced products. Utah is a bit behind but is gaining traction.”

Ruby Hard Cider launched in November as the brewery’s flagship product. Ruby is 6.8 percent alcohol made from pure apple juice. “The apple juice we get is not manipulated and nothing is added but yeast,” Goodwillie says. “We use what we get and let nature take its course – there is no added acid, pH or sweetener. We source this awesome fruit, press it and that’s how we get Ruby.”

7 Mile Cider launched in early March and is described as a summer hard cider. “7 Mile is a little lower in alcohol at 5 percent, and more of a summer quencher that has quite a bit more green apple character,” Goodwillie describes. “7 Mile and Ruby are distinctly different.”

Mountain West is seeing a tremendous response from its consumers in Utah, so much so that it has depleted the apple supply in the state and is looking for additional suppliers in Idaho and Colorado. “Ruby was so popular and we had to keep up with demand, so we had to work hard to get more juice to launch 7 Mile,” Goodwillie says. “It’s a problem we’ve had, but not a bad problem to have.”

The company sources most of its product from Santaquin, Utah, a farm community about 62 miles south of Salt Lake City. “The community is incredible stewards of the land. It’s not organic but the community is respectful of the land they have been growing on for four generations,” Goodwillie says. “They are so down-to-earth and we have a deal on a handshake. They know we will be here for a long time and we are encouraging them to plant more apples.”

Targeting Growth
Mountain West thought 30-somethings were the demographic for hard cider, but has found that everyone enjoys the beverage. “We will walk in to one of the local restaurants and there might be a 65-year-old gentleman drinking it and on the other side of the restaurant a 25-year-old drink it,” Goodwillie says. “We can’t figure it out. It’s men, women, younger and older people enjoying it. Hard cider is about the fastest-growing product in the adult beverage industry.”

In terms of marketshare, Goodwillie has found that craft beer drinkers are willing to give hard cider a try but will not leave beer completely. “It’s appealing because it’s gluten-free and people will order hard cider instead of wine because it’s lower in alcohol, but the wine industry isn’t losing customers because of hard cider sales,” he explains. “Wine drinkers are more open to sharing the wealth with hard cider and craft beer drinkers are the same way.”

Moving forward, Mountain West will focus on launching more seasonal hard ciders with the plan being to release a new product every three months. The cidery is also working on developing more high-end, crafted hard cider that is barrel-aged. “We have been working on a cider that’s been barrel-aged for four months and I really like the direction of that program,” Goodwillie notes.

Mountain West plans to distribute only in the Mountain West region. Currently in Utah, the company plans to move into Colorado in the next few months. “We want to continue to fly our own flag and support the industry,” Goodwillie says.